May 4, 2008

"At the stumbling of a horse, at the falling of a tile,... let us... say to ourselves, 'Well, and what if it had been death itself?'"

Michel de Montaigne, "That to Study Philosophy Is to Learn To Die":
Let us disarm [death] of his novelty and strangeness, let us converse and be familiar with him, and have nothing so frequent in our thoughts as death. Upon all occasions represent him to our imagination in his every shape; at the stumbling of a horse, at the falling of a tile, at the least prick with a pin, let us presently consider, and say to ourselves, "Well, and what if it had been death itself?" and, thereupon, let us encourage and fortify ourselves. Let us evermore, amidst our jollity and feasting, set the remembrance of our frail condition before our eyes, never suffering ourselves to be so far transported with our delights, but that we have some intervals of reflecting upon, and considering how many several ways this jollity of ours tends to death, and with how many dangers it threatens it.
Did you know the last word of this essay (in translation) is "foppery"? Surely, you will be better off knowing how Montaigne got from "Cicero says 'that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die'" to "Happy is the death that leaves us no leisure to prepare things for all this foppery."

ADDED: Thanks to The Philosophy Podcast for reading this essay to me — the day after a horse stumbled.


rhhardin said...

Philosophy is an escape from women.

George said...

Hey, ghost dude from London, what's all this mean....

vbspurs said...

Quoting de Montaigne:

Our courts of justice often send back condemned criminals to be executed upon the place where the crime was committed;

Magnificent! Why don't we bring back this tradition?

Let Fritzl rot out his days in the dungeon he ensnared his daughter and "children" in (since Austria doesn't have the death penalty anymore).

Happy is the death that leaves us no leisure to prepare things for all this foppery.



reader_iam said...

Philosophy is an escape from women.

Funny, I myself find it an escape from self-fixated, narrow-minded men such as you. You are to Montaigne what warmed over, generic cocktail weinies are to actual food.

reader_iam said...

Let me rephrase this: self-fixated, narrow-minded, stuck-in-one-record-groove (BORING! Startlingly unintelligent, given what appears ought to be raw material) men such as you.

reader_iam said...
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reader_iam said...

You, rhhardin, have the distinction of being the only commenter who consistently brings out in me in the desire to utter the immortal: "You want something to whine about? I'll give you something to whine about."

That is to say, to entirely validate your carrying on, if only that will make you go away to cry up in your room about the injustice and the unfairness and the "I've-been-done-so-wronged-ness" of it all.

Spank, spank, baby.

amba said...

Dang! He was a Buddhist!

"Not only did the Buddha encourage us to speak about death, he encouraged us to actually think about it, contemplate it and reflect on it regularly."

Palladian said...

"Before us there is certainly left only nothing; but that which struggles against this flowing away into nothing, namely our nature, is indeed just the will-to-live which we ourselves are, just as it is our world. That we abhor nothingness so much is just another way of saying that we will life so much, and that we are nothing but this will and know nothing but it alone. But we now turn our glance from our own needy and perplexed nature to those who have overcome the world, in whom the will, having reached complete self-knowledge, has found itself again in everything, and then freely denied itself, and who then merely wait to see the last trace of the will vanish with the body that is animated by that trace. Then, instead of the restless pressure and effort; instead of the constant transition from desire to apprehension and from joy to sorrow; instead of the never-satisfied and never-dying hope that constitutes the life-dream of the man who wills, we see that peace that is higher than all reason, that ocean-like calmness of the spirit, that deep tranquillity, that unshakeable confidence and serenity, whose mere reflection in the countenance, as depicted by Raphael and Correggio, is a complete and certain gospel. Only knowledge remains; the will has vanished. We then look with deep and painful yearning at that state, beside which the miserable and desperate nature of our own appears in the clearest light by contrast. Yet this consideration is the only one that can permanently console us, when, on the one hand, we have recognized incurable suffering and endless misery as essential to the phenomenon of the will, to the world, and on the other we see the world melt away with the abolished will, and retain before us only empty nothingness. In this way, therefore, by contemplating the life and conduct of saints, to meet with whom is of course rarely granted to us in our own experience, but who are brought to our notice by their recorded history, and, vouched for with the stamp of truth by art, we have to banish the dark impression of that nothingness, which as the final goal hovers behind all virtue and holiness, and which we fear as children fear darkness. We must not even evade it as the Indians do, by myth and meaningless words, such as reabsorption in Brahman, or the Nirvana of the Buddhists. On the contrary, we freely acknowledge that what remains after the complete abolition of the will is, for all who are still full of the will is, assuredly nothing. But also conversely, to those in whom the will has turned and denied itself, this very real world of ours with all its suns and galaxies is— nothing."

from "The World as Will and Representation" by Arthur Schopenhauer, translated from the German by E. F. J. Payne

reader_iam said...
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Skeptical said...

"I do not recall any philosopher reporting in distress that on some fundamental question he is forced to conclude that the truth is awful, worse even than the third best way he would want it. (Did not even Schopenhauer come to relish his conclusions?)"

from Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations

PatCA said...

One of my relatives died recently; he, although wealthy, was buried in a pine box, at his direction. He lived life to the fullest; no time for foppery at all.

blake said...

"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."
--Ed Wynn