“The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau Book II (1762)

J-J Rousseau, proud owner of history’s greatest comb-over.

Book II

Chapter One: Sovereignty is inalienable

The conclusion of Book I was that only the general will can direct the state’s forces based on the reason behind its establishment: the common good. Clashing interests create the necessity for societies but common interests allow them to continue. Society must only be governed by common interests.

Sovereignty is the exercise of the general will and cannot alienate itself. Once the will becomes particular and partial, it can no longer be equal to all citizens. If the will is to be general and based on common interest, then it will be equal. Bodies politic posing as the sovereign and the general will are reverting to the right of the strongest in a natural state or a magistracy.

Chapter Two: Sovereignty is indivisible

Indivisible essentially means inalienable. If you can’t give away or sell away part of the sovereignty, then you cannot divide it into parts. Either a will refers to society as a general or individuals as particular and they never cross.

Our minds always analyze the sovereign by dividing the government into departments, ministries, and branches based on functions but the general will is not divisible like that. The sovereign is like a body as the parts of the body may serve different functions for the will of the body but the will cannot be divided up like that.

Chapter Three: Whether the general will is infallible

The general will is always right and will always tend toward the public advantage. But public deliberations are sometimes wrong. We know what we want in a roundabout way but we might not know exactly what that is. The will is never corrupted but can be deceived and then it will seem to want bad things.

There is a difference between the aggregate of particular wills and the general will. The general will is based on everyone’s common interest and the aggregate is the summation of private interests. What is left over from the cancelling out of pluses and minuses of individuals wills will be the general will.

When the public is sufficiently informed ad there is no communication between citizens, the result will be a good general will. When they divide into factions and associations, they form at the expense of the general will and to the benefit of the individuals in those factions. The differences in opinion change and the results will be different and even worse. There is no longer a general will but a prevailing particular will.

The general will must express itself so that there is no partial society within the state. If there must be partial society, there should be as many as possible to prevent inequality among them. This will help the general will to be enlightened and the people not to be deceived.

Chapter Four: Limits of sovereign power

The sovereign power functions as a person does in that it must preserve itself. In order to do that, it must have a universal and compelling force. As nature gives a man absolute power over himself, the social contract gives the body politic absolute power over its members, and under the general will, is the sovereign.

We must distinguish private people from the body, as well as the rights of the citizen and the sovereign – as duties and rights in nature and as subjects of the state. The social contract alienates from men their natural liberties and goods. The citizen owes whatever the state may ask but the state must not ask anything useless of its citizens – only what is necessary. The undertakings are obligatory only because they are mutual and we can’t work for others, that is, with respect to the general will, unless we work for ourselves. The general will must be general in object and in essence. That is, they must come from and apply to all and it ceases to be general when used for particular objects.

Sometimes issues will arise that have never been thought of or never have occurred before, and there is no general convention. An individual’s stance can’t be against the general will in this case. The general will will not be able to express a desire on the matter. What makes a general will general is not so much about the number of votes but the common interest uniting interests. In the system, each man submits to the conditions he imposes on others. The social compact binds us to all the same duties and gives us all the same rights. So the sovereign makes no distinctions between those that make it up.

An act of sovereignty is not between an inferior and superior but a convention between the body and each member. The connection is an expression of the general will and stable due to the guarantee of public force. As long as the acts go no further, citizens will have to boss other than themselves. Sovereign power cannot exceed the limits of the general will because if it does, it ceases to be an expression of the general will and becomes particular.

Once the social contract is determined, each man gives up the unstable and precarious nature of a natural state for a more stable life. People’s natural independence and their power to harm others are needed to get security for themselves in nature. Under the social contract, their strength is traded for social union. It isn’t an imposition to demand a man to defend the state because just as the state is being attacked and putting at risk his and all other citizens’ rights and goods, he would face the same attack with no one else to help him fight off that same attack. At least in the social union, he can rely on others’ help but he must also give his help when it is asked for.

Chapter Five: The right of life and death

Suicide may be a crime in many societies but it is not a crime to risk your life to try to preserve it. Giving the power of life and death to the state is not a transfer of rights you didn’t have in the first place. We don’t fault people for risking others’ lives to save their own. The state may see fit to put someone to death or risk its death in order to save itself. The state’s laws are clear: in order not to become the victim of a murder, we agree to be put to death if we become murderers ourselves. When we are assured protection our expectation of murder decreases.

