Sometimes I think that I should take more time for writing my blogs than the afternoon I allot for it now. Then I could write thorough essays without the mistakes or rudimentary thoughts that are so typical for my present scribbles. But would it make sense? Wouldn’t I get simply another type of blogs? Blogs that are articles rather than the present small pieces of writing that – I hope – make the reader think? Anyway, now and then I come across thoughts or phrases that would certainly have given some blogs another turn had I known them before.
Today I happened to reread Montaigne’s essay titled “That Men are Not to Judge of Our Happiness Till After Death” (Book I, 18). It remembered me of what I recently had written about happiness and especially of what I had written about Wittgenstein’s two opinions on his life and my idea that there are two views on happiness: the view of the moment that something happens which makes me happy or unhappy and the view backwards on my life and my thinking how it was. Had I recalled Montaigne’s essay, I would certainly have referred to it in my blogs on happiness, and I would have come to other conclusions.
In this essay Montaigne comments on the statement by the Greek poet and statesman Solon (630 BC - 558 BC) “ ‘That men, however fortune may smile upon them, could never be said to be happy till they had been seen to pass over the last day of their lives,’ by reason of the uncertainty and mutability of human things, which, upon very light and trivial occasions, are subject to be totally changed into a quite contrary condition”. After some discussion, Montaigne concludes that what Solon wanted to say is that because of the precariousness of life “the very felicity of life itself, which depends upon the tranquillity and contentment of a well-descended spirit, and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul, ought never to be attributed to any man till he has first been seen to play the last, and, doubtless, the hardest act of his part.” And that is “Wherefore, at this last, all the other actions of our life ought to be tried and sifted: ’tis the master-day, ’tis the day that is judge of all the rest, ‘’tis the day,’ says one of the ancients, ‘that must be judge of all my foregoing years’.”
When writing down these quotations, I saw that in the last one the Dutch translator of the Essays uses the word “happiness” (geluk) – in agreement with the 1595 French edition, which uses the word “bonheur” – whereas the English edition quoted speaks of “felicity”. Be this as it may, it doesn’t change what I was wondering already when I wrote my blogs on happiness but what I did not wrote down, namely: Do we really mean the same with “happy” when we say “I am happy now”, and when we say “looking backward I am happy” or rather “looking backward I am happy with it”? For instance, did Wittgenstein refer to the same thing when he wrote in his diary “There is no happiness for me; no joy ever” and when he muttered at the end of his life “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life”? A few weeks ago I thought so, following Groeger, but now I think that what I wrote just after the quotes but what I ignored contains an important truth: “a wonderful life needs not also be a happy life”. It’s just the essay by Montaigne that defends the idea that whether we really were happy can only be judged at the end of our lives that made it clear to me that our happiness now and our feeling happy with our life as a whole are different things. For for the latter Montaigne uses also the word “reputation” and he speaks here of a “judgment” on a life. Although Montaigne talks of the lives of other people in the first place, I think that it is the same for Wittgenstein or for you or me: When I look back on my own life and say that I am happy with it, what in fact I am doing is judging my life, although it may be so, of course, that the judgment leads to a feeling of happiness in me who judges myself. But such a feeling and a judgment are basically two different things. Unlike the latter, a feeling is neither an opinion nor a kind of view. And it is just a feeling that I am referring to when I say “I am happy now” or “basically I feel happy (in the long run)”. This cannot be changed by a dramatic act at the end of my life (as Montaigne thinks), for such an act can change my reputation and the judgment on my life as a whole but not what I felt some time ago, even not for myself.
Quotations are from the online edition of the Essays English version) onhttp://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/montaigne/michel/m76e/book1.18.html