If the soul is immortal, then the perspective upon death changes. Suddenly, it is no longer so scary, since it does not represent an ending but a mere passage to another type of existence. However, there are other implications which we can not afford to ignore. The most important one refers to the just way in which man must lead his life. The responsibility for our actions is to be assumed, either in this life or in the one following death. From this point-of-view we can state that the debate could continue in the areas of ethics and morality, but also in that of religion and its role.
Suicide is the next theme that the philosopher approaches. On the one hand, suicide can be considered as the means to escape an unwanted situation. This situation must be of course rather extreme and have highly unpleasant consequences in order to make the individual prefer death as an alternative. The example which Montaigne makes is related to the stare of war. He speaks about the war prisoners who prefer to take their own lives.
In such a case, suicide might be understood as a just choice. From a certain perspective, it would be nothing more but the manifestation of one's freedom. If death is something we can't decide upon, the manner in which we die is something we may be able to control. In a sense, the power we have upon death becomes the power we have upon life.
The following argument addressed in the essay is represented by the conditions of death. According to Montaigne it is part of the human ideal of happiness to wish to have a pleasant death. Since death itself is the most intense manifestation of tragedy, it might be considered awkward to believe that one might actually die in a pleasant condition. This becomes less awkward when the philosopher brings the example of the tortures made in time of war, tortures which eventually lead to death. The very absence of these tortures is enough of a condition to create a pleasant death.
Illness is another element which causes death but also provokes pain. Under these circumstances the solution that man can consider is again suicide. Suicide is now seen as a means of diminishing the suffering.
Hence, it contributes to the achievement of happiness. If we are to analyze the social and the cultural level of development that represented the context in which Montaigne lived, these considerations can very well be appreciated as being revolutionary. Its implications are to be found even today, in controversial issues such euthanasia.
In fact, there examples of historic characters who wished to perform suicide but failed to do so either because they were afraid or because their physical state did not allow them to. And the solution they found was to have someone help them. This may be interpreted either as an act of courage or as an act of madness. The only constant which remains is that of man's freedom to decide upon his destiny.
Speaking of destiny Montaigne makes considerations according to which people tend to live enclosed in a type of vicious circle. Our actions are repetitive, we tend mostly to perform acts which satisfy our basic needs and we forget about real happiness, the challenge of truth and self construction, etc. One could interpret this excerpt in the sense that suicide is a way out of this circle. Or that the very contemplation of suicide as a solution breaks the circle.
The new humanist conception regarding life and its meaning is to be found here between the lines. Eating and sleeping and reproducing may be the basic needs man has, but their satisfaction leaves does not contribute to the development of the self. This latter task is one which makes life worthy and which contributes to bringing us one step closer to the truth. And while the truth is not necessarily the key for achieving happiness, the path towards reaching it may be considered as such.
From a rhetorical point-of-view, we may notice that the essay discusses the theme of death which the author analyzes always bringing example sin order to support his thesis. These examples always refer to characters from the antiquity and there are numerous quotes in Latin.
A metatextual interpretation might suggest that the main supportive element for the considerations made by Montaigne is the knowledge provided by the antiquity. The essay is rather short and concentrated. This makes it easy to read and remember. The flow of ideas could be nevertheless improved and there is room for a more efficient separation of the themes. The text is still very coherent and full of insight.
Montaigne can be considered one f the most important representatives of his times. The current analysis has already showed how daring his ideas were. Michel de Montaigne was a man ahead of his time and from this point-of-view it is easy to understand why and how he influenced the philosophers who came after him. His most important contributions are not in the area o literature through the newly invented essay genre, but the very stimuli he provided humanity for modern thinking.
Michel de Montaigne. Stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy. Retrieved March 28, 2009 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/montaigne/
Montaigne, Michel de. Essays, book II. Chapter XIII: The judging of others' death. Retrieved March 29, 2009 from http://www.uoregon.edu/~rbear/montaigne/2xiii.htm
Powell, Baden. Philosophy of Montaigne. Retrieved March 28, 2009 from http://www.inquiry.net/ideals/order_nature/oon_i_ii_c.htm