Since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live, and since children need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct them in it? ... But in truth I know nothing about education except this: that the greatest and the most important difficulty known to human learning seems to lie in that area which treats how to bring up children and how to educate them.
In his commerce with men I mean him to include - and that principally- those who live only in the memory of books. By means of history he will frequent those great souls of former years. If you want it to be so, history can be a waste of time; it can also be, if you want it to be so, a study bearing fruit beyond price. (Michel de Montaigne)
Karene and I read de Montaigne's Essays about 7 years ago (2002). We both marked out quotes that we liked, which Karene then typed out (what a great partner to have!)
Hope you enjoy them - he was very well read, thus very wise about human nature (and he quotes a lot of other great philosophers, particularly the ancient Greeks, which is an added bonus!).
de Montaigne was an influential French Renaissance writer. In
his main philosophical work, the Essays, unprecedented in its candidness
and personal flavor, he takes mankind and especially himself as the object
of study. He was a skeptic and a humanist.
Montaigne was born in Périgord, on the family estate Château de Montaigne near Bordeaux. The family was very rich. His father was a soldier in Italy for a time, and developed some very progressive views on education there. Montaigne was sent to a small cottage with a peasant family and a tutor until he was six, and while he lived there he spoke exclusively in Latin, the language of the educated class. He was then sent to study at a prestigious boarding school in Bordeaux , studied law in Toulouse and entered a career in the legal system. While serving at the Bordeaux Parliament, he became very close friends with the humanist writer Étienne de la Boétie whose death in 1563 deeply influenced Montaigne.
Montaigne married in 1565; he had five daughters, but only one survived childhood. In 1568 his father died and Montaigne inherited the Château de Montaigne, to which he moved back in 1570. He started to write in 1569, first a translation of the Spanish monk Raymond Sebond's Theologia naturalis, then a posthumous edition of Boétie's works. In 1571 he retired to the Château where in his library he began work on his Essays, first published in 1580.
The book is a collection of a large number of short subjective treatments
of various topics. Montaigne's stated goal is to describe man, and especially
himself, with utter frankness. He finds the great variety and volatility
of human nature to be its most basic features. He describes his own poor
memory, his ability to solve problems and mediate conflicts without truly
getting emotionally involved, his disdain for man's pursuit of lasting fame,
and his attempts to detach himself from worldly things to prepare for death.
He writes about his disgust with the religious conflicts of his time, his belief that humans are not able to attain true certainty (skepticism), and even alludes to cultural relativism, all rather modern notions.
We should be similarly wary of accepting common opinions; we should judge them by the ways of reason not by popular vote.
There is a huge gulf between the man who follows the conventions and laws of his country and the man who sets out to regiment them and to change them.
I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself.
When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.
It is the mind that maketh good or ill, That maketh wretch or happy, rich or poor.
He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak. (Michel de Montaigne)
Pride is the sin of sins: intellectually it leads to Man’s arrogantly taking mere opinion for knowledge. In terms which were common to many Renaissance writers, Montaigne emphasized that ‘there is a plague (a peste) on Man: the opinion that he knows something.’ (pxxxii)
‘Moreover if anyone thinks nothing is to be known, he does not even know whether that can be known, as he says he knows nothing.’ (Lucretius, line 469 of BookIV)
‘And what can anyone understand who cannot understand himself? Protagoras
was really and truly having us on when he made ‘Man the measure of
all things’- Man, who has never known his own measurements.’ (M)
Protagoras meant- that is what shocked Plato, Aristotle and Sextus Empiricus- that there is no universal standard of truth: each human being is severally and individually the sole criterion; all is opinion, and all opinions are equally true or false. (pxxxviii)
Montaigne had clearly seen that the characteristic property of the creature is impermanence. No creature ever is: a creature is always shifting, changing, becoming. The Platonic background to such a conclusion- unlike the purely Pyrrhonian one- enabled Montaigne to pass from the impermanence of the everchanging creature to what he presents as a ‘most pious’ concept of the Godhead, accessible to purely human reason: the Creator must have those qualities which Man as creature lacks: he must have unity, not diversity; absolute Being, not mere ‘becoming’. And since he created Time he must be outside it and beyond it. (pxxxix)
..he studied his own ‘self’ : that study was his metaphysic. His ‘self’, he found was more than his soul. His ‘being’, like that of any person, consisted in a soul (form) linked to a body (matter). (That was another scholastic axiom: ‘Form gives being to matter.’) (pxlvi)