When a malefactor attacks people’s rights, he forfeits his and becomes a rebel and a traitor to the country. He is making war against the state. The state’s self-preservation and his become in conflict with each other and one must win and one must lose. When he is caught and punished, he is no longer treated as a citizen but as an enemy. The trial and sentence against him are proof that he has broken the social contract and is no longer a member of the state. Depending on the crime, he’ll be exiled as a violator of the contract or killed as a public enemy. It is the sign of a weak state when the state punishes the same man again and again. He must be able to have some good in him. The state has no right to put anyone to death whom it can leave without danger.

Only the sovereign may pardon or exempt someone from the a penalty because only the sovereign is above the law. In a well-governed state, there aren’t many prisoners – not because there are few punishments (which there may be) but because there are few criminals. When crimes are committed with impunity, a state is in decay.

Chapter Six: The Law

Legislation gives the body politic movement and will. The union itself doesn’t actually doesn’t actually determine what must be done. Laws are there because we don’t receive justice directly from God. Justice is a result of society. In nature, having laws to follow does harm to the good and does good for the bad. If only good people follow laws toward everyone else, they can easily be taken advantage of. Laws of nature say nothing about laws of the state.

There is no general will over particular objects because to do so would involve particular parties and interests at odds with whole. This is paradoxical. But when the whole people decrees for itself, it is only referring to its own actions and that makes the decree general. When a decree is general, it is law.

Laws consider the people as a whole and actions in the abstract and never particular people and actions. Laws can decree there will be a privileged class but never can actually name anyone assigned to it. It can create social hierarchies but never specifically put anyone in them. It can set up a royal family but not nominate a specific one. That power doesn’t belong to the legislative power. The laws are the expressions of the general will and no one is above them. They aren’t unjust because in order to be unjust would be to unfair to a particular person and the would not be something particular (not general). That would be an act of magistracy, not a law.

Chapter Seven: The Legislator

He must be an intelligent source of wisdom without “participating” in normal society – not having the same needs and desires as normal citizens. He needs to be able to see needs beyond the present.

There is a difference between a prince and a legislator. The legislator is the engineer who invents the political machine and the prince is the mechanic to set it up and make it go. Montesquieu – “At the birth of societies, the rulers of republics establish institutions and afterwards the institutions mold the rulers.”

To change or make a society you must feel capable to change human nature or transform each individual or substituting moral and partial existence for physical and independent existence. He must create an environment for men to come together in society and abandon the state of nature through the creation of institutions.

A legislator should not have control over men and those who have control over men should not have control over legislation. Power over the other will inevitably corrupt the commander or legislator. Many older cities and modern republics would invite a foreigner to establish a government because he had no particular interests either way as to how it was set up and would be more likely to establish a good constitution.

Establishing the republic is a special job – it is not a magistracy or sovereignty. When Lycurgus gave his laws to Sparta, he began by abdicating his throne. Cities and states that have followed this example have flourished while those who haven’t – Rome – have seen the rebirth of all the crimes of tyranny and been brought to the verge of destruction because they have joined the heads of the legislative authority and sovereign power. The decemvirs never claimed the right to pass laws purely by their own authority. “Nothing we propose to you can become law without your consent. Romans, be yourselves the authors of the laws which will make you happy.”

One problem is that these wise men often aren’t understood by the common people. It is often impossible to translate their ideas into lower language because the ideas are too general or out of the range of understanding the average person.  The common man might not understand anything outside his own particular interest. A social spirit must be created by institutions to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of the new state. The legislator must have some recourse in this case – he must appeal to the people about divine intervention giving the legislator the wisdom to write the laws and the divine will that they be followed.

However, not all can access this divine inspiration or be believe to be able to. Anyone can make claims about being wise or having contact with the gods about right and wrong. They might also have bad plans in this case – either intentionally or not. If he is capable of fooling the people or  isn’t wise, he never will succeed in establishing an empire. Whatever he establishes will die out with him. Only wisdom can endure. It takes real wisdom and real laws for a government representing the people to last forever.

