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qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas_,[36] another in total ignorance,
another in indolence, others in disregarding appearances, another in
wondering at nothing, _nihil admirari prope res una quæ possit facere et
servare beatum_,[37] and the true sceptics in their indifference, doubt,
and perpetual suspense, and others, wiser, think to find a better
definition. We are well satisfied.

_To transpose after the laws to the following title._

We must see if this fine philosophy have gained nothing certain from so
long and so intent study; perhaps at least the soul will know itself.
Let us hear the rulers of the world on this subject. What have they
thought of her substance? 394.[38] Have they been more fortunate in
locating her? 395.[39] What have they found out about her origin,
duration, and departure? 399.[40]

Is then the soul too noble a subject for their feeble lights? Let us
then abase her to matter and see if she knows whereof is made the very
body which she animates, and those others which she contemplates and
moves at her will. What have those great dogmatists, who are ignorant of
nothing, known of this matter? _Harum sententiarum_,[41] 393.

This would doubtless suffice, if reason were reasonable. She is
reasonable enough to admit that she has been unable to find anything
durable, but she does not yet despair of reaching it; she is as ardent
as ever in this search, and is confident she has within her the
necessary powers for this conquest. We must therefore conclude, and,
after having examined her powers in their effects, observe them in
themselves, and see if she has a nature and a grasp capable of laying
hold of the truth.]


A letter _On the Foolishness of Human Knowledge and Philosophy_.

This letter before _Diversion_.

_Felix qui potuit ... Nihil admirari._[42]

280 kinds of sovereign good in Montaigne.[43]


Part I, 1, 2, c. 1, section 4.[44]

[_Probability._ - It will not be difficult to put the case a stage lower,
and make it appear ridiculous. To begin at the very beginning.] What is
more absurd than to say that lifeless bodies have passions, fears,
hatreds - that insensible bodies, lifeless and incapable of life, have
passions which presuppose at least a sensitive soul to feel them, nay
more, that the object of their dread is the void? What is there in the
void that could make them afraid? Nothing is more shallow and
ridiculous. This is not all; it is said that they have in themselves a
source of movement to shun the void. Have they arms, legs, muscles,


To write against those who made too profound a study of science:


I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been
quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip
to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God.


Descartes useless and uncertain.


[_Descartes._ - We must say summarily: "This is made by figure and
motion," for it is true. But to say what these are, and to compose the
machine, is ridiculous. For it is useless, uncertain, and painful. And
were it true, we do not think all philosophy is worth one hour of pain.]


How comes it that a cripple does not offend us, but that a fool
does?[45] Because a cripple recognises that we walk straight, whereas a
fool declares that it is we who are silly; if it were not so, we should
feel pity and not anger.

Epictetus[46] asks still more strongly: "Why are we not angry if we are
told that we have a headache, and why are we angry if we are told that
we reason badly, or choose wrongly?" The reason is that we are quite
certain that we have not a headache, or are not lame, but we are not so
sure that we make a true choice. So having assurance only because we see
with our whole sight, it puts us into suspense and surprise when another
with his whole sight sees the opposite, and still more so when a
thousand others deride our choice. For we must prefer our own lights to
those of so many others, and that is bold and difficult. There is never
this contradiction in the feelings towards a cripple.


It is natural for the mind to believe, and for the will to love;[47] so
that, for want of true objects, they must attach themselves to false.


_Imagination._[48] - It is that deceitful part in man, that mistress of
error and falsity, the more deceptive that she is not always so; for she
would be an infallible rule of truth, if she were an infallible rule of
falsehood. But being most generally false, she gives no sign of her
nature, impressing the same character on the true and the false.

I do not speak of fools, I speak of the wisest men; and it is among them
that the imagination has the great gift of persuasion. Reason protests
in vain; it cannot set a true value on things.

This arrogant power, the enemy of reason, who likes to rule and dominate
it, has established in man a second nature to show how all-powerful she
is. She makes men happy and sad, healthy and sick, rich and poor; she
compels reason to believe, doubt, and deny; she blunts the senses, or
quickens them; she has her fools and sages; and nothing vexes us more
than to see that she fills her devotees with a satisfaction far more
full and entire than does reason. Those who have a lively imagination
are a great deal more pleased with themselves than the wise can
reasonably be. They look down upon men with haughtiness; they argue with
boldness and confidence, others with fear and diffidence; and this
gaiety of countenance often gives them the advantage in the opinion of
the hearers, such favour have the imaginary wise in the eyes of judges
of like nature. Imagination cannot make fools wise; but she can make
them happy, to the envy of reason which can only make its friends
miserable; the one covers them with glory, the other with shame.

What but this faculty of imagination dispenses reputation, awards
respect and veneration to persons, works, laws, and the great? How
insufficient are all the riches of the earth without her consent!

