Sunday, April 03, 2005

Michel de Montaigne - the patron saint of bloggers

"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think." - Montaigne, paraphrasing Cicero

Michel de Montaigne, the humanist and skeptic creator of the personal essay, was a man who lived his life with the single purpose of self-reflection and education, and whose inquisitive mind drove him to write about nearly every aspect of the human experience in his masterpiece Essays.

The reason I cite Montaigne as being the spiritual father of blogging is that he intended for the use of the essay, which means "an attempt," to be attempts to communicate some aspect of his experience, not only to others, but to himself as well, in order to engender thought and reflection.

Some time ago I had worked on a draft to publish here which I had titled "The meaning of death" in which I attempted to explain how a humanist faces death. The main gist of it went

"Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not" - Epicurus

There is nothing to fear from death because there will be no "you" to worry about being dead - you simply won't be. Fear of death is in itself something of a premature burial (a point which did not escape Edgar Allan Poe) because it wastes the time we do exist by worrying about time that has no relevance to us. This isn't to say one should not avoid death, but the best way to do such is to concentrate on living your life and utilizing every moment that you do exist.
But I never published it, partly because this same sentiment echoes and is more eloquently elaborated in Montaigne's essay "That to study philosophy is to learn to die"* which had already been written many hundreds of years ago. In it Montaigne found that "the value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them." Patron saint indeed.

*The quotes in the text are in their original language. If you feel inclined to further read Montaigne I suggest making sure you find an edition that translates his quotes.

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