Monday, July 23, 2012

'That It Is Folly To Measure Truth...' - Montaigne

This is a short little essay, the theme of which is that we should not rush to skepticism.  Or, to borrow from next month's piece, 'there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy'.  Montaigne begins by noting that the young and naive can be easily fooled because they lack experience.  But then he says that there are things that he discounted, that he has now found to be true. 
Montaigne recounts long lists of events from Plutarch and others, when news of events spread faster than was physically possible.  He also lists various miracles of the saints and the reader certainly can't doubt the veracity of the saints! 
I'm curious what brought this essay about.  It was written around 1571.  Was there a push beginning to treat stories of saints and Biblical happenings with skepticism?  If, today, you heard that someone was healed with the hip bone of Mother Theresa, you would want some proof before you'd actually believe it.  Did they want proof then, too? 
Montaigne goes on to caution the Catholics from:
dispensing so much with their belief. They fancy they appear moderate and wise, when they grant to their opponents some of the articles in question;
He goes on to say:
We are either to wholly and absolutely to submit ourselves to the authority of our ecclesiastical polity, or totally throw off all our obedience to it: tis not for us to determine what and how much obedience we owe to it.
Which makes at least some sense to me.  Montaigne concludes with a statement that I find somewhat hard to square with the rest of him.  "Glory and curiosity are the scourges of the soul; the last prompts us to thrust our noses into everything, the other forbids us to leave anything doubtful and undecided."  He seems marked with a thirst for knowledge and 'curiosity'.

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