Would you not say that this magistrate, whose venerable age commands the
respect of a whole people, is governed by pure and lofty reason, and
that he judges causes according to their true nature without considering
those mere trifles which only affect the imagination of the weak? See
him go to sermon, full of devout zeal, strengthening his reason with the
ardour of his love. He is ready to listen with exemplary respect. Let
the preacher appear, and let nature have given him a hoarse voice or a
comical cast of countenance, or let his barber have given him a bad
shave, or let by chance his dress be more dirtied than usual, then
however great the truths he announces. I wager our senator loses his

If the greatest philosopher in the world find himself upon a plank wider
than actually necessary, but hanging over a precipice, his imagination
will prevail, though his reason convince him of his safety.[49] Many
cannot bear the thought without a cold sweat. I will not state all its

Every one knows that the sight of cats or rats, the crushing of a coal,
etc. may unhinge the reason. The tone of voice affects the wisest, and
changes the force of a discourse or a poem.

Love or hate alters the aspect of justice. How much greater confidence
has an advocate, retained with a large fee, in the justice of his cause!
How much better does his bold manner make his case appear to the judges,
deceived as they are by appearances! How ludicrous is reason, blown with
a breath in every direction!

I should have to enumerate almost every action of men who scarce waver
save under her assaults. For reason has been obliged to yield, and the
wisest reason takes as her own principles those which the imagination of
man has everywhere rashly introduced. [He who would follow reason only
would be deemed foolish by the generality of men. We must judge by the
opinion of the majority of mankind. Because it has pleased them, we must
work all day for pleasures seen to be imaginary; and after sleep has
refreshed our tired reason, we must forthwith start up and rush after
phantoms, and suffer the impressions of this mistress of the world. This
is one of the sources of error, but it is not the only one.]

Our magistrates have known well this mystery. Their red robes, the
ermine in which they wrap themselves like furry cats,[50] the courts in
which they administer justice, the _fleurs-de-lis_, and all such august
apparel were necessary; if the physicians had not their cassocks and
their mules, if the doctors had not their square caps and their robes
four times too wide, they would never have duped the world, which cannot
resist so original an appearance. If magistrates had true justice, and
if physicians had the true art of healing, they would have no occasion
for square caps; the majesty of these sciences would of itself be
venerable enough. But having only imaginary knowledge, they must employ
those silly tools that strike the imagination with which they have to
deal; and thereby in fact they inspire respect. Soldiers alone are not
disguised in this manner, because indeed their part is the most
essential; they establish themselves by force, the others by show.

Therefore our kings seek out no disguises. They do not mask themselves
in extraordinary costumes to appear such; but they are accompanied by
guards and halberdiers. Those armed and red-faced puppets who have hands
and power for them alone, those trumpets and drums which go before them,
and those legions round about them, make the stoutest tremble. They have
not dress only, they have might. A very refined reason is required to
regard as an ordinary man the Grand Turk, in his superb seraglio,
surrounded by forty thousand janissaries.

We cannot even see an advocate in his robe and with his cap on his head,
without a favourable opinion of his ability. The imagination disposes of
everything; it makes beauty, justice, and happiness, which is everything
in the world. I should much like to see an Italian work, of which I only
know the title, which alone is worth many books, _Della opinione regina
del mondo_.[51] I approve of the book without knowing it, save the evil
in it, if any. These are pretty much the effects of that deceptive
faculty, which seems to have been expressly given us to lead us into
necessary error. We have, however, many other sources of error.

Not only are old impressions capable of misleading us; the charms of
novelty have the same power. Hence arise all the disputes of men, who
taunt each other either with following the false impressions of
childhood or with running rashly after the new. Who keeps the due mean?
Let him appear and prove it. There is no principle, however natural to
us from infancy, which may not be made to pass for a false impression
either of education or of sense.

"Because," say some, "you have believed from childhood that a box was
empty when you saw nothing in it, you have believed in the possibility
of a vacuum. This is an illusion of your senses, strengthened by custom,
which science must correct." "Because," say others, "you have been
taught at school that there is no vacuum, you have perverted your common
sense which clearly comprehended it, and you must correct this by
returning to your first state." Which has deceived you, your senses or
your education?

We have another source of error in diseases.[52] They spoil the judgment
and the senses; and if the more serious produce a sensible change, I do
not doubt that slighter ills produce a proportionate impression.

Our own interest is again a marvellous instrument for nicely putting out
our eyes. The justest man in the world is not allowed to be judge in his
own cause; I know some who, in order not to fall into this self-love,
have been perfectly unjust out of opposition. The sure way of losing a
just cause has been to get it recommended to these men by their near

Justice and truth are two such subtle points, that our tools are too
blunt to touch them accurately. If they reach the point, they either
crush it, or lean all round, more on the false than on the true.

