Michel de Montaigne
Translated by HyperEssays (2020–24)

One Person’s Gain Is Another Person’s Loss

Book 1 Chapter 22

Demades the Athenian condemned a man of his city who was making a living selling things needed for funerals on the grounds that he wanted too much profit from it and that his profit could only come from the death of many.  This verdict seems ill-conceived given that there is no profit that is not somebody else’s loss and that, by his reckoning, any kind of gain would have to be condemned.

The excessiveness of youth only benefits the merchant; the high cost of grain, the farmer; the destruction of houses, the architect; and people’s lawsuits and arguments, officers of the law. The very status of religious authorities and their living are derived from our deaths and our vices. As the ancient Greek comedy writer says, no doctor likes to see their friends in good health, nor soldiers peace in their city and so on.1  

Worse yet, let each one of us look inward and they will find that most of our inner wishes are born and grow at the expense of others.

And it occurred to me, as I was reflecting on this, that Nature does not belie her general policy in this, for natural philosophers affirm that the birth, nourishment, and growth of one thing is the decline and destruction of another.

Nam quodcumque suis mutatum finibus exit,
Continuo hoc mors est illius, quod fuit ante.

Whenever anything changes and escapes its bounds, at once it brings death to whatever was before.