Chapter Eight: The People, Part One

A wise legislator must survey the people for whom he’ll be writing laws like an architect survey his building site to see how much weigh it will support. Plato refused to write laws for the Arcadians and the Cyrenaens because they were so wealthy that they wouldn’t tolerate equality. He could do so in Crete because Minos had already inflicted discipline on them.

A people is only docile in its youth. As it grows older, it becomes incorrigible. Once customs and prejudices are entrenched, they are difficult to change, even if it is for the best. Crises often cause a state or a people to be reborn since the past customs – however recent they may be – are often forgotten in these cases. If rebuilding and burning down of states happens too often, the people will start to lose civil impulses and become barbarous. “Freedom may be gained but it can never be recovered.”

A period of youth in a country is when they are not subject to laws and as it matures it should be given laws it can handle. If the state lingers too long in “lawlessness” or the people aren’t amenable to proper laws, they will remain barbarous. The time has to be right, the conditions must be right, the people must be ready and the laws must be appropriate.

Chapter Nine: The People, Part Two

There is a limit to how effective a government can be with respect to its size. If it is too large, it ceases to be a good government. If it is too small, it cannot maintain itself. Long distances make administration difficult and maintenance becomes more and more burdensome as the distances increase. The government goes from city to district to province and on and on, until the supreme government. All of these governments and their connections to each other drain the people of their resources and there may not be enough for them in case of emergencies.

Furthermore, the government becomes slower, less rigorous in observing laws, correcting abuses and preventing nuisances. People have less affection for their rules and fellow citizens who become more and more like strangers. The same laws won’t suit diverse provinces with diverse customs, diverse climates and become incapable of enduring a uniform government.

Talent is buried, virtue unknown and vice unpunished. People are never sure if they can even call their country their own since they become so detached from it. Central administration becomes a gathering of a multitude of men who don’t know each other, overwhelmed with the business of the state and the state itself becomes run by nothing but clerks. The measure taken to maintain the general authority – which authorities wish to escape from or impose upon the people – absorb all the energies of the public and there is nothing left to live for. There isn’t enough to defend the state when it is needed and the body politic becomes so large and overweight for its constitution that it collapses in on itself – the people.

The state must have a stable foundation to resist shocks and to maintain itself. People tend to act in a centrifugal force acting against one another to aggrandize themselves at their neighbor’s expense. The weak are swallowed up. It is impossible to preserve oneself except when in a state of equilibrium with others – where each man’s needs and desires press upon the others equally to check the others’ actions. There are reasons for expansion and contraction and the statesman’s job is to find the right balance. The reasons for expansion are external and relative and the reasons for contraction are internal and absolute. A strong and healthy constitution is most important.

Chapter Ten: The People, Part Three

A body politic can be measured by its land area or its population. Men make up the state and land sustains the men. A balanced must be established. On one hand it must be so that the land only has the maximum number of people it can sustain without fighting within the state or with neighboring lands, or even starvation. On the other hand, it is important not to have land so sparsely settled that there will not be territory wars between settlers. Land settled near the sea may have the coasts supply them with food but they are exposed to pirates. Establishing the right sort of order is important to get right and quickly because often usurpers pick the most chaotic times to strike and then make destructive laws that would never otherwise have been enacted.

The ideal people for legislation is one of common origin, interest or convention, without deeply ingrained customs or superstitions, independent, self-sufficient and this people unites the qualities of the consistency of an ancient people with the docility of a new one.

Chapter Eleven: Various Systems of Legislation

What should the goal of every legislative system be? Liberty and equality. Liberty because particular dependence means that force has been taken away from individuals. Equality because liberty cannot exist without it. Liberty was dealt with in Book I.

Equality doesn’t mean to be identical in degrees of power and riches but power is never great enough for violence and it is always exercised by virtue of rank and law. There should be a great moderation in goods and position, and a moderation in avarice and covetousness.

If abuse is inevitable, regulation concerning that abuse should be there. If circumstances destroy equality, force of legislation should maintain it. General objects should be specified in every country according to the local situations and customs. Land fertility or natural resources will drive the people into different industries. Countries tend to specialize in what is best and easiest for them.

