Home Research PapersIn that without being able to live in a

In that without being able to live in a

In “Of Cannibals,” Michel
de Montaigne questions the perspective of what should be considered right or
wrong in a society. These questions stem from the existence of a cannibalistic
culture in the New World, shaping his ideas about his own society. He aims to
get people to think like he does by taking this vastly different civilization
and using it as a mirror for what his own society thinks is right and how they
behave themselves. The knowledge of the existence of a culture so different
from his own society’s caused people to question the way they live their lives.
Montaigne does not want people to assume the things they consider normal as the
definitively correct way, but instead asserts the idea that different does not
necessarily equate to wrong or incorrect.

If
a group of people could develop in a way so differently from their own, then
perhaps their own customs were not the best ones out there like they were
previously led to believe. “Now to return to my purpose I find there is nothing
in that nation that is either barbarous or savage, unless men call that barbarism
which is not common to them” (Montaigne 370). They have only their own culture
as a basis for what is considered right or wrong. This means that without being
able to live in a cannibals shoes and actually live the life of a cannibal, one
cannot possibly think of it as a normal set of traditions. To a cannibal, this
is all they know, so how could it possibly seem wrong? Because this isn’t seen
or heard about in day to day life for the Europeans, it is easy for them to
consider it wrong. However, Montaigne praises the cannibals for their ability to
function regardless of their simplicity making them so different from the
complicity of his own culture. “They are yet in that happy estate as they
desire no more than what their natural necessities direct them: whatsoever is
beyond it, is to them superfluous” (Montaigne 373). This is another example of
Montaigne subtly pushing the idea that different does not always equal wrong.

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Montaigne
does not dislike his society or way of living, rather, he just wishes to
influence people in a way that they will question what they believe to be the
definitively right way to do things. He uses the cannibalistic culture as a way
to do this by not thinking of cannibals as mere savages, but as a culture that
developed independently that might be able to teach his own society a better
way to do things, regardless of their vast differences.  Montaigne would use this specific way of
thinking when it comes to the Mayan ball game, which is a game in which the
loser, usually a king or high official, would be sacrificed to the gods. Just
because the Mayans are brought up in a culture where this type of game is
considered normal, it does not mean that they are incorrect for doing so. “I
would have every man write what he knows, and no more: not only in that, but in
all other subjects. For one may have particular knowledge of the nature of one
river, and experience of the quality of one fountain, that in other things knows
no more than another man” (Montaigne 370). This shows Montaigne pressing the
envelope that one should always assume that something can be learned from
another, regardless of the many differences that may exist. There is no one
single way to do a certain thing or live a certain way, keeping an open mind
can and will benefit cultures in ways people could have never imagined.

Montaigne
caused people to think in a different way than the traditional way they were
taught to. He did this by changing people’s perspectives on the barbarism of a cannibalistic
society. Although Montaigne may not have agreed with the idea of a man eating
another man or the idea of sacrifice, he did agree with keeping an open mind,
regardless of the obvious and numerous differences that made themselves apparent.
Montaigne aims to show the readers that different does not always equate to wrong,
and that keeping this mindset is key in any developing society. 

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