In Walked Death: A Study in Living.

Montaigne, in his essay, To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die, argues that it is necessary for us to keep death in the forefront of our minds. We must spend each day as if it were our last, creating the work which is the purpose of our life on this earth. Knowing that at the end of our lives death waits for all of us, we must accept the fact that in the end, we return from that darkness from which we came. Indeed, there is no future for us, Montaigne argues, because each day leads us closer to death.  Death may wait for us at the end of any given day, and certainly waits for us at the end of our lives. 

This is not to say that we should constantly be thinking of death. We must fight death, and the thought of death, if we are to lead the most fulfilling lives. Death is always unexpected. Montaigne himself says that no matter the age, a man will always believe that he has twenty more years to go. By expecting death at every instant, we are more able to accept death when it finally does come. Montaigne asks “how can we ever rid ourselves of thoughts of death or stop imagining that death has us by the scruff of the neck at every moment?” Yet still, we must not be afraid of death. 

Indeed, one of life’s main virtues is a certain distain of death. In Roman times the word was thought to bring bad luck. Throughout history there have been uncountable examples of death which comes at precisely the inopportune moment. Montaigne says that we must expect death in every passing moment, when we let down our guard, and are vulnerable. At the same time we must try to live our lives, striving to avoid pain. 

Montaigne’s argument is successful for the following reasons: First, death comes for everyone, whenever it wants to. No one can choose his time of death. Montaigne does not deny this. Therefore we must expect death at any passing moment. We cannot know when death will come for us. Second, living our lives while we are alive is the only way we can make meaning out of our lives. Montaigne’s arguments about pleasure attest to this. In the final part of this paper I will examine each reason in turn. 

The anecdotes of those who have died in the throes of love, pleasure, or folly, or those who die of slight accident or a misstep attest that death can come at any moment. Whether we behave honorably or cowardly, death will still catch us. By thinking of death, we “brace ourselves and make an effort.” Imagining, “[s]upposing that was death itself.” This thought, this association, this friendly demeanor towards death serves to steady our hands; we are more than eager to pursue our work, and to that end pleasure; when we keep death in the forefront of our minds. 

Montaigne holds pleasure to a special place in his essay. No matter what route we choose to get there, he says, pleasure is our ultimate aim. Even in pursuing virtue, pleasure is really the end goal. But Montaigne also says that we should never be carried away by pleasure. We must live each day as if it were our last, so as to be grateful for the time that we are then surprised to have when we do not die. This argument, too, is successful, in that by carefully balancing pleasure with thoughts of death, we are able to lead a life which is most appealing to a philosopher like Montaigne. 

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