Monday, June 27, 2011

Mondays with Montaigne (channeling the Stoics)

From I:14. The taste of good and evil things depends on our opinion.

Neither good nor ill is done to us by Fortune: she merely offers us the matter and the seeds: our soul, more powerful than she is, can mould it or sow them as she pleases, being the only cause and mistress of our happy state or our unhappiness. Whatever comes to us from outside takes its savour and its coulour from our internal attributes, just as our garments warm us not with their heat but ours, which they serve to preserve and sustain. Shelter a cold body under them and it will draw similar services from them for its coldness: that is how we conserve snow and ice. Study to the lazy, like abstinence from wine to the drunkard, is torture; frugal living to the seeker after pleasure, like exercise to the languid idle man, is torment: so too for everything else. Things are not all that painful nor harsh in themselves: it is our weakness, our slackness, which makes them so. To judge great and lofty things we need a mind which is like them: otherwise we attribute to them the viciousness which belongs to ourselves. A straight oar seems bent in water. It is not only seeing which counts: how we see counts too.

Come on then. There are so many arguments persuading men in a variety of ways to despise death and to endure pain: why do we never find a single one which applies to ourselves? Thoughts of so many different kinds have persuaded others: why cannot we each find the one that suits our own disposition? If a man cannot stomach a strong purgative and root out his malady, why cannot he at least take lenitive and relieve it? 'Opinio est quaedam effeminata ac levis, nec in dolore magis, quam eadem in voluptate: qua, cum liquescimus fluimusque mollitia, apis aculeum sine clamore ferre non possumus. Totum in eo est, ut tibi imperes.' [As much in pain as in pleasure, our opinions are trivial and womanish: we have been melted and dissolved by wantonness; we cannot even endure the sting of a bee without making a fuss. Above all we must gain mastery over ourselves.] We cannot evade Philosophy by immoderately pleading our human frailty and the sharpness of pain: Philosophy is merely constrained to have recourse to her unanswerable counterplea: 'Living in necessity is bad: but at least there is no necessity that you should go on doing so.' No one suffers long, save by his own fault. If a man has no heart fro either living or dying; if he has not will either to resist or to run away: what are we to do with him?

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.