FEASTING AND JOLLITY:
MONTAIGNE ON THE IMAGE & CHARACTER OF PHILOSOPHY
Referring to Montaigne as "the freest and highest of souls," Nietzsche said “that such a man has written, joy on earth has truly increased…If my task were to make this earth a home, I would attach myself to him.” (In Schopenhauer as Educator).
Montaigne titles Chapter XIX of the Essays "That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die," and goes on to quote Cicero:
Cicero says—[Tusc., i. 31.]—"that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die." The reason of which is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or, else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die. And to say the truth, either our reason mocks us, or it ought to have no other aim but our contentment only, nor to endeavour anything but, in sum, to make us live well, and, as the Holy Scripture says, at our ease. All the opinions of the world agree in this, that pleasure is our end, though we make use of divers means to attain it: they would, otherwise, be rejected at the first motion; for who would give ear to him that should propose affliction and misery for his end? The controversies and disputes of the philosophical sects upon this point are merely verbal:
"Transcurramus solertissimas nugas"
["Let us skip over those subtle trifles."—Seneca, Ep., 117.]
—there is more in them of opposition and obstinacy than is consistent with so sacred a profession; but whatsoever personage a man takes upon himself to perform, he ever mixes his own part with it.
Yet Montaigne does not actually offer his observations from the limited well of the "nothing but." He tells lots of good stories, based on what he knows.
'Tis a thousand pities that matters should be at such a pass in this age of ours, that philosophy, even with men of understanding, should be looked upon as a vain and fantastic name, a thing of no use, no value, either in opinion or effect, of which I think those ergotisms and petty sophistries, by prepossessing the avenues to it, are the cause. And people are much to blame to represent it to children for a thing of so difficult access, and with such a frowning, grim, and formidable aspect. Who is it that has disguised it thus, with this false, pale, and ghostly countenance? There is nothing more airy, more gay, more frolic, and I had like to have said, more wanton. She preaches nothing but feasting and jollity; a melancholic anxious look shows that she does not inhabit there. Demetrius the grammarian finding in the temple of Delphos a knot of philosophers set chatting together, said to them,--[Plutarch, Treatise on Oracles which have ceased]--"Either I am much deceived, or by your cheerful and pleasant countenances, you are engaged in no, very deep discourse." To which one of them, Heracleon the Megarean, replied: "Tis for such as are puzzled about inquiring whether the future tense of the verb ------ is spelt with a double A, or that hunt after the derivation of the comparatives ----- and -----, and the superlatives ----and ------, to knit their brows whilst discoursing of their science: but as to philosophical discourses, they always divert and cheer up those that entertain them, and never deject them or make them sad."
"Deprendas animi tormenta latentis in aegro
Corpore; deprendas et gaudia; sumit utrumque
Inde habitum facies."
["You may discern the torments of mind lurking in a sick body; you
may discern its joys: either expression the face assumes from the
mind."--Juvenal, ix. 18]
The soul that lodges philosophy, ought to be of such a constitution of health, as to render the body in like manner healthful too; she ought to make her tranquillity and satisfaction shine so as to appear without, and her contentment ought to fashion the outward behaviour to her own mould, and consequently to fortify it with a graceful confidence, an active and joyous carriage, and a serene and contented countenance. The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness; her state is like that of things in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene. Tis Baroco and Baralipton--[Two terms of the ancient scholastic logic.]--that render their disciples so dirty and ill-favoured, and not she; they do not so much as know her but by hearsay. What! It is she that calms and appeases the storms and tempests of the soul, and who teaches famine and fevers to laugh and sing; and that, not by certain imaginary epicycles, but by natural and manifest reasons. She has virtue for her end, which is not, as the schoolmen say, situate upon the summit of a perpendicular, rugged, inaccessible precipice: such as have approached her find her, quite on the contrary, to be seated in a fair, fruitful, and flourishing plain, whence she easily discovers all things below; to which place any one may, however, arrive, if he know but the way, through shady, green, and sweetly-flourishing avenues, by a pleasant, easy, and smooth descent, like that of the celestial vault. 'Tis for not having frequented this supreme, this beautiful, triumphant, and amiable, this equally delicious and courageous virtue, this so professed and implacable enemy to anxiety, sorrow, fear, and constraint, who, having nature for her guide, has fortune and pleasure for her companions, that they have gone, according to their own weak imagination, and created this ridiculous, this sorrowful, querulous, despiteful, threatening, terrible image of it to themselves and others, and placed it upon a rock apart, amongst thorns and brambles, and made of it a hobgoblin to affright people.
This is what I say Philosophy is: nothing but stories about reality. Such stories are truly vain and fantastical, though the very best of them can prepare one’s self to die—the self is but a story. Now who can top that?
[Ahhh...there’s that famous “but” again, the esteemed reductionistic “but” of ancient fame. We’ll never lose our use for you, old companion, within the Kosmik Buzz.]