Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, born in 1533, was a French Renaissance author known for his “Essais“: streams of consciousness and reflections on his own nature.

Montaigne’s words, although written centuries before software, can be applied nonetheless.

“Better to be tentative than to be recklessly sure—to be an apprentice at sixty, than to present oneself as a doctor at ten.”

Be humble, always keep learning, and question authority.

“Each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice.”

The arbitrariness of varied practices (syntax, ideologies, patterns) should compel you to not condemn the preferences of others. Or more broadly, don't presume you've the moral or objective high-ground on a preference of yours.

“Ease crushes us.”

Perhaps it's worth considering that our endless drive towards abstraction and the eventual demise of the industry in the wake of an AI singularity will truly crush us? Or to twist it differently: programming hard problems is fun. CRUD is boring.

“There is no passion so contagious as that of fear.”

The fear of failure and ostracisation is prevalent in many industries, especially one as inwardly vocal as ours. We should be wary of giving into that fear.

“I quote others only in order to better express myself.”

Cutting and pasting from prose, thoughts and even code is not some great evil, but instead revealing of the like-mindedness and ingenuity of man and the bounty of lessons we can learn from those around us. If anything, be humbled if you're imitated. To expand upon this, Montaigne writes:

“Truth and reason are common to everyone, and no more belong to the man who first spoke them than to the man who says them later. It is no more according to Plato than according to me, since he and I understand and see it the same way. The bees plunder the flowers here and there, but afterward they make of them honey, which is all theirs; it is no longer thyme or marjoram. Even so with the pieces borrowed from others; he will transform and blend them to make a work of his own, to wit, his judgment. His education, work, and study aim only at forming this.”

Another truth from this, perhaps, is that upholding copyright or ownership is not some moral prerogative; but instead just a mechanism of trade. And that’s fine, but we shouldn’t pretend that some higher law is broken when someone copies our work. Instead, we should be embracing the remixing and modification of prior works.

To close, these aren’t commandments but they are worth reflecting upon, and maybe whatever lessons are here can be applied to our own lives more broadly, and not just to software engineering.

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