The wiser man will live (in harmony with creation, of which he knows he forms a part- secundum naturam, ‘according to nature’. All schools of philosophy tell him to do so, but none tells him how to do so, having obscured Nature’s footsteps with their artifice. As always art or artifice is the antithesis of nature. (pxlviii)
..since actions and performances are not wholly in our power and since nothing is really in our power but our will- it is on the will that all the rules and duties of Man are based and established. (p28)
Just as fallow lands, when rich and fertile, are seen to abound in hundreds and thousands of different kinds of useless weeds so that, if we would make them do their duty, we must subdue them and keep them busy with seeds specifically sown for our service; so too with our minds. If we do not keep them busy with some particular subject which can serve as a bridle to reign them in, they charge ungovernably about, ranging to and from over the wastelands of our thoughts. (p30)
Then, there is no madness, no raving lunacy, which such agitations do not bring forth (p30)
It is true that, in all things, if Nature does not lend a hand art and industry do not progress very far. (p97)
Why, in so brief a span do we find strength to make so many projects? (p98)
‘Leave this world,’ Nature says, ‘just as you entered it. That same journey from death to life, which you once made without suffering or fear, make it again from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe; it is a part of the life of the world.’ (p103)
Life itself is neither a good nor an evil: life is where good or evil find a place, depending on how you make it for them. (Seneca) p104
There is no other light, no other night. The Sun, Moon and Stars, disposed just as they are now, were enjoyed by your grandsires and will entertain your great-grandchildren. (p104)
Do you not know that in real death there will be no second You, living to lament your death and standing by your corpse. (Lucretius, III, 1090) (p105)
Look back and see that the aeons of eternity before we were born have been nothing to us. (Senecca, p106)
It is likely that the credit given to miracles, visions, enchantments and such extraordinary events chiefly derives from the power of the imagination acting mainly on the more impressionable souls of the common people. (p112)
I was led to do this deed (which is so foreign to my nature) by a rare and troubled humour. I am opposed to all feigned and subtle actions; I hate sleight of hand not only in games but even when it serves a purpose. The way is vicious even if the deed is not. (P114)
For in truth, Habit is a violent and treacherous schoolteacher. Gradually and stealthily she slides her authorative foot into us; then, having by this gentle and humble beginning planted it firmly within us, helped by time she later discloses an angry tyrannous countenance, against which we are no longer allowed even to lift up our eyes. At every turn we find habit infringing the rules of Nature: (p122)
‘ Great is the power of habit: huntsmen spend nights in the snow and endure sunburn in the mountains; boxers, bruised by their studded gloves, do not even groan.’ (Cicero). These examples are from strange lands, but there is nothing strange about them, if only we consider what we assay by experience every day: how habit stuns our senses. There is no need to go in search of what is said about those who dwell near the cataracts of the Nile; nor what the philosophers deduce about the music of the spheres: that those solid material circles rub and lightly play against each other and so cannot fail to produce a wondrous harmony (by the modulations and mutations of which are conducted the revolutions and variations of the dance of stars) yet none of the creatures in the whole Universe can hear it, loud though it is, since (as in the case of the Egyptians) our sense of hearing has been dulled by the continuity of the sound. (p123)
At home I live in a tower where, at daybreak and sundown, a great bell-tools out the Ave Maria every day. My very tower is a-tremble at the din. At first I found it unbearable; a brief time was enough to break me in so that I can now hear it without annoyance and often without even being roused from sleep. (p123)
I find that our greatest vices do acquire their bent during our most tender infancy, so that our formation is chiefly in the hands of our wet-nurses. (p124)
We must carefully teach our children to detest vices for what they consist in; we must teach them their natural ugliness, so that they flee them not only in their deeds but in their minds: the very thought of them should be hateful, whatever mask they hide behind. (p124)
Everywhere and in everything my own eyes suffice to keep me to my duty; no eyes watch me more closely: there are none I regard more highly. (p124)
On Habit: and on never easily changing a traditional law
Where our judgements and beliefs are concerned, what can she not do? Is there any opinion so bizarre – (and I am leaving aside that coarse deceit of religions which, as we can see, has intoxicated so many great nations and so many learned men: since that concern lies beyond human reason a man may be excused if he goes astray over that, whenever he is not by divine favour enlightened above the natural order) - but in other opinions, are there any so strange that habit has not planted them and established them by laws, anywhere she likes, at her good pleasure?
‘ Is it not a disgrace that the natural philosopher, that observer and tracker of nature, should seek evidence of the truth from minds stupefied by habit!’ (Cicero)
I reckon that there is no notion, however mad, which can occur to the imagination of men of which we do not meet an example in some public practice or other and which, as a consequence, is not propped up on its foundations by our discursive reason.
