“That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them” – Michel de Montaigne (1580-1595)

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That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them – Michel de Montaigne

People are often bothered by their views on things, not the things themselves. We choose to see them as good or bad. If that’s so, why not choose to see things as good? There is a wide range of opinions on good and bad, so it seems unlikely that there is any universal good or evil.

But there is a lot of people who see death as a bad thing, but… there are many examples of death being the more favorable outcome. In the case of suicide, people choose death over life. In some cases, life is so horrible that death is a welcome event. On the other hand, there are many examples of people choosing life over death. We are naturally averse to things that expose us to the risk of death. For most of us, death is something to be avoided.

Pyrrho pointed at a pig on his boat in the middle of the storm. The pig was so ignorant of the likelihood of death that he didn’t seem all that bothered. The rest of his crew panicked. He used the pig as an example, “The pig doesn’t seem to mind, so, why should we?” The pig was ignorant of the danger and it was that ignorance that served him well. We humans are more in tune to the dangers of death. Why can’t we use our intelligence to convince ourselves that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing?

People can tolerate all kinds of pain in different ways. Some will crack at the mere mention of pain or torture. Some people can just deal with the pain. Others see pain as some sort of punishment being served by the gods. And still others see the delay of death worse than death itself.

Courage and coward tend to play a large role in our happiness and unhappiness with respect to pain and fear. If you can put up with pain and fear, i.e. being courageous, the shittiness of death and pain will not be so harsh. Cowards have it worse because the idea of death and pain are painful themselves.

Virtues like valor, force, resolution, etc. help us because we can convince ourselves that it’s not so bad. Remember that death will alleviate us from our pains, so in some sense it can be a good thing.

Engaging in too much pleasure or pain may have bad effects on the soul and mind because our sense can cloud our thoughts and affect our actions. This can affect our reason and make ourselves slaves to seeking pleasure and avoiding pain when it is bad or irrational to do so.

It’s not poverty that makes us greedy, it’s being rich. Montaigne gives us examples of his life over three phases.

  1. When he was a young man, he didn’t really have much money. He was happy to receive any help he could get from others and give any that he could offer to others. He was poor but happy. He took whatever fortunes came his way and just had to deal with the shit life threw at him.

  2. He was able to get a bunch of money to the point where he was considered rich. But this really put money on his brain and it was all he could think of. He was constantly worried and anxious about making money, keeping money and not losing it. He was unhappy and a complete pain in the ass to deal with.

  3. Later, he was able to convince himself to live a fairly modest life. Money wasn’t on the front of his mind. He was able to see that money isn’t really what makes you happy. In fact, it makes you miserable. Happiness comes from other things.

Rich or poor, your appetites don’t really change. Fortune doesn’t really favor the rich or have it in for the poor. It plants a seed for us. How we treat that seed and view it as it grows is what makes us happy or unhappy. Being rich or poor is really independent of happiness.

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