The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter XIV

The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter XIV. That the mind hinders itself.

Chapter XIV. That the mind hinders itself. Edit

'Tis a pleasant imagination to fancy a mind exactly balanced betwixt two
equal desires: for, doubtless, it can never pitch upon either, forasmuch
as the choice and application would manifest an inequality of esteem;
and were we set betwixt the bottle and the ham, with an equal appetite to
drink and eat, there would doubtless be no remedy, but we must die of
thirst and hunger. To provide against this inconvenience, the Stoics,
when they are asked whence the election in the soul of two indifferent
things proceeds, and that makes us, out of a great number of crowns,
rather take one than another, they being all alike, and there being no
reason to incline us to such a preference, make answer, that this
movement of the soul is extraordinary and irregular, entering into us
by a foreign, accidental, and fortuitous impulse. It might rather,
methinks, he said, that nothing presents itself to us wherein there is
not some difference, how little soever; and that, either by the sight or
touch, there is always some choice that, though it be imperceptibly,
tempts and attracts us; so, whoever shall presuppose a packthread equally
strong throughout, it is utterly impossible it should break; for, where
will you have the breaking to begin? and that it should break altogether
is not in nature. Whoever, also, should hereunto join the geometrical
propositions that, by the certainty of their demonstrations, conclude the
contained to be greater than the containing, the centre to be as great as
its circumference, and that find out two lines incessantly approaching
each other, which yet can never meet, and the philosopher's stone, and
the quadrature of the circle, where the reason and the effect are so
opposite, might, peradventure, find some argument to second this bold
saying of Pliny:

                    "Solum certum nihil esse certi,
               et homine nihil miserius ant superbius."

     ["It is only certain that there is nothing certain, and that nothing
     is more miserable or more proud than man."—Nat. Hist., ii. 7.]