Montaigne on Stupidity

From On the Art of Conversation (M. A. Screech, 1987):

“It is a disaster that wisdom forbids you to be satisfied with yourself and always sends you away dissatisfied and fearful, whereas stubbornness and foolhardiness fill their hosts with joy and assurance. It is the least clever of men who look down at others over their shoulders, always returning from the fray full of glory and joyfulness. And as often as not their haughty language and their happy faces win them victory in the eyes of the bystanders who are generally feeble in judging and incapable of discerning real superiority. The surest proof of animal-stupidity is ardent obstinacy of opinion. Is there anything more certain, decided, disdainful, contemplative, grave and serious, than a donkey?”

From Of the Art of Discussion (Donald Frame, 1958):

“It is unfortunate that wisdom forbids you to be satisfied with yourself and trust yourself, and always sends you away discontented and diffident, whereas opinionativeness and heedlessness fill their hosts with rejoicing and assurance. It is for the most incompetent to look other men over their shoulders, always returning from the combat full of glory and cheer. And besides, this arrogance of language and gaiety of countenance usually give them the victory in the eyes of the audience, which is generally weak and incapable of judging and discerning clearly where the real advantage lie. Obstinacy and heat of opinion is the surest proof of stupidity. Is there anything so certain, resolute, disdainful, contemplative, grave, and serious as an ass?”

From On the Art of Conversation (J. M. Cohen, 1958)

“It is unfortunate that wisdom forbids you to be self-satisfied and trust in yourself, and always sends you away discontented and diffident, whereas an opinionated boldness fills its possessor with joy and assurance. It is the most empty-headed that view other men with scorn, and always return from the battle full of triumphant glee. What is more, their arrogant speech and cheerful looks most often give them the victory in the eyes of the bystanders, who are generally of a poor intelligence, incapable of judging and discerning where the advantage really lies. Obstinacy and heated argument are the surest proofs of stupidity. Is there anything so positive, immovable, disdainful, meditative, grave, and solemn as an ass?”

From Of the Art of Conference (Charles Cotton, 1685):

“‘Tis unfortunate that prudence forbids us to satisfy and trust ourselves, and always dismisses us timorous and discontented; whereas obstinacy and temerity fill those who are possessed with them with joy and assurance. ‘Tis for the most ignorant to look at other men over the shoulder, always returning from the combat full of joy and triumph. And moreover, for the most part, this arrogance of speech and gaiety of countenance gives them the better of it in the opinion of the audience, which is commonly weak and incapable of well judging and discerning the real advantage. Obstinacy of opinion and heat in argument are the surest proofs of folly; is there anything so assured, resolute, disdainful, contemplative, serious and grave as the ass?”

From Of the Art of Conferring (John Florio, 1603):

“It is ill lucke that wisedome forbids you to please and trust your selfe, and sends you alwayes way discontented and fearefull; whereas wilfulnesse and rashnesse fill their guests with gratulation and assurance. It is for the simplest and least able to looke at other men over their shoulders, ever returning from the combat full of glory and gladnesse. And most often also, this outrecuidance of speech and cheerefulnesse of countenance giveth them the victory over the bystanders, who are commonly weake, and incapable to judge a right and discerne true advantage. Obstinacy and earnestnesse in opinion is the surest tryall of folly and selfe conceit. Is there any thing so assured, so resolute, so disdainfull, so contemplative, so serious and so grave, as the Asse?”

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