We like to pretend our notions are the product of careful study and rational analysis. We like to pretend our likes and dislikes are deeply rooted in principle.
Montaigne thought otherwise. In “An Apology for Raymond Sebond,” he wrote, “I have seen some, who without infringing their patience, could not well hear a bone gnawed under their table: and we see few men, but are much troubled at that sharp, hard, and teeth-edging noise that Smiths make in filing of brass or scraping of iron and steel together.”
Our loves and hatreds are likewise founded on sand: “Some will be angry with, or hate a man, that either speaks in the nose, or rattles in the throat.” Or, it might be added, addresses the nation in a thick Texas accent.
Cynical as he certainly was, Montaigne was on to something. Given our irritability, our discovery of truth is nothing less than miraculous, and the achievement of rational interchange a treasured gift that is not to be taken for granted.