Miraculous wonders depend on our ignorance of Nature not on the essence of Nature. Our judgement’s power to see things is lulled to sleep once we grow accustomed to anything. The Barbarians are in no wise more a wonder to us than we are to them, nor with better reason- as anyone would admit if, after running through examples from the New World, he concentrated on his own and them with good sense compared them. Human reason is a dye spread more or less equally through all the opinions and all the manners of us humans, which are infinite in matter and infinite in diversity. (p126)
+ examples to quote of different tribal customs (p126-129)
It is custom, says Aristotle, as often as from illness that women tear out their hair, gnaw their nails, eat earth and charcoal: just as it is as much by custom as by Nature that males lie with males. (p130)
In the past, when the Cretans wished to curse someone, they prayed the gods to make him catch a bad habit. (p130)
But the principal activity of custom is so to seize us and to grip us in her claws that it is hardly in our power to struggle free and to come back into ourselves, where we can reason and argue about her ordinances. Since we suck them in with our mothers’ milk and since the face if the world is presented this to our infant gaze, it seems to us that we were really born with the property of continuing to act that way. And as for those ideas which we find to be held in common and in high esteem about us, the seeds of which were planted in our souls by our forefathers, they appear to belong to our genus, to be natural. That is why we think that it is reason which is unhinged whenever custom is- and God knows how often we unreasonably do that! If (as those of us have been led to do who make a study of ourselves) each man, on hearing a wise maxim, immediately looked to see how it properly applied to him, he would find that it was not so much a pithy saying as a whiplash applied to the habitual stupidity of his faculty of judgement. But the counsels of Truth and her precepts are taken to apply to the generality of men, never to oneself: we store them up in our memory not in our manners, which is most stupid and unprofitable. (p130)
Peoples nurtured on freedom and self-government judge any other form of polity to be deformed and unnatural. Those who are used to monarchy do the same (p130)
Darius asked some Greeks what it would take to persuade them to adopt
the Indian custom of eating their dead fathers (for that was the ritual
among Indians who reckoned that the most auspicious burial they could give
their fathers was within themselves): they replied that nothing on earth
could make them do it. Then he made an assay at persuading those Indians
to abandon their way and adopt that of the Greeks (which was to cremate
their fathers’ corpses): he horrified them even more.
We all do likewise: usage hides the true aspect of things from us:
‘ There is nothing which at first seems so great or so wonderous which we do not all gradually wonder at less and less.’ (Lucretius )
I once had the duty of justifying one of our practices which, far and wide around us, is accepted as having established authority; I did not wish to maintain it (as is usually done) exclusively by force of law and exempla so I traced it back to its origins: I found its basis to be so weak that I all but loathed it- I was supposed to encourage it in others. (p131)
A man who wished to loose himself from the violent foregone conclusions of custom will find many things accepted as being indubitably settled which have nothing to support them but the hoary whiskers and wrinkles of attendant usage; let him tear off that mask, bring matters back to truth and reason, and he will feel his judgement turned upside-down, yet restored by this to a much surer state. (p132)
What is more uncouth than a nation where, by legal custom, the office of judge is openly venal and where verdicts are simply brought for cash? Where, quite legally, justice is denied to anyone who cannot pay for it, yet where this trade is held in such high esteem that there is formed a fourth estate in the commonwealth, composed of men who deal in lawsuits, thus joining the three ancient estates, the Church, the Nobility and the People? Where this fourth estate, having charge of the laws and sovereign authority over lives and chattels, should be quite distinct from the nobility, with the result that there are two sets of laws, the law of honour and the law of justice which are strongly opposed in many matters.. (p132)
Take things indifferent, such as clothing: if anyone cared to refer clothing
back to its true purpose (which is its usefulness and convenience for the
body- its original grace and comeliness depends on that), I would concede
to him that the most monsterous clothes imaginable include, to my taste,
our doctoral bonnets, that long tail of pleated velvet hanging down from
the heads of our womenfolk with its motely fringes, and that silly codpiece
uselessly modelling a member which we cannot even decently call by its
name yet which we make a parade of, showing it off in public.
Nevertheless such considerations do not deter a man of intelligence from following the common fashion, it seems to me on the contrary that all idiosyncratic and outlandish modes derive less from reason than from madness and ambitious affectation; it is his soul that a wise man should withdrawl from the crowd, maintaining its power and freedom freely to make judgements, whilst externally accepting all received forms and fashions. (p133)
And here is one drawn from a different barrel: it is greatly to be doubted whether any obvious good can come from changing any traditional law, whatever it may be, compared with the evil of changing it; for a polity is like a building made of diverse pieces interlocked together, joined in such a way that it is impossible to move one without the whole structure feeling it. (p134)
There is a huge gulf between the man who follows the conventions and laws of his country and the man who sets out to regiment them and to change them. (p136)
On Schoolmasters’ Learning
I would like to sugeest that our minds are swamped by too much study and by too much matter just as plants are swamped by too much water or lamps by too much oil; that our minds, held fast and encumbered by so many diverse preoccupations, may well lose the means of struggling free, remaining bowed and bent under the load; except that it is quite otherwise: the more our souls are filled, the more they expand; examples drawn from far-off times show, on the contrary, that great soldiers ad statesmen were also great scholars. (p151)
Odi homines ignava opera, philosopha sententia
I hate men whose words are philosophical but whose deeds are base. (p152)
I think it better to say that the evil arises from their tackling the sciences in the wrong manner and that, from the way we have been taught, it is no wonder that neither master nor pupils become more able, even though they do know more. In truth the care and fees of our parents aim only at furnishing our heads with knowledge: nobody talks about judgement or virtue. When someone passes by, try exclaiming, ‘Oh, what a learned man!’ Then, when another does, ‘Oh, what a good man!’ Our people will not fail to turn their gaze respectfully towards the first. There ought to be a third man crying, ‘Oh, what blockheads!’ (p153)
We readily inquire, ‘Does he know Greek or Latin?’ ‘Can he write poetry and prose?’ But what matters most is what we put last: ‘Has he become better and wiser?’ We ought to find out not who understands most but who understands best. We work merely to fill the memory, leaving the understanding and the sense of right and wrong empty. Just as birds sometimes go in search of grain, carrying it in their beaks without tasting it to stuff it down the beaks of their young, so too do our schoolmasters go foraging for learning in their books and merely lodge it on the tip of their lips, only to spew it out and scatter it on the wind. (p154)
Their pupils and their little charges are not nourished and fed by what they learn: the learning is passed from hand to hand with only one end in view: to show it off, to put into our accounts to entertain others with it, as though it were merely counters, useful for totting up and producing statements, but having no other use or currency. ‘Apud alios loqui didicerunt, non ipsi secum’ [They have learned how to talk with others, not with themselves] (p154)
We know how to say, ‘This is what Cicero said’; ‘This is morality for Plato’; ‘These are the ipsissima verba of Aristotle.’ But what have we got to say? What judgements do we make? What are we doing? A parrot could talk as well as we do. (p154)
Whenever I ask a certain acquaintance of mine to tell me what he knows
about anything, he wants to show me a book: he would not venture to tell
me that he has scabs on his arse without studying his lexicon to find out
the meaning of scab and arse.
