↑ comment by Yossarian ·
2013-04-08T19:19:07.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The quote struck me as a poetic way of affirming the general importance of metacognition - a reminder that we are at the center of everything we do, and therefore investing in self improvement is an investment with a multiplier effect. I admit though this may be adding my own meaning that doesn't exist in the quote's context.
I've always seen that whole speech as a pretty good example of reasoning from the wrong premises: Henry V makes the argument that God will decide the outcome of the battle and so if given the opportunity to have more Englishmen fighting along side them, he would choose to fight without them since then he gets more glory for winning a harder fight and if they lose then fewer will have died. Of course he doesn't take this to the logical conclusion and go out and fight alone, but I guess Shakespeare couldn't have pushed history quite that far.
Rewatching Branagh's version recently, I keyed in on a different aspect. In his speech, Henry describes in detail all the glory and status the survivors of the battle will enjoy for the rest of their lives, while (of course) totally downplaying the fact that few of them can expect to collect on that reward. He's making a cost/benefit calculation for them and leaning heavily on the scale in the process.
Contrast with similar inspiring military speeches:
William Wallace says, "Fight and you may die. Run and you may live...for awhile. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!" He's saying essentially the same thing as Henry, but framing it as a loss instead of a gain. Where Henry tells his soldiers what they'll