Chapter Twelve: Division of the Laws

There are divisions in four parts:

1 – Action of the complete body upon itself. This is how the government is set up and how it goes about taking the general will and putting it into action.

2 – How individuals relate to each other and to the whole body. They will be independent from each other but dependent on the the body to secure their liberties. These are civil laws.

3 – The relationship between the individual and the law. Disobedience will be met with a penalty. These are criminal laws.

4 – Morality, custom, habit, public opinion. While they are not set in stone, they do define the laws and society depends greatly on them.

Video Summary of Video:

“The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau Book I (1762)

Kitty, you’ve been getting too many crunchies as it is.

Book I

Chapter One: Introduction

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.”

With respect to force, people will obey if they are forced to. Without the chains of obedience or slavery, life would definitely be better. The former master and former slave may continue a relationship based on superiority-inferiority but force is no longer what is binding – but a social convention.

Chapter Two: First Societies

The basic form of society is the family. The father owes his children protection and provision. The children owe their father obedience. Once the children are grown, the natural relationship dissolves. Any further link is voluntary and is a social convention.

Man’s first duty is to himself, his self-preservation, once he is old enough. He is his only source of judgment and his only master. Between a ruler and people there are obligations similar to that of the family. People obey the ruler for protection and the ruler gets obedience. Rather than the binding sense of love between a father and child, the ruler will get a sense of love of power, since he is incapable of loving an abstract idea such as his people.

Chapter Three: Right of the Strongest

Force can never oblige in any other way than through compliance based on self-preservation. It cannot impose duties or morals. If we are able to disobey with impunity, that is a legitimate behavior because we no longer have to obey out of force. Compliance due to force never implies a sense of duty. Once force disappears, duty doesn’t necessarily replace it. So, the word “right” can’t be used with “force”.

Because our duty to ourselves is self-preservation, we must obey force when we are unable to overcome it. Because power comes from “God”, as does illness, should we never call a doctor? If a robber demands our wallet even though we are able to keep it from him secretly, should we give it over to him out of “duty” to the force which comes from the gun?

Chapter Four: Slavery

Just because a man can exert force over another doesn’t make anything a “right”. Only conventions are the basis of legitimate authority over men.

Def’n: “alienation”: to give or sell oneself.

A slave doesn’t give himself to another but sells himself to another – at least for subsistence. Do people sell themselves to a king even if they don’t get any subsistence from him? They can get “civil tranquility”. But the consequences of the king’s greed might outweigh the benefits of civil tranquility. One can be quite safe and tranquil in a prison cell.

Giving oneself up to another, in a state of nature, is nonsense since a man gets nothing in return. Someone can do this but almost assuredly they are insane because they get absolutely nothing out of it – in fact, they lose everything.

The same goes for a people giving itself up to a king. Even if a man should sell himself, he doesn’t have the right to do that for his children. They are born free and are their own men. A father may stipulate the conditions of his children’s upbringing but he may not take actions that affect their children so irrevocably and unconditionally beyond the end of their “natural” relationship – when the child is grown. Nature’s laws or rules supersede those of the father. So for a government to be legitimate, each generation must be able to accept or reject it.

To give up one’s liberties is to renounce being a man and one’s rights, duties and morality. There is no possible recompense. Furthermore, it would remove all morality in his actions and liberty in his will, since the owner is responsible for all of the slave’s actions.

On the subject of slavery after war, often the victor swaps the vanquished’s life for his liberty. This “right” to kill doesn’t come from war. Men cannot be at war with each other, because this is only a state of relationship between two or more states. Individuals may engage in combats, duels and fights but these aren’t acts of states. Individuals are only enemies with each other in war by accident, and not as men but as soldiers and defenders of a state. States’ enemies may only be other states.

Declarations of war are as much warning to states as they are to individual men. A man who kills, steals or kidnaps without a declaration of war isn’t an enemy but an outlaw. In war, when a just country invades another, it must respect the rights of the newly conquered people as it does to its own. A state may kill its enemy’s defenders if they are armed but if they lay down their arms and surrender, they go back to being only men and the state can no longer have claim over their lives.

