That Semblance of Intellect

“It is not only the fevers, the potions, and the great accidents that upset our judgment; the slightest things in the world whirl it around. And there is no doubt, even though we do not feel it, that if a continuous fever can prostrate our soul, tertian fever causes some alteration in it, according to its measure and proportion. If apoplexy completely deadens and extinguishes the sight of our intelligence, there is no doubt that a bad cold dazzles it. And consequently, we can hardly find a single hour in our life when our judgment is in its proper seat, our body being subject to so many continual changes, and filled with so many springs of action that I can well believe the doctors how unlikely it is that there will not always be one of them pulling crooked. Moreover, this malady is not so easily discovered, unless it is wholly extreme and irremediable; inasmuch as reason always goes its way, even though crooked, lame, and broken-hipped, and with falsehood as with truth. Thus it is not easy to discover its miscalculation and irregularity. I always call reason that semblance of intellect that each man fabricates in himself. That reason, of which, by its condition, there can be a hundred contradictory ones about one and the same subject, is an instrument of lead and of wax, stretchable, pliable, and adaptable to all biases and all measures; all that is needed is the ability to mold it. However good a judge’s intentions are, unless he listens closely to himself, which few people amuse themselves in doing, his inclination to friendship, kinship, beauty, and vengeance, and not only things so weighty, but that fortuitous instinct that makes us favor one thing more than another and that assigns us, without leave of our reason, our choice between two like objects, or some shadow of equal emptiness, can insinuate insensibly into his judgment the favor or disfavor of a cause, and tip the scales.” (Montaigne, tr. Frame)