Monday, August 02, 2004

A Matter of Conscience

Due to the Husband's birthday on Friday and the requisite celebrations, I didn't get to the Montaigne essay over the weekend. Well I read it, but I didn't write about it. So now I am going to make up for that. "On Conscience" was a bit of a disappointment. According to the editor's note, conscience originally meant "connivance." Sometime around Montaigne's time that definition began to change into the one we know today. Conscience as a matter of right and wrong, according to the editor, fascinated Montaigne. In the essay Montaigne marvels over the conscience as a "wondrous" power, "It makes us betray, accuse and fight against ourselves." And "when we take pleasure in vice, there is born in our conscience an opposite displeasure, which tortures us, sleeping and waking, with many painful thoughts." Montaigne also notes that while conscience can fill us with fear and make us feel bad, it can serve equally to give us confidence, knowing that we are innocent, "a mind conscious of what we have done conceives within our breast either hope or fear, according to our deeds." This is all well and good, but I think Montaigne assumes too much when it comes to those who have, or should have, a conscience turning the thumb screws. When it comes down to it, how many people pay attention to the niggling of a guilty conscience? I think most average people do, but what about old Kenny Boy Lay? Or Henry Kissinger? Do they lie awake at night feeling bad for what they have done? If they do, they sure are good at hiding it. The problem with conscience is that the people that have it are the ones that don't need it, and the ones who should have it are those who have a big gaping abyss where their conscience should be living. Montaigne doesn't have anything to say about that. Perhaps the whole idea was still too new. Now with a clear conscience, for I have done my Montaigne for the week, I can tell you that next week's essay will be on a topic everyone should be interested in: "On Sleep"