If war doesn’t give the right to kill the vanquished, then it doesn’t give the right to enslave. If we can’t kill the enemy once it has surrendered, we can’t make him a slave because we can’t make him choose between the two options, one of which we aren’t allowed to do to him. Furthermore, a slave would be under no obligation to obey his master except under threat of force. If you take what is the equal to his life, his liberty – since you are offering to swap them -, the victor isn’t really doing the vanquished a favor – he is only doing himself one. He gets a slave, instead of killing a man who has surrendered. Thus the war continues between the victor – imposing the right of the strongest – and the vanquished – fighting for his right to self-preservation. The relationship goes back to war because the slave is only a slave through force and not social convention.

So, the word “slave” and “right” are contradictory and shouldn’t be used together. The victor is essentially saying to a newly vanquished slave – in making a deal with with you, the vanquished, at your expense and my benefit, I will observe it if it pleases me and you will observe it if it pleases me.

Chapter Five: We must always go back to a first convention

Even if we put aside everything said about slavery not being “right” and legitimate, despotism is just as much nonsense. There’s a difference between conquering many people and ruling a society. Even if a man can enslave millions, the relationship between them and him is still that of master and slave. There is nothing at all related to society about it. There is no free association, body politic or public good. The master is just a man and his interests are his alone and not at all those of his slaves. If he dies, the collection of slaves is no more a society than before.

A people may give itself to a king because it is a people before this act. The act supposes that there is a public deliberation. There must also be a previous convention that the minority in this deliberation will abide by the decision of the majority before the king’s election. The law of the majority itself is a convention that supposes at one time in the past some unanimity.

Chapter Six: Social Compact

Man has reached a point where self-preservation in nature is no longer feasible, and a non-natural and indeed social convention is necessary. Men can only unite or aggregate forces to overcome aggression under a single motive, power and action. This is the union of many but the force and liberty of each man must remain his own. The goal is man will obey himself alone and remain as free as before, even in uniting in a common force for each man’s defense. This is the idea behind the Social Contract. The smallest modification of the Social Contract nullifies it, even though the contract was never formally stated, openly admitted or even recognized until it was violated. At this point each man regains his first right and natural liberty because the convention is nullified.

The clauses of the Social Contract mean in sum the “alienation” of each man to the whole community. He gives himself absolutely, as do all men and no man has the interest to make conditions more burdensome to others, as it will also be so to him. Alienation is without reserve and the union is as perfect as it possibly can be. Rights must be given to the whole so a man cannot place himself in the position of being the superior to another, which would make the other the inferior, so that the right of the strongest will not cause the convention to revert to a state of nature.

Every man gives himself to the all and acquires from the others exactly what he gave of himself. He gains the ability to preserve himself. The Social Contract becomes: giving up yourself, along with the others doing the same to the “general will” and the “corporate entity”, and each member becomes an indivisible part of the whole. This association creates a moral and collective body of members in a common identity, life and will.

New definitions are needed to be made to understand the parts of the Social Contract. These words need to be clarified as people often do not understand the nuances between them, and confuse them.

Under the Social Contract, the aggregation of the “city” becomes “republic” or “body politic”. Its members call it the “state” when it is in a passive form, “sovereign” when it is in its active form and “power” when compared to others. People within the Social Contract call themselves “citizens” when they are participants in the sovereign and “subjects” when they aren’t.

Chapter Seven: The Sovereign

A citizen is in a reciprocal arrangement with the state in a double capacity – an individual in a relationship with the sovereign, and a part of the sovereign in relationship with individual members. Public deliberation causes the state not to be bound by itself since it is both a social convention – which may change at any time – and merely an aggregation of citizens with their own natural rights surrendered to the sovereign in exchange for civil rights.

The state is in a sense a body in contract with itself. There can’t be a law it creates to bind itself that it has to force against itself. It may change the laws itself but the social contract maintains the general will of the people which cannot be bounded. The body may engage others as long as it doesn’t infringe its contract. It becomes like a single entity when acting with others.

Because the Social Contract is a sacred convention that creates a political body and authority, it cannot bind itself, even to an outsider, to anything that is derogatory to the original act, to alienate a part of itself or to submit to another sovereign. Any violation is an act of self-annihilation. Once there is a body, it may not harm itself or its members. Duty and interest oblige both parties – members and complete body – to help each other. The state doesn’t need to make guarantees to itself or its members because their interests are the same.