All we do is to look after the opinions and learning of others: we ought to make them our own. We closely resemble a man who, needing a fire, goes next door to get a light, finds a great big blaze there and stays to warm himself, forgetting to take a brand back home. What use is it to us to have a belly full of meat if we do not digest it, if we do not transmute it into ourselves, if it does not make us grow in size and strength? (p155)
Learned we may be with another man’s learning: we can only be wise
with wisdom of our own:
[I hate a sage who is not wise for himself] (p155)
If our souls do not move with a better motion and if we do not have a healthier judgement, then I would just as soon that our pupil should spend his time playing tennis: at least his body would become more agile. But just look at him after he has spent some fifteen or sixteen years studying: nothing could be more unsuited for employment. The only improvement you can see is that his Latin and Greek have made him more conceited and more arrogant than when he left home. He ought to have brought back a fuller soul: he brings back a swollen one; instead of making it weightier he has merely blown wind into it. (p156)
And I loathe people who find it harder to put up with a gown askew than with a soul askew and who judge a man by his bow, his bearing and his boots. (p157)
‘what use is knowledge if there is no understanding?’ (p158)
‘non vitae sed scholae discimus’. [We are taught for the schoolroom not for life] (p158)
Now we are not merely to stick knowledge on to the soul: we must incorporate it into her; the soul should not be sprinkled with knowledge but steeped in it. And if knowledge does not change her and make her imperfect state better then it is preferable just to leave it alone. Knowledge is a dangerous sword; in a weak hand which does not know how to weild it it gets in its master’s way and wounds him, ‘ut fuerit melius non didicisse’ [so that it would have been better not to have studied at all]. (p158)
Learning is a good medicene: but no medicene is powerful enough to preserve itself from taint and corruption independently of defects in the jar that it is kept in. One man sees clearly but does not see straight: consequently he sees what is good but fails to follow it; he sees knowledge and does not use it. (p159)
..since it was true that study, even when done properly, can only teach us what wisdom, right conduct and determination consist in, they wanted to put their children directly in touch with actual cases, teaching them not by hearsay but by actively assaying them, vigorously moulding and forming them not merely by word and precept but chiefly by deeds and examples, so that wisdom should not be something which the soul knows but the soul’s very essence and temperament, not something acquired but a natural property. (p161)
When Agesilaus urged Xenophon to send his sons to be brought up in Sparta, it was not o learn rhetoric there nor dialectic but, he said, to learn the finest subject of all: namely how to obey and how to command. (p161)
+quote on martial government, that ‘studying the arts and sciences makes hearts soft and womanish rather than teaching them how to be firm and ready for war.’ (p162)
On Educating Children
I acknowledge myself to be so weak, so paltry, so lumbering and so dull compared with such men, that I feel scorn and pity for myself. I do congratulate myself, however, that my opinions frequently coincide with theirs and on the fact that I do at least trail far behind them murmuring, ‘Hear, hear’. (p165)
..I only quote others to be quote myself. (p166)
I feel too badly taught to teach others. (p167)
But in truth I know nothing about education except this: that the greatest and the most important difficulty known to human learning seems to lie in that area which treats how to bring up children and how to educate them. (p167)
Socrates and then Archesilaus used to make their pupils speak first; they spoke afterwards. ‘Obest plerumque iis discere volunt authoritas eorum qui docent.’ [For those who want to learn, the obstacle can often be the authority of those who teach] (p169)
Those who follow our French practice and undertake to act as schoolmaster
for several minds diverse in kind and capacity, using the same teaching
and the same degree of guidance for them all, not suprisingly can scarcely
find in a whole tribe of children more than one or two who bear fruit from
Let the tutor not merely require a verbal account of what the boy has been taught but the meaning and substance of it: let him judge how the boy has profited from it not from the evidence of his memory but from that of his life. Let him take what the boy has just learned and make him show him dozens of different aspects of it and then apply it to just as many different subjects, in order to find out whether he has really grasped it and made it part of himself, judging the boy’s progress by what Plato taught about education. Spewing food up exactly as you have swallows it is evidence of a failure to digest and assimilate it; the stomach has not done its job if, during concoction, it fails to change the substance and the form of what it is given. (p169)
Only fools make up their minds and are certain:
Che non men che saper dubbiar m’aggrada.
