Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Adrien Sixte grows up in a peculiar way. His hardworking father wants him to study for one of the professions. However, despite the boy’s early promise in school, he never studies at a university. His indulgent parents allow him to spend ten lonely years in study. In 1868, at the age of twenty-nine, Adrien publishes a five-hundred-page work called The Psychology of God. By the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Adrien has become the most discussed philosopher in France. He follows his first study with two more books, The Anatomy of the Will and The Theory of the Passions, which are even more provocative than his first.

Soon after the death of his parents, Adrien settles into a regular routine in Paris. So faithful is he to his schedule that the inhabitants of the quarter can set their watches by his movements. He spends eight hours of every twenty-four hours in work, takes two walks each day, receives callers (chiefly students) on one afternoon in the week, and on another afternoon makes calls on other scholars. By patient labor and brilliant insight, he develops to his complete satisfaction his deterministic theory that each effect comes from a cause, and that if all causes are known, results can be predicted accurately. He applies his theory to all forms of human activity, to vices as well as to virtues.

One day, neighbors are startled to see Adrien leave his apartment hurriedly at an unusual hour. To his great consternation, he has received a notice to appear before a magistrate in the affair of Robert Greslou, one of his students, and he also has a letter from Robert’s mother saying that she will visit him that very day at four o’clock on an urgent matter.

The sophisticated judge is incredulous when he learns that Adrien never reads the newspapers. The celebrated savant had not heard of Greslou’s imprisonment after being charged with the murder of Charlotte de Jussat. Adrien soon learns that the suspect has been arrested on purely circumstantial evidence, that the proof of his guilt or innocence may well be only psychological. Hence, Adrien, the master, must testify as to his disciple’s ideas on psychological experience. Adrien explains that if a chemist can analyze water into hydrogen and oxygen, he can synthesize hydrogen and oxygen into water. Similarly, if a psychological result can be analyzed into its causes, the result can be reproduced by those same causes; that is, by the scientific method, one can predict human behavior. The judge is interested and inquires if his theory applies to vices. Adrien says that it does, for, psychologically, vices are forms of behavior that are as interesting and valid as social virtues.

When he returns home, Adrien finds Robert’s...

(The entire section is 1127 words.)