An individual may have interests contrary to those of the state. His own interests may cause him not to want to contribute to or abide by the common interest. His withdrawal of contribution and support are more harmful to himself than to the rest of the body. For the Social Contract to work, those who refuse the general will must be compelled to do so by the body. This alone legitimizes civil undertakings.

Chapter Eight: Civil State

The move from nature to the civil state produces a change: instinct and justice are swapped and morality is given to man’s actions. He is forced to act on different principles. He loses from what he had in nature but gains so much more from the Social Contract. He becomes civilized and above animals. He gains civil liberty and legal rights over property in exchange for his natural rights.

Chapter Nine: Real Property

Along with himself, man gives his property to the state in the Social Contract. Possession doesn’t change hands but is made stronger due to the increase in the force of the state. When the state relates to other states and outlaws, the property of members is considered that of the state on the basis of the right of first occupiers.

The right of first occupiers becomes more real than the right of the strongest in the Social Contract with secure property rights. In nature, a man has a right to secure what he needs and the act of acquiring makes him proprietor of it. The right of first occupier is weak in nature but is very strong in a civil society. We respect more so the idea of what is not ours than the idea of what belongs to others.

To authorize land to an occupier we need: the land to be vacant, the occupier to occupy what he needs and the land to be worked and cultivated , not just simply claimed. This is a good substitute for a legal title. But is this right unlimited? Is just being on the land enough? Is it enough to scare off others to make the claim? How can you own land and keep away everyone by simply claiming ownership? Spain claimed its American colonies but what happened to the rights of the natives who were there first? How did that claim stop other countries’ claims to that same land? Anyone can claim anything.

Possessors are made dependent, needing the formation of a sovereign to secure the right. Forces at their command used to guarantee property rights also guarantee fidelity. Older kings were called kings of the Persians, of the Scythians, of the Macedonians. They were rulers of men. Modern kings are called kings of France, Spain, England. These are rulers of a land and have the obedience of the inhabitants as a result. There has been a shift from the ruler essentially treating his people as those forced physically to swear allegiance to a ruler elected or tolerated by the people.

Alienation of people and goods isn’t plunder but allows them to enjoy property. Possessors are depositories of a public good and that public good is maintained against foreign countries, which is an advantageous cession that benefits the public. Individuals “retain” what they have “given up”. It is a paradox – the sovereign and proprietors have a claim over the same land.

It is entirely possible that men unite before owning anything, that just occupying land be enough for everyone, or that land is shared among members evenly or in a manner established by the sovereign. However it happens, each man’s right over his land is always subordinated to that of the community. Without that right, there is no social link or any real sovereign force.

The whole social system is based on: instead of destroying natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes a moral and legitimate equality for a physical equality that nature has established between men, and those being unequal in strength or intelligence become equal in convention and legal rights.

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“Upon Some Verses of Virgil” by Michel de Montaigne

Loosy, you got some 'splainin to do.

Loosy, you got some ‘splainin to do.

“Upon Some Verses of Virgil” by Michel de Montaigne

Montaigne is getting older and all he’s got left is to look back at life. He wants to live a comfortable life but wants to be temperate and moderate. This is difficult because comfort requires avoiding pain and that means going toward pleasure, the opposite of pain.

It’s strange that we are free to think whatever we want but we aren’t free to say whatever we want. He finds it sad that women can only really have his books around as a part of the furniture rather than something to be read. He enjoys female company and wants them to appreciate his work.

Why is it that we blush at the talk of sex but we are just fine with talking about robbery, betrayal and murder? When we strip ourselves of being able to talk about some topics, we stop ourselves from being able to talk about parts of life.

The idea of marriage is distant to our biological need for sex in pleasure and procreation. Marriage usually falls apart when sex is the sole focus instead of friendship, which is a much stronger foundation for a marriage. A good marriage should be based on friendship, much more so than sex and love. Love makes us weaker and less rational. Marriage is about duty and friendship rather than passion, which is something that causes us to resent one another in the end. It’s clear why few men make their mistresses their wives because they want the passion to remain and not have a shitty marriage. Marriage is still good but love is purely based on pleasure and that tends to be irrational and intemperate.

