I often ponder time travel and think it would be so very wonderful to travel through time. To talk to people in the past and in the future. Not to change things but to better understand things. I recently concluded that you can indeed travel through time, at least to the past by simply reading. I decided that I would travel back and speak to De Montaigne and this is what I would ask:
Dear Mr. De Montaigne,
I recently read your essays and found them fascinating. In particular, I was fascinated with your essay on cruelty that concentrated on virtue. Sadly, schoolchildren face cruel comments daily. Children commit suicide over these cruel comments; they no longer just shed tears. As a teacher of the learning disabled, I have seen my students afflicted with terrible pain by the words of other students. You wrote, “one who out of natural mildness and good-nature […] but another who, provoked and stung to anger by insult, takes up the weapons of reason against his furious desire for revenge,” These words rang true to me. I see this daily the struggle to remain calm and unaffected by the cruel words. How true when a child, “after a hard battle finally masters it, is undoubtedly doing a great deal more”. It takes far more thought and virtue to resist the urge to strike back and fight. The saddest for all is the child who loses all virtue and kills himself.
With deep thought I reflected on your comment that we call, “God good, mighty, liberal, and just but do not call Him virtuous: His workings are all natural and effortless”. You wrote that to be virtuous one needs an adversary. Is not Satan the adversary to God? After further reflection, I see your point that God’s work is “natural and effortless”, therefore, we think of Him as good rather than virtuous. God is not in constant battle. It is society that battles with cruelty and either rises above it or falls to it not God. I would be interested in your thoughts on God’s teachings as portrayed in the Old Testament an, eye for an eye, as opposed to The New Testament’s love your enemies.
As you commented on Metellus, when substantiating your point, “that virtue refuses facility as a companion” and “virtue demands a harsh and thorny road; it desires external difficulties […]”; this clearly is indicative of the point you made at the beginning of your essay. Do I understand correctly, to be virtuous there must be internal or external strife? The execution of Socrates occurred when he challenged the Athenians’ justice. Socrates did not just accept the status quo; he valiantly opposed it. Is this true virtue? When Galileo wrote and published the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World System, the Catholic Church tried him for heresy. I believe that he admitted to making a mistake in order to receive a lighter sentence. To me, this makes Galileo’s actions not virtuous since he did not did not stand up for his beliefs.
You wrote in your essay on presumption, which also touched on virtue that “truth is the fundamental part of virtue” and “what we say should be what we think”. Again, I am reminded of Socrates that despite his inevitable execution he did not back down. This too supports what you write in your essay on cruelty. The truth is not always easy to speak; there are often severe consequences when we stand up for what we know is the truth.
Sir, I am left with many questions and thoughts. I would love to know what your thoughts are on this subject. Would you be so kinds as to share your opinions? What really is virtue? Is the person who is of good character virtuous? It would seem not as they are naturally good. Is virtue the key to human happiness? Is virtue knowledge as Plato wrote? As I delve deeper into reading your essays, I am confident that I will find the answers to these questions and more. I end this conversation as an avid learner and reader.