Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne trans. M.A. Screech

A good find: The Complete Essays of Montaigne translated by Professor Michael Screech (euro 7). Excellent brisk, crisp, plain non-olde yet not demotic. It stands a better chance of being thoroughly read by me anyway who up till now have dipped in the font and given myself a hurried sprinkle.

There is a good introduction in which he discusses the cliche of Montaigne as a man too wide awake to be a sincere believer. A translation of the natural theology of Raymond Sebond which was Montaigne's first book is Screech's evidence for a complete rebuttal of this naive view and
It is perfectly clear that Professor Screech was right to insist that the received opinion of Montaigne as ironic sceptic is correct as far as it goes but it exists alongside a strong religious faith. 'What do I know' his question to himself could receive a comprehensive answer - I am uncertain where that is a rational stance but I accept the mysteries of religion and the deliverances of the true faith.

The intellectual of the present day often lacks the basic knowledge which allows him to understand the difference between a universal and a particular scepticism. Their particular mansion has a ground floor and a basement and no more. Everything is reduced to the single plane of empirical evidence and rumbles and scurrying below. As an example of ambivalence I recently read of the person who believed that her departed friend was in heaven but was still sad about that. Could she really believe that her friend was in heaven and be sad? Probably in much the same way as if her good friend has relocated to Japan where she had a very good job. Such is our fallen nature!
(This could make a good jumping off point for a discussion of the difference between faith and 'belief' as used in modern epistemology.)

It isn't that this is a conscious distortion, it's more of a non-culpable ignorance. I challenged a professor on his capacity to asses Christianity and his response was that he was happy enough with the knowledge gained from his Christian relatives. You take your native informants where you can find them. Enter the tooth fairy. Why should they spend any time whatever getting to know that which they reject outright? That it makes the reading of History, Literature and Philosophy a journey in terra incognita is a trade off they can live with.

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