Women aren’t really to be blamed. Men and women are subject to the same desires and emotions but somehow society punishes them for acting on them. They are trained from a very young age to be simple in the ways of love, dress, language and knowledge when it comes to sex. We should relax our standards a bit because they have bad consequences.

Men are supposed to flaunt their virile physical traits while women are supposed to hide their femininity. A lot of images of woman are representations of temptation but not so for men. This is an idea that women are weaker than men morally. But even the greatest warriors, like Alexander and Caesar wouldn’t compare to a woman who successfully restrains herself from all that “tempts” her. It’s stupid to bridle in a woman what is completely natural.

Societies differ in roles of love, sex and marriage for men and women. Looking at those differences may make our culture seem a bit silly. But life is half serious and half silly. And ignoring the silliness of sex and love and solely focusing on the serious side of life in to ignore half of life. There are things to be serious about but not 100% of the time.

Laziness is bad but so is working constantly. You need to work but you also need to put your feet up. That is a part of moderation. We shouldn’t completely forget about physical pleasure but we shouldn’t completely submit to it either.

We should hold women to the same standard as men. Not higher, not lower. Men and women are cast in the same mold and the only real difference is education and the roles we play in society.

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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


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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“Of Cannibalism” by Michel de Montaigne


Of Cannibals

I knew a guy who lived in Brazil for about 10 years or so. He was far to simple to be a liar and I had confidence that he wasn’t making anything up.

Most people would describe the people he was telling me about as barbarians or savages but I think of them as just closer to nature than us, with simpler minds that weren’t clouded with things like letters, numbers, jobs, family, property, clothes, traffic, agriculture, booze, greed, treachery or honor.

They fight between many tribes with bows and arrows and wooden swords. There was usually a lot of blood. Nobody ran away from a losing battle and men would often bring home heads as trophies. Those who survived the battle on the losing side were taken prisoner, healed and made to eat their fellow prisoners. It was more about revenge than food.

When you think about it, it’s not any worse than when our soldiers torture their prisoners for information, revenge or just fun. But we get sick to our stomachs at the thought of cannibalism. Yet, we don’t bat an eye at what our boys do. Their warfare is every bit as noble as ours, perhaps even more so. Our battles are over conquest and getting luxuries. Their battles are over resources and survival.

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“That it is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity” by Montaigne

We often think only stupid people believe in crazy shit. Normally developed minds tend to resist wild beliefs. Perhaps an uneducated mind can’t discern rational from irrational and likely from unlikely. But throwing things out as utterly impossible is silly too because there’s plenty that even the smartest of us doesn’t understand. I used to mock people who believe in witchcraft, ghosts, miracles, etc. But I go more lightly on them even though my rational side tells me not to. When we decide that this is true and that is not true, we are claiming knowledge about the nature of truth as if we are above it or have a deep understanding of it. That’s bad especially when we show ourselves to be wrong so often.

A man who’s never seen a river before might think that he’s looking at the sea. But later on, experience will usually (hopefully) let him know that he’s wrong. When we see people believing in wild shit, let’s give them the chance to turn it around – a chance for that experience to kick in before we criticize them.

History books are full of stories that never happened or are recorded wrong. People have learned of victories before they happen and the sequence of events ends up being completely out of order. We shouldn’t really lay into Plutarch just because we got facts that dispute his claims many years after he had written.

It’s arrogant to treat others with contempt for what we don’t even understand ourselves. You probably believe in wilder shit than the stuff you criticize others for believing. We shouldn’t criticize others religions, beliefs and denominations when our own beliefs are every bit as crazy as theirs. Think about the contradictions in your beliefs before you attack others for their crazy beliefs.

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“Of the Education of Children” by Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne = Bruce Springsteen

Michel de Montaigne = Bruce Springsteen

Montaigne is asked by Madame Diane de Foix, on what the best way of educating a child is. He starts off saying he doesn’t know and then goes on for many pages on the best sort of education.

It’s very difficult to read into what a child’s natural talents are and how to cultivate them. However, nature may make it impossible to teach some children certain things because they don’t have the natural capacity for the subject.

A tutor must have a stronger emphasis on good morals and understanding than on pure booklearning. Also, he can’t give the student more than he can handle. The best is to establish the student’s sense of perception and teach him how to figure things out for himself.

