The Philosophy of Farts: The Montaigne Story

Whenever we knock out one of these articles on a certain area of philosophy, we tend to include some kind of relatable issue (if the article is on death, we talk about the fear of death, if the article is on office politics we talk about the fears related to office politics. So on, and so forth. You get the idea).

However, due to a scheduling conflict, I got the questionable privilege of writing an article on the philosophy of farting. I’ve had a few scotches, and several days in which to mull over how to best introduce this topic politely, and frankly, I’ve been packing blanks. So, short version: please find below a summary on the philosophy of farting.

Montaigne was by all accounts a sane, rational and reasonable man who in no way had an obsession with farting. Perhaps surprisingly then, Montaigne – a decidedly French Philosopher – decided to compile a treatise on the philosophy of farting (yes, this is a real book, and you can pick it up on iBooks for free).

Montaigne’s commentary on farting starts out sanely enough. He discusses bodily functions that people have little control over. Breathing, heart rate, raised hairs et cetera. Then, he turns his attention to farting and the philosophy behind it.

I’m not making this up.

Probably realising that he’s hopped on the crazy train at some point, Montaigne tries to recover by citing St Augustine and Juan Vives to give himself some academic street cred. It turns out that both St Augustine and Vives knew a couple of guys who liked to crack out the old smokey once in a blue moon.

The blokes St Augustine and Vives knew could fart on demand, and were able to make it into a bit of a jingle respectively, so Montaigne tells us:

“The vessels that serve to discharge the belly have their own proper dilatations and compressions, without and beyond our concurrence, as well as those which are destined to purge the reins; and that which, to justify the prerogative of the will, St. Augustine urges, of having seen a man who could command his rear to discharge as often together as he pleased, Vives, his commentator, yet further fortifies with another example in his time,—of one that could break wind in tune; but these cases do not suppose any more pure obedience in that part; for is anything commonly more tumultuary or indiscreet?” [p 303-304]

Montaigne, probably now feeling a little more solid given the fact that St Augustine also once met someone who could fart, decides to go further by providing us with an anecdote regarding a then living 16th Century Frenchman who liked to make a low, long and continued rumbling fart when he let one off.

So, what was Montaigne driving at through all this? Montaigne’s synopsis is simple: everybody farts. You have little control of it, so it’s unfair to judge someone who has farted. Public or otherwise.

So, next time you let one rip in public, you can cite Montaigne and look like a complete wanker.

Jack Lonsdale

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