[Man is so happily formed that he has no ... good of the true, and
several excellent of the false. Let us now see how much.... But the most
powerful cause of error is the war existing between the senses and


_We must thus begin the chapter on the deceptive powers._ Man is only a
subject full of error, natural and ineffaceable, without grace. Nothing
shows him the truth. Everything deceives him. These two sources of
truth, reason and the senses, besides being both wanting in sincerity,
deceive each other in turn. The senses mislead the reason with false
appearances, and receive from reason in their turn the same trickery
which they apply to her; reason has her revenge. The passions of the
soul trouble the senses, and make false impressions upon them. They
rival each other in falsehood and deception.[53]

But besides those errors which arise accidentally and through lack of
intelligence, with these heterogeneous faculties ...


The imagination enlarges little objects so as to fill our souls with a
fantastic estimate; and, with rash insolence, it belittles the great to
its own measure, as when talking of God.


Things which have most hold on us, as the concealment of our few
possessions, are often a mere nothing. It is a nothing which our
imagination magnifies into a mountain. Another turn of the imagination
would make us discover this without difficulty.


[My fancy makes me hate a croaker, and one who pants when eating. Fancy
has great weight. Shall we profit by it? Shall we yield to this weight
because it is natural? No, but by resisting it ...]


_Næ iste magno conatu magnas nugas dixerit.[54]

Quasi quidquam infelicius sit homini cui sua figmenta dominantur._[55]


Children who are frightened at the face they have blackened are but
children. But how shall one who is so weak in his childhood become
really strong when he grows older? We only change our fancies. All that
is made perfect by progress perishes also by progress. All that has been
weak can never become absolutely strong. We say in vain, "He has grown,
he has changed"; he is also the same.


Custom is our nature. He who is accustomed to the faith believes in it,
can no longer fear hell, and believes in nothing else. He who is
accustomed to believe that the king is terrible ... etc. Who doubts then
that our soul, being accustomed to see number, space, motion, believes
that and nothing else?


_Quod crebro videt non miratur, etiamsi cur fiat nescit; quod ante non
viderit, id si evenerit, ostentum esse censet._[56] (Cic. 583.)


_Spongia solis._[57] - When we see the same effect always recur, we infer
a natural necessity in it, as that there will be a to-morrow, etc. But
nature often deceives us, and does not subject herself to her own rules.


What are our natural principles but principles of custom? In children
they are those which they have received from the habits of their
fathers, as hunting in animals. A different custom will cause different
natural principles. This is seen in experience; and if there are some
natural principles ineradicable by custom, there are also some customs
opposed to nature, ineradicable by nature, or by a second custom. This
depends on disposition.


Parents fear lest the natural love of their children may fade away. What
kind of nature is that which is subject to decay? Custom is a second
nature which destroys the former.[58] But what is nature? For is custom
not natural? I am much afraid that nature is itself only a first custom,
as custom is a second nature.


The nature of man is wholly natural, _omne animal_.[59]

There is nothing he may not make natural; there is nothing natural he
may not lose.


Memory, joy, are intuitions; and even mathematical propositions become
intuitions, for education produces natural intuitions, and natural
intuitions are erased by education.


When we are accustomed to use bad reasons for proving natural effects,
we are not willing to receive good reasons when they are discovered. An
example may be given from the circulation of the blood as a reason why
the vein swells below the ligature.


The most important affair in life is the choice of a calling; chance
decides it. Custom makes men masons, soldiers, slaters. "He is a good
slater," says one, and, speaking of soldiers, remarks, "They are perfect
fools." But others affirm, "There is nothing great but war, the rest of
men are good for nothing." We choose our callings according as we hear
this or that praised or despised in our childhood, for we naturally love
truth and hate folly. These words move us; the only error is in their
application. So great is the force of custom that out of those whom
nature has only made men, are created all conditions of men. For some
districts are full of masons, others of soldiers, etc. Certainly nature
is not so uniform. It is custom then which does this, for it constrains
nature. But sometimes nature gains the ascendancy, and preserves man's
instinct, in spite of all custom, good or bad.


_Bias leading to error._ - It is a deplorable thing to see all men
deliberating on means alone, and not on the end. Each thinks how he will
acquit himself in his condition; but as for the choice of condition, or
of country, chance gives them to us.

It is a pitiable thing to see so many Turks, heretics, and infidels
follow the way of their fathers for the sole reason that each has been
imbued with the prejudice that it is the best. And that fixes for each
man his conditions of locksmith, soldier, etc.

Hence savages care nothing for Providence.[60]


There is an universal and essential difference between the actions of
the will and all other actions.

