Our Distorted Perception of Identity

In “Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions,” Montaigne explains how our perception of one’s identity is distorted: we often judge one based on their actions, the result of the situation they are in; however, we should actually judge one based on their circumstance when performing the action. It is futile to understand identity through human action as people often contradict themselves in their actions: “Pope Boniface VIII, they say, entered office like fox, behaved in it like a lion, and died like a dog” (362). One’s action is not a direct reflection of who they are or what principals they stand for. Instead, it is only a reflection of “circumstance [that] carries us” (363). While a soldier of Antigonus was ill, he fought bravely as he had less to lose on the battlefield, but upon being healed for his illness as a reward for his valor, he appears more cowardly. It should not perplex those who study humans that the soldier seems to contradict himself. The difference in action between the two situations does not mean that the soldier’s inherent personality changed—that his sudden timidity contradicts his longstanding valor. The soldier is merely adjusting to the new circumstances presented in front of him. Human actions are only relative to circumstances, not to identity.