Final Thoughts on Montaigne

From the final pages of Michael Perry’s Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy.

He quotes from Montaigne on one of his abiding meditations, death: Death, it is said, releases from all our obligations.

This phrasing…,with its use of the word releases, implicates us in our duty while we remain among the living. Montaigne may have retired to his castle, but he did not retire from every duty. “When he contrasts the solidity of acts with the futility of words,” wrote Starobinski, “he accepts the traditional moral teachings and opts for acts.” Even after he began essaying he continued to serve as a soldier, an advisor, and the mayor of Bordeaux. Even as he lay dying he had agreed to travel to Paris to counsel the king in some affair of state. “The world is inapt to be cured,” he wrote, but never forget he stood on that world, and forsook it at his own peril. I read Montaigne in my room above the garage and think I better start speaking up more. That I should make a few more ambulance calls. Take up the cause of uncertainty, if nothing else. If reading and writing about Montaigne has taught me anything, it is not that I am on some path to perfection where I never again grab the [electric] pig fencer. Montaigne is the pig fencer, jolting me out of my absentminded musing and into the recognition that through the examination of our imperfections I can better serve my obligations to others.

That, above all, is what I take from Montaigne.

I am obligated.

I must do better.