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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence

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Michel de Montaigne

Hemingway And Montaigne: Do Actions Or Thought Maketh A Man?

   It can be very useful to contrast human character types, such as in Ivan Turgenev’s “Hamlet and Don Quixote” essay (1860). The lives of Ernest Hemingway and Michel de Montaigne highlight the dual nature of what it is to be a man.

To Hemingway, it is “…much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered…”. His writing venerated the “…macho façade of boxing, bullfighting, big-game hunting and deep-sea fishing…”, primarily outdoor activities requiring courage and “grace under pressure“. One had to stare danger in the face to feel alive.

As for Montaigne: There is no exercise that is either feeble or more strenuous…than that of conversing with one’s own thoughts. The greatest men make it their vocation, “those for whom to live is to think. He sought the contemplative life, inside his tower and surrounded by books, valuing contentment in “…a private sphere in which individuals can attempt to realize that happiness without having to contend with the interference of society..”.

Hemingway lived life on the outer edge, while Montaigne preferred the calm of the center.

Presumption And Humility

“To really learned men has happened what happens to ears of wheat: they rise high and lofty, heads erect and proud, as long as they are empty; but when they are full and swollen with grain in their ripeness, they begin to grow humble and lower their horns. Similarly, men who have tried everything and sounded everything, having found in that pile of knowledge and store of so many various things nothing solid and firm, and nothing but vanity, have renounced their presumption and recognized their natural condition.”

“The Complete Essays of Montaigne”
Book II, Part XII “Apology for Raimond de Sebonde
Translated by Donald M. Frame

   The early 21st Century may well be defined by future historians and critics as the “Age of Presumption”, characterized by googled facts, shallow thinking, time spent watching Reality TV, Sports and Superhero Movies, while posting selfies to Facebook. True knowledge organically evolves into wisdom only through deep thought, an embrace of experience and life-long learning, and self-conceived humility. Michel de Montaigne, the great French Essayist and Skeptic, famously posited “What do I know?”. But this humble mantra is most likely the road to “Know Thyself“, one of the oldest of Greek maxims.

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