I have never understood the paradoxes of my friend Teofil. He judges all in reverse; in every case where we are accustomed to giving an explanation that we have prepared, without having to worry about being original, Teofil finds an entirely unusual explanation. He’s extravagant in everything, but in matters of morality he’s even absurd.
This so positive science was completely overthrown by Teofil. What is good for everyone, for Teofil is bad and vice versa.
For example, night before I saw him doing something that put me in a big confusion. When I expressed this feeling, Teofil exposed a ridiculous theory about the duty of society to the virtues and vices of man. To see his paradoxical vision…
He argues that virtues are shilds and weapons for human struggle against society, and vices are his weak and vulnerable parts. Thus, my friend concludes, with his twisted spirit, that society doesn’t have to fight man’s vices or encourage his virtues. On the contrary, because man’s virtues are detrimental to the authority that society must exert on man, the vices are useful to society.
What justice is in this theory that society must support its enemies and fight its supporters ?
I confess that after listening to such paradoxes I stop talking, but I must tell you the story that made Teofil expose his strange theory.
I was on the street with my friend when I was back from the office. When we crossed the Mogosoaia Bridge we met two beggars who were there every day. I usually give 50 cents to the beggar on the left; he’s a good man and doesn’t go to bars. The one on the right, the crippled man, a former mechanic whose a saw cut off his hand, is a debauchee. I first gave money to both of them, but since I found out that the crippled man was a depraved one who spent his money on drinks and Royal cigarettes, I only gave money to the bagger on the left.
When I met Teofil, we went the same way. Close to the corner where the beggars were, I took the money out of my pocket and gave them to my good wretch. Teofil simply told me “Forgive !”, grabbed my hand and led me to the beggar on the right side and gave him 50 cents.
That revolted me.
“What ?”, I said. “You gladly give 50 cets to a drunkard, a vicious man, and you don’t give anything to a miserable good man ?”
“Do you know what he’s gonna do with your money ?”
“I know ! He will drink one liter of wine and buy three Royal cigarettes.”
“So. And you give him money ?”
“That’s why I give them to him. It’s my social duty to encourage vices.”
“So”, my friend replied before leaving. “I follow strictly social morality. What is the most important thing in social morality ? Charity ! But for man, isn’t charity also a vice ? I think it’s good for me to be charitable and that I follow the moral Christian two times when I give the alms and encourage the vices of others.”
“But you know it’s not like taht, Teofil… excuse me…”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t stay anymore, no matter how much I would have to encourage you to discuss moral philosophy… I’m waiting for dinner. Goodbye.”
It is impossible to persuade Teofil.
I. L. Caragiale, Paradoxal
Published in “Epoca” in 1896