There should be an equal amount of exchange between the teacher and the student. The tutor must monitor the student’s progress and make adjustments according to the student’s changing needs as he grows.

Avoid pure regurgitation of facts and check for understanding along the way. The kid must be able to look at something from many different angles. If learning becomes too difficult without results, the student will grow a distate for learning altogther.

He should be made to examine everything and not just take someone’s word on the matter based on authority. If he does this, his mind will become cemented and he’ll feel like he knows everything. He’ll learn to stop looking which will make him stop finding.

Real learning and wisdom come from taking what you’ve read and taken in and combining them to form your own thoughts. You shouldn’t put out a list of everything you’ve read out on display. What’s really important is the thoughts that these books have given birth to. Understanding improves perception and that perception will benefit everything you do and all the future learning you will do.

Travelling and studying away from home is very important. The world is where everything happens and locking a kid away in a room trivializes the knowledge because he’ll never experience it first hand and never be able to use it right away.

However, it’s important for kids to be removed from the smothering affection of the parents. They will get too dependent and therefore unable to work or experience more unpleasant but absolutely necessary things in life. In order for a tutor’s authority to become complete, the child must be removed from the parents so as not to create a conflict in authority between the two.

In general, people focus too much on their own thoughts, knowledge and desires and not enough on what others have to offer. In order to do that, we have to have instilled in us a sense of modesty and penchant for silence in order to listen. Arguments should be chosen and constructed with subtlety, care, brevity and pertinence. However, the truth should be held in the highest regard, so much so that you should yield to it whenever you’re in the wrong.

Giving a student favor and advantage will ultimately hinder his ability to fight through situations in life which will give him no favors, if not a disadvantage. Reason and virtue should be inherent in everything in the child’s words, thoughts and actions. There are snakes everywhere, so you will have to have your wits about you in every situation you find yourself. You should be pleasant so as to encourage the right people liking you and being on your side and also not to give people a reason to dislike you.

Studying history is important because the past has so many lessons to teach us about how to act now. There are so many people throughout history whose example we should follow or not follow. Learning about their lives and circumstances can give us valuable insight into our own times and people today.

Going out into the world with the knowledge and wisdom the child has gained along the way will not only give him the sense of accomplishment but also the ability to put that wisdom and knowledge to good use.

The liberal arts are good for providing real ways of learning how to live our lives and examples of how to do so or how not to do so. This sense of morality will be coupled with the ability to use logic and understanding of the physical world. With mastery of the physical world and morality, there’s very little that can stop him. Also, physical exercise is not to be neglected because he will need a healthy body for his healthy mind. This includes both mental and physical moderation to preserve himself.

Staying away from idle chatter and bullshit is important. Conversations don’t necessarily have to be serious and intense but something other than pure entertainment should be taken away from them. All the conversations that have happened and are happening right now should give the reader or listener some sort of ability to learn how to live his life better through other people’s thoughts and experiences. This means he will have to go out and talk to people in the world. He’ll probably have to learn other languages to find people with a dramatically different disposition and learn from them.

It’s important to introduce an element of fun into learning in order to keep his interest and to allow him to learn in different ways. This includes physical activity, games and laughter. This will not only engage him but more him more well-rounded. Indulging children is bad but making them prisoners in a jail called “school” is even worse. Beating them and berating them is not going to make them want to learn.

Keeping the knowledge of ignorance and the hunger for more understanding and wisdom will keep a student engaged in philosophy forever because he will be curious to know things that he’s sure he doesn’t know. That allows him to remain humble yet wanting to know more. Focus on rhetoric and sophistication will teach the kid to pull the wool over people’s eyes instead of getting into real conversation with some real purpose to it. Words are nice and pretty but actions mean so much more.

Montaigne’s father had a decent amount of money and put him in the care of a German tutor who taught him everything in Latin. They travelled around a lot learning everywhere they went. He spoke it all the time and wasn’t able to speak French until he was about 6. The teacher didn’t have an extremely regimented system of learning but made sure that something was going to be learned. He told many people about this later on and it became a hit with many others looking to educate their kids. This form of schooling made him want to learn more and more and eventually become wiser and wiser and live a happier life.

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