[For doubting pleases me as much as knowing ] (p170)
Truth and reason are common to all: they no more belong to the man who first put them into words than to him who last did so. (p170)
The profit we possess after study is to have become better and wiser. (p171)
Nor is it enough to toughen up his soul; you must also toughen up his muscles. (p172)
Let him shun any semblance of impolitely laying down the law, as well as that puerile ambition to wish to appear clever by being different or to earn a name for criticizing or flaunting novelties. It is only appropriate for great poets freely to break the rules of poetry.. Although Socrates and Aristippus sometimes flouted normal rules and customs, one should not feel free to do the same: they obtained that privilege by qualities great and sublime. (p173-4)
Teach him a certain refinement in sorting out and selecting his arguments, with an affection for relevance and so for brevity. Above all let him be taught to throw down his arms and surrender to truth as soon as he perceives it, whether the truth is born at his rival’s doing or within himself from some change in his ideas. (p174)
As for our pupils talk, let his virtue and his sense of right and wrong shine through it and have no guide but reason. Make him understand that confessing an error which he discovers in his own argument even when he alone has noticed it is an act of justice and integrity, which are the main qualities he pursues; stubborness and rancour are vulgar qualities, visible in common souls whereas to think again, to change one’s mind and to give up a bad case on the heat of the argument are rare qualities showing strength and wisdom. (p174)
In his commerce with men I mean him to include- and that principally- those who live only in the memory of books. By means of history he will frequent those great souls of former years. If you want it to be so, history can be a waste of time; it can also be, if you want it to be so, a study bearing fruit beyond price. (p175)
Only a man who can picture in his mind the mighty idea of Mother Nature
in her total majesty; who can read in her countenance a variety so general
and so unchanging and then pick out therein not merely himself but an entire
kingdom as a tiny, feint point: only he can reckon things at their real
size. This great world of ours is the looking-glass in which we must gaze
to come to know ourselves from the right slant.
To sum up then, I want to be the book which our pupil studies. Such a variety of humours, schools of thought, opinions, laws and customs teach us to judge sanely of our own and teach our judgement to acknowledge its shortcomings and natural weakness. And that is no light apprenticeship. So many revolutions, so many changes in the fortune of the state, teach us to realise that our own fortune is no great miracle. (p177)
+(p178) teach him what knowing and not knowing means.. endure hardships..
The first lessons with which we should irrigate his mind should be those which teach him to know himself, and to know how to die… and to live. (p178)
Writing to Anaximenes, Pythagoras asked: ‘What mind am I supposed to bring to the secrets of the heavens, having death and slavery ever present before my eyes?’ (At the time the kings of Persia were preparing for war against his country.) We could all ask the same: ‘Assaulted as I am by ambition, covetousness, rashness and supersition, and having such enemies to life as that within me, should I start wondering about the motions of the Universe?’ (p179)
Oddly, things have now reached such a state that even among men of intelligence philosophy means something fantastical and vain, without value or usefulness, both in opinion and practice. The cause lies in chop-logic which has captured all the approaches. It is a great mistake to portray Philosophy with a haughty, frowning, terrifying face, or as inaccessible to the young. Whoever clapped that wan and frightening mask to her face! There is nothing more lovely, more happy and gay- I almost said more amorously playful. What she preaches is all feast and fun. A sad and gloomy mien shows you have mistaken her address. (p180)
‘Philosophical discussions habitually make men happy and joyful not frowning and sad.’ (p180)
The soul which houses philosophy must by her own sanity make for a sound
body. Her tranquility and ease must glow from her; she must fashion her
outward bearing to her mould, arming it therefore with gracious pride,
a spritely active demeanour and a happy welcoming face. The most express
sign of wisdom is unruffled joy: like all in the realms above the Moon,
her state is ever serene.
Her aim is virtue, which is not (as they teach in schools) perched on the summit of a steep mountain, rough and inaccessible. Those ho have drawn nigh her hold that on the contrary she dwells on a beautiful plateau, fertile and strewn with flowers; from there she clearly sees all things beneath her; but if you know the road you can happily make your way there by shaded grassy paths, flower-scented, smooth and gently rising, like tracks in the vaults of heaven. (p181)
+ (p181) Virtue having Nature for guide, Fortune and Pleasure for her companions.
