Friday, August 10, 2012

Montaigne on Fate

Montaigne 1533-1592


Words to give courage in battle.

I have seen a great many commanders encourage their soldiers with talk of the necessity of fate; for if our time has been fixed to a certain hour, then neither the enemies' shot nor our own boldness, nor our flight and cowardice, can either shorten or prolong our lives.

See also Stonewall Jackson and fate.

That's easily said (says Montaigne), but see if anyone is that easily convinced.  Indeed, if a strong faith is evidenced by the strong and brave actions that it inspires, then this faith we so much brag of in this day and age of ours, must be a very light weight faith.  He's talking of religious faith four hundred and fifty years ago, but he could be speaking of today. 


The Bedouins.  Their bravery.

So it is, that to this very purpose the Sire de Joinville, as credible a witness as any could be, tells us of the Bedouins, a nation amongst the Saracens, with whom the King Louis fought in the Holy Land.  He says that they, in their religion, so firmly believed the number of every man's days to be from all eternity prefixed and set down by an inevitable decree, that they went naked to the wars, excepting a Turkish sword, and their bodies only covered with a white linen cloth.

When they wished to curse someone, the greatest curse they could invent in their anger was this : "May you be cursed like the man who arms himself for fear of death".


A young Turkish lord, who had performed a notable exploit in the sight of both armies, being asked by the commander Amurath, that being so young and inexperienced, (for it was his first sally into arms), what had inspired him with so brave a courage, replied, that he had learned his valor from a hare.

"One day," he said,  "I was out hunting, and I found a hare sitting.  I had some excellent greyhounds with me, yet I thought that the surest method of killing the hare was with my bow, for she seemed an easy target.  So I let fly my arrows, and shot forty that I had in my quiver, not only without hurting, but without even startling her."

"At last I let loose my dogs after her, but to no more success than my arrows.   By which I understood that she had been kept safe by her destiny; and that neither arrows nor swords can wound without the permission of fate, which we can neither hasten nor defer."

The Turkish historians say that the strong belief that the people of their nation have imprinted in their minds of the fatal and unalterable prescription of their days, gives them a great feeling of security in the midst of dangers.

See Lawrence of Arabia, the Movie.


Montaigne's discussion of God and fate.

Men say: "Since God foresees that all things shall so fall out, as doubtless He does, it must then necessarily follow, that they must so fall out"

So how do we tie our own free will to this argument of a certain and inevitable necessity:

Seeing anything come to pass, as we do, and as God Himself also does (for since all things are in the present for Him, He rather sees, than foresees), is not to compel an event.

For us knowledge of fate is always after the fact.  We see because things do fall out, but things do not fall out because we see: events cause knowledge, but knowledge does not cause events.

That which we see happen, does happen; but it might have happened otherwise: and God, in the catalogue of the causes of events which He has in His prescience, has also those which we call accidental and voluntary, depending on chance or our free will.   He has given us our free will, and knows that if we do amiss, it is because we have chosen to do so.

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