Aristotle and Montaigne's "Of Cannibals"

George Marinopoulos, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

In Montaigne's "Of Cannibals", the author uses logic and frequent references to aknowledged sages of the past (i.e. Aristotle) in order to validate his argument that the term barbarians is utterly subjective and therefore often used inapropriately. Specifically he argues that a tribe in the new continent which practices certain forms of cannibalism is far from being barbaric in its ways and culture. However in using logic to further this argument, the author makes use of what we would call moral relativism and makes certain assumptions that are not completely convincing to the reader.

A good example of this can be seen in the following passage:

Their warfare is wholly noble and generous, and as excusable and beautiful as this human disease can be; its only basis among them is their rivalry in valor. They are not fighting for the conquest of new lands, for they still enjoy that natural abundance that provides them without toil and trouble with all necessary things in such profusion that they have no wish to enlarge their boundaries. They are still in that happy state of desiring only so much as their natural needs demand; anything beyond that is superfluous to them.

Does this line of argumentation succeed in convincing the reader that the tribe is not barbaric in its ways? What is the point of specifically explaining that they fight wars motivated by the same mentality that would make a child do a dare? It is obvious that he prefers to notice the innocence behind the warfare instead of focusing on the unecessary bloodshed that occurs. What is he reasons for doing so? Finally, is the following example of Leonidas' last stand a validation for the above passage or does it not affect the argumentation in any way?


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Last modified 6 February 2002