..what makes true virtue highly valued in the ease, usefulness and pleasure we find in being virtuous: so far from it being difficult, children can be viruous as well as adults; the simple, as well as the clever. The means virtue uses is control not effort. (p182)
She (Virtue) knows how to be rich, powerful and learned and how to lie on a perfumed couch; she does love life; she does love beauty, renown and health. But her own peculiar office is to know how to enjoy those good things with proper moderation and how to lose them with constancy: an office much more noble than grievous; without it the whole course of our life becomes unnatural, troubled, deformed; then you can indeed tie it to those rocky paths, those brambles and those spectres. (p182)
Since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live, and since children
need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct
them in it?
Udum et molle lutum est; nunc nunc properandus et acri
Fingendus sine fine rota.
[The clay is soft and malleable. Quick! hurry to fashion it on that potter’s wheel which is for ever spinning.] (p183)
Any time and any place can be used to study: his room, a garden, is table, his bed; when alone or in company; morning and evening. His chief study will be Philosophy, that Former of good judgement and character who is privileged to be concerned with everything. (p184)
She (philosophy) is equally helpful to the rich and poor: neglect her, and she equally harms the young and old. (p185)
I would want him to outstrip his fellows in vigour and firmness even during the carousing and that he should refrain from wrongdoing not because he lacks strength or knowledge but because he does not want to do it. ‘Multum interest utrum peccare aliquis nolit aut nesciat.’ [There is great difference between not wanting to do evil and not knowing how to.] (p187)
‘As a man who knows how to make his education into a rule of life not a means of showing off; who can control himself and obey his own principles.’ The true mirror of our discourse is the course of our lives. (p189)
I sometimes hear people who apologise for not being able to say what they mean, maintaining that their heads are so full of fine things that they cannot deliver them for want of eloquence. That is moonshine. Do you know what I think? It is a matter of shadowy notions coming to them from some unformed concepts which they are unable to untangle and to clarify in their minds: consequently they cannot deliver them externally. They themselves do not know yet what they mean. (p189)
Once you have mastered the things, the words will come freely. (p190)
There are some authors who are led by the beauty of some attractive word to write what they never intended. (p192)
I like the kind of speech which is simple and natural, the same on paper
as on the lip; speech which is rich in matter, sinewy, brief and short;
not so much titivated and refined as forceful and brusque-
[The style of speaking is the kind which strikes home] (p193)
Speech devoted to truth should be straightfoward and plain. (p193)
For among other things he had been counselled to bring me to love knowledge and duty by my own choice, without forcing my will, and to educate my soul entirely through gentleness and freedom. (p196)
+ (p198-9) Good governments take the trouble to bring their citizens together.. community
Learning must not only lodge with us: we must marry her. (p199)
‘When we grow used to seeing anything it accustoms our minds to it and we cease to be astonished by it; we never seek the causes of things like that.’ What makes us seek the cause of anything is not size but novelty. (p202)
Callicles says in Plato that, at its extremes, philosophy is harmful; he advices us not to go more deeply into it than he limits of what is profitable; taken in moderation philosophy is pleasant and useful, but it can eventually lead to a man’s becoming vicious and savage, contemptuous of religion and of the accepted laws, an enemy of social intercourse, an enemy of our human pleasures, useless at governing cities, at helping others or even helping himself- a man whose ears you could box with impunity. What he says is true, for in its excess philosophy enslaves our native freedom and with untimely subtleties makes us stray from that beautiful and easy path that Nature has traced for us. (p223)
Those sciences which govern the morals of mankind, such as Theology and Philosophy, make everything their concern: no activity is so private or so secret as to escape their attention or their jurisdiction. (p224)
There is no pleasure, however proper, which does not become a matter of reproach when excessive and intemperate. (p225)
We should be similarly wary of accepting common opinions; we should judge them by the ways of reason not by popular vote. (p228)
..there is nothing savage or barbarous about those peoples, but that every
man calls barbarous anything he is not accustomed to; it is indeed the
case that we have no other criterion of truth or right-reason than the
example and form of the opinions and customs of our own country. There
we always find the perfect religion, the perfect polity, the most developed
and perfect way of doing anything! Those ‘savages’ are only
wild in the sense that we call fruits wild when they are produced by Nature
in her ordinary course: whereas it is fruit which we have artificially
perverted and misled from the common order which we ought to call savage.
It is in the first kind that we find their true, vigorous, living, most
natural and most useful properties and virtues, which we have basterdized
in the other kind by merely adapting them to our corrupt tastes. Moreover,
there is a delicious savour which even our taste finds excellent in a variety
of fruits produced in those countries without cultivation: they rival our
own. It is not sensible that artifice should be reverenced more than Nature,
our great and powerful Mother. We have so overloaded the richness and beauty
of her products by our own ingenuity that we have smothered her entirely.
