The Unity of the Mind and Body
Both Michel De Montaigne and John Donne argue that the cultivation of the mind is linked to the well being of the body. Both argue that a mind void of proper enrichment and education will lead to an unhealthy body. However, Montaigne argues that the appropriate means of “education and enrichment” are studying and following the works of other great thinkers of history. Additionally, Montaigne declares imagination to be the impetus for the downfall of the body. Conversely, Donne argues that a mind groomed in imagination is the proper mode of finding bodily health. In their writings, both Montaigne and Donne are seeking a unity between the mind and the body. By comparing Montaigne’s Essays and the poetry of Donne, it is evident that the means for unifying the mind and body can vary for different people.
Montaigne’s general philosophy on the relationship between the mind and the physical health of the body is one that associates a healthy existence with a healthy mind. His idea of a healthy mind is that which is learned through the studies of the “great thinkers” of the past, and steered clear of being taken control of by the omnipotent imagination.
In Montaigne’s essay “On the Education of Children,” Montaigne stresses the importance of education, but only promotes a select few genres of education as appropriate. Montaigne links these few genres of education directly to the well being of the body. First, Montaigne declares that “The mind that harbours philosophy should, by its soundness, make the body sound also”(pg.67). Here he argues that anyone who is soundly based in the philosophy of the “great thinkers” of history will have the wellness of body that they desire. He states that “ The most manifest sign of wisdom is a constant happiness; it’s state…always serene”(pg.67). Montaigne’s obvious foremost concern is that people be educated in the thinking of great thinkers. Secondly, Montaigne addresses the types of free thinking that are appropriate for a healthy mind and body. He argues that the free thought of a person should be based in the thought of the “great thinkers.” Montaigne says if a person “…embraces the opinions of Xenophon and Plato by his own reasoning, they will no longer be theirs, but his”(pg.56). He encourages people to “…imbibe their [“great thinkers”] ways of thought…”(pg.56). Montaigne’s argument is that free thinking not based in the thought of the “great thinkers” is simply uneducated freethinking, and thus is unhealthy for the mind and body. Finally, Montaigne’s essay “On the Education of Children” reveals Montaigne’s argument against the learning of “profitless” knowledge, or in other words. He says that “…most of the branches of knowledge in current usage are valueless to us…”(pg.65) and that “…we must limit the extent of our studies in those branches…”(pg.65). Montaigne’s apparent argument is that only a certain type of education, one based strongly in the thought of the “great thinkers,” is the type of education that will provide for not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.
In Montaigne’s essay “On the Power of the Imagination,” Montaigne next argues against the perils of the imagination. He declares that the imagination, unlike freethinking based in acceptable knowledge, leads directly to an unhealthy body. Montaigne first attacks the sheer power of the imagination. Montaigne states regarding the imagination that “Everyone feels its impact, but some are knocked over by it”(pg.36). He contends that the imagination is something that slowly begins to take over the mind of a person and drive them further from...
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