The will is one of the chief factors in belief, not that it creates
belief, but because things are true or false according to the aspect in
which we look at them. The will, which prefers one aspect to another,
turns away the mind from considering the qualities of all that it does
not like to see; and thus the mind, moving in accord with the will,
stops to consider the aspect which it likes, and so judges by what it


_Self-love._ - The nature of self-love and of this human Ego is to love
self only and consider self only. But what will man do? He cannot
prevent this object that he loves from being full of faults and wants.
He wants to be great, and he sees himself small. He wants to be happy,
and he sees himself miserable. He wants to be perfect, and he sees
himself full of imperfections. He wants to be the object of love and
esteem among men, and he sees that his faults merit only their hatred
and contempt. This embarrassment in which he finds himself produces in
him the most unrighteous and criminal passion that can be imagined; for
he conceives a mortal enmity against that truth which reproves him, and
which convinces him of his faults. He would annihilate it, but, unable
to destroy it in its essence, he destroys it as far as possible in his
own knowledge and in that of others; that is to say, he devotes all his
attention to hiding his faults both from others and from himself, and he
cannot endure either that others should point them out to him, or that
they should see them.

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is a still greater evil
to be full of them, and to be unwilling to recognise them, since that is
to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion. We do not like others
to deceive us; we do not think it fair that they should be held in
higher esteem by us than they deserve; it is not then fair that we
should deceive them, and should wish them to esteem us more highly than
we deserve.

Thus, when they discover only the imperfections and vices which we
really have, it is plain they do us no wrong, since it is not they who
cause them; they rather do us good, since they help us to free ourselves
from an evil, namely, the ignorance of these imperfections. We ought not
to be angry at their knowing our faults and despising us; it is but
right that they should know us for what we are, and should despise us,
if we are contemptible.

Such are the feelings that would arise in a heart full of equity and
justice. What must we say then of our own heart, when we see in it a
wholly different disposition? For is it not true that we hate truth and
those who tell it us, and that we like them to be deceived in our
favour, and prefer to be esteemed by them as being other than what we
are in fact? One proof of this makes me shudder. The Catholic religion
does not bind us to confess our sins indiscriminately to everybody; it
allows them to remain hidden from all other men save one, to whom she
bids us reveal the innermost recesses of our heart, and show ourselves
as we are. There is only this one man in the world whom she orders us to
undeceive, and she binds him to an inviolable secrecy, which makes this
knowledge to him as if it were not. Can we imagine anything more
charitable and pleasant? And yet the corruption of man is such that he
finds even this law harsh; and it is one of the main reasons which has
caused a great part of Europe to rebel against the Church.[61]

How unjust and unreasonable is the heart of man, which feels it
disagreeable to be obliged to do in regard to one man what in some
measure it were right to do to all men! For is it right that we should
deceive men?

There are different degrees in this aversion to truth; but all may
perhaps be said to have it in some degree, because it is inseparable
from self-love. It is this false delicacy which makes those who are
under the necessity of reproving others choose so many windings and
middle courses to avoid offence. They must lessen our faults, appear to
excuse them, intersperse praises and evidence of love and esteem.
Despite all this, the medicine does not cease to be bitter to self-love.
It takes as little as it can, always with disgust, and often with a
secret spite against those who administer it.

Hence it happens that if any have some interest in being loved by us,
they are averse to render us a service which they know to be
disagreeable. They treat us as we wish to be treated. We hate the truth,
and they hide it from us. We desire flattery, and they flatter us. We
like to be deceived, and they deceive us.

So each degree of good fortune which raises us in the world removes us
farther from truth, because we are most afraid of wounding those whose
affection is most useful and whose dislike is most dangerous. A prince
may be the byword of all Europe, and he alone will know nothing of it. I
am not astonished. To tell the truth is useful to those to whom it is
spoken, but disadvantageous to those who tell it, because it makes them
disliked. Now those who live with princes love their own interests more
than that of the prince whom they serve; and so they take care not to
confer on him a benefit so as to injure themselves.

This evil is no doubt greater and more common among the higher classes;
but the lower are not exempt from it, since there is always some
advantage in making men love us. Human life is thus only a perpetual
illusion; men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our
presence as he does of us in our absence. Human society is founded on
mutual deceit; few friendships would endure if each knew what his friend
said of him in his absence, although he then spoke in sincerity and
without passion.

Man is then only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and
in regard to others. He does not wish any one to tell him the truth; he
avoids telling it to others, and all these dispositions, so removed from
justice and reason, have a natural root in his heart.


I set it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the
other, there would not be four friends in the world. This is apparent
from the quarrels which arise from the indiscreet tales told from time
to time. [I say, further, all men would be ...]


Some vices only lay hold of us by means of others, and these, like
branches, fall on removal of the trunk.


The example of Alexander's chastity[62] has not made so many continent
as that of his drunkenness has made intemperate. It is not shameful not
to be as virtuous as he, and it seems excusable to be no more vicious.
We do not believe ourselves to be exactly sharing in the vices of the

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