Yet wherever her pure light does shine, she wonderously shames our vain
and frivolous enterprises:
[Ivy grows best when left untended; the strawberry tree flourishes more beautifully in lonley grottoes, and birds sing the sweeter for their artlessness.] (p231-2)
A Venetian just back from the Kingdom of Pegu where he had spent a long time writes that the men and women there cover all the rest of their body, but always go barefoot even on their horses. And Plato enthusiastically advices that, for the health of our entire body, we should give no other covering to head or foot that what Nature has put there. (p255)
An Apology for Raymond Sebond
Thales was the first to inquire into such matters: he thought God was a Spirit who made all things out of water;
Anaximander said that the gods are born and die with the seasons and that there are worlds infinite in number;
Anaximenes said God was Air, immense, extensive, ever moving; Anaxagoras was the first to hold that the delineation and fashioning of all things was directed by the might and reason of an infinite Spirit;
Alcmaeon attributed Godhead to the Sun, the Moon, the stars and to the soul; Pythagoras made God into a Spirit diffused throughout all nature and from whom our souls are detached;
For Parmenides God was a circle of light surrounding the heavens and sustaining the world with its heat;
Empedocles made gods from the four natural elements of which all things are compounded;
Protagoras would not say whether the gods existed or not or what they are if they do; Democritus sometimes asserted that the constellations and their circular paths were gods, sometimes that God was that Nature whose impulse first made them move; then he said our knowledge and our intellect were God;
Plato’s beliefs are diffuse and many-sided: in the Timaeus he says that the Father of the world cannot be named; in the Laws he forbids all inquiry into the proper being of God: elsewhere, in these very same books, he makes the world, the sky, the heavenly bodies, the earth and our souls into gods, recognising as well all the gods accepted by ancient customs in every country.
Xenophon records a similar confusion in the teachings of Socrates: sometimes he has Socrates maintaining that no inquiry should be made into the properties of God; at other times he has him deciding that the Sun is God, that the soul is God, that there is only one God and then that there are many.
The nephew of Plato, Speusippus, holds God to a certain animate power governing all things;
Aristotle sometimes says that God is Mind and sometimes the World; at times he gives the world a different Master and sometimes makes a god from the heat of the sky.
Zenocrates has eight gods: five are named after the planets; the sixth has all the fixed stars as his members, the seventh and eighth being the Sun and Moon.
Heraclides of Pontus meanders along beneath these various notions and ends up with a God deprived if all sensation; he has him changing from one form to another and finally asserts that he is heaven and earth.
Theophrastus is similarly undecided, wandering about between his many concepts, attributing the government of the world sometimes to Intelligence, sometimes to the sky and sometimes to the stars;
Strato says God is Nature, giving birth, making things wax and wane, but itself formless and insensate;
Zeno makes a god of Natural Law: it commands good, forbids evil and is animate; he dismisses the gods accepted by custom- Jupiter, Juno and Vesta; Diogenes of Apollonia says God is Time.
Xenophanes makes God round, able to see and hear but not to breathe and having nothing in common with human nature; Ariston thinks that the form of God cannot be grasped: he deprives him of senses and cannot tell whether he is animate or something quite different.
For Cleanthes God is sometimes Reason, sometimes the World, sometimes the Soul of Nature, sometimes absolute Heat surrounding and enveloping all things.
Perseus, a pupil of Zeno’s, maintained that the name god was bestowed on people who had contributed some outstanding useful improvements to the life of Man- or even on the improvements themselves.
Chrysiippus made a chaotic mess of all these assertions and included among his thousand forms of gods men who had been immortalised. Diagoras and Theodorus bluntly denied that gods exist.
Epicurus has shiny gods, permeable to wind and light, who are lodged between two worlds which serve as fortresses protecting them from being battered; they are clothed in human shape, with limbs like ours which are quite useless. (575-6)
If the pleasures you offer me in the next life are related to ones I have experienced here on earth, that can have nothing to do with the Infinite. Even if my five natural senses were overwhelmed with joy; even if this soul of mine were seized of all the happiness she could ever hope for or desire, we know her limitations: that would amount to nothing. Where there remains anything of mine, there is nothing divine. If your promises merely relate to what can exist in our present condition, they cannot enter into the reckoning. All the pleasures of mortals are mortal. (p579)
When what is changed is loosened asunder, that is death. The elements are displaced and change their ordered places. (p580)
So great are the evils Religion has encouraged. (p583)
Too often in the past, religion has given birth to impious and wicked actions. (p585)
Some swear that nothing moves and that there is no such thing as all as motion- as was believed by the followers of Melissus (since, as Plato proves, there is no place for spherical motion within strict Unity, nor even for movement from one place to another)- or that there is, in Nature, no generation and no corruption.
Protagoras says that in Nature nothing exists but doubt: that everything is equally open to discussion, including the assertion that everything is equally open to discussion; Nausiphanes holds that among phenomena there is nothing which is rather than is not: that nothing is certain but uncertainty.
For Parmenides, within the world of phenomena there is no such thing as genus: there is only Unity.
For Zeno, there is not even Unity, only Nothing: for if Unity exists it must exist either within itself, that still makes two- the container and the contained. (p589)
I find it unacceptable that the power of God should be limited in this way by the rules of human language; these propositions offer an appearance of truth, but it ought to be expressed more reverently and more devoutly. Our speech, like everything else, has its defects and weaknesses. Most of the world’s squabbles are occasioned by grammar! Law-suits are born from disputes over the interpretation of laws; most wars arise from our inability to express clearly the conventions and treaties agreed on by monarchs. (p590)
How insolently the Stoics taunt Epicurus for holding that essential goodness and happiness belong to God alone, so that the Sage can only possess some shadowy likeness of them. How rashly they subject God to Destiny (would that some who bear the name of Christians did not do so still) ; Thales, Plato and Pythagoras even make God the slave of Necessity. (p592)
Even within Nature, effects barely suggest half their causes. But what is this Cause? God is a Cause completely above the order of Nature. His mode of being is too high, too distant, too magisterial to allow our logical conclusions to judge or to bind him. (p595)
But no man has yet discovered how purely mental impressions like these can effect such deep incursions into objects as massively solid as our bodies nor the nature of the lining sutures by which these astonishing stimuli are transmitted:
‘ Omnia incerta ratione et in naturae majestate abdita’
[All things remain unknown to reason and are hidden in the majesty of Nature], says Pliny and St Augustine:
‘ Modus quo corporibus adhaerent spiritus, omnino mirus est, nec comprehendi ab homine potest: et hoc ipse homo est’ [How the spirit adheres to the body is entirely a matter of wonder and cannot be understood by Man; nevertheless this union of body and spirit is Man.]
And yet everybody knows the answer! Merely human opinions become accepted
when derived from ancient beliefs, and are taken on authority and trust
like religion or law! We parrot whatever opinions are commonly held, accepting
them, as truths, with all the paraphernalia of supporting arguments and
proofs, as though they were something firm and soild; nobody tries to shake
them; nobody tries to refute them. On the contrary, everybody vies with
each other to plaster over the cracks and prop up received beliefs with
all his powers of reason- a supple instrument which can be turned on the
lathe into any shape at all. Thus the world is pickled with stupidity and
brimming over with lies. (p605)
Aristotle as the god of scholastic science, ‘what he taught is professed as law- yet like any other doctrine it may be false..’
‘There is nothing certain except that nothing is certain, and nothing more wretched than Man nor more arrogant.’ (p693)
On The Art of Conversation
Get the better of him by your argument and the winner is the truth; do so by your order and style, then you are the winner! (p1050)
For we are born to go in quest of truth: to take possession of it is the property of a greater Power. Truth is not (as Democritus said) hidden in the bottom of an abyss: it is, rather, raised infinitely high within the knowledge of God. (p1051)
There is in truth no greater silliness, none more endearing, than to be provoked and enraged by the silliness of this world- and there is none more bizarre. For it makes you principally irritated with yourself: that philosopher of old would never have lacked occasion for his tears if he had concentrated on himself. One of the Seven Sages, Myson, was of the same humour as Timon and Democritus: when asked what he was laughing at all by himself, he replied, ‘At the fact that I am laughing all by myself.’ (p1052)
+ (p1052-3) ‘everyone’s shit smells good to himself.’
Our first judges are properly our senses, which perceive things only by their external accidents. No wonder then that in all the elements which contribute to our society there is such a constant and universal addition of surface appearances and ritual; with the result that the best and most effective part of our polities consists in that. (p1054)
It is the same in discussion: the gravity, the academic robes and rank of the man who is speaking often lend credence to arguments which are vain and silly. (p1054)
Knowledge is a very weighty thing: they sink beneath it. Their mental apparatus has not enough energy nor skill to display tha noble material and to apportion its strength, to exploit it and make it help them. Knowledge can lodge only in a powerful nature: and that is very rare. Feeble minds, said Socrates, corrupt the dignity of philosophy when they handle it; she appears to be useless and defective when sheathed in a bad covering. (p1055-6)
They have to select us by fumbling guesses: by our family, our wealth, our learning and the voice of the people- the feeblest of arguments. Anyone who could discover the means by which men could be justly judged and reasonably chosen would, at a stroke, establish a perfect form of commonwealth. (p1057) (with truth!)
I will go on to say that our very wisdom and mature reflections are for the most part led by chance. My will and my reasoning are stirred this way and that. And many of their movements govern themselves without me. My reason is daily subject to incitements and agitations which are due to chance. (p1058)
Everything should bow and submit to our kings- except our intelligence. My reason was not made for bending and bowing, my knees were. (p1059)
Apprenticeships must be served, before you set hand to anything, by long and sustained study. (p1062)
It is a disaster that wisdom forbids you to be satisfied with yourself and always sends you away dissatisfied and fearful, whereas stubborness and foolhardiness fill their hosts with joy and assurance. It is the least clever of men who look down at others over their shoulders, always returning from the fray full of glory and joyfulness. And as often as not their haughty language and their happy faces win them victory in the eyes of the bystanders who are generally feeble in judging and incapable of discerning real superiority. The surest proof of animal-stupidity is ardent obstinacy of opinion. Is there anything more certain, decided, disdainful, contemplative, grave and serious, than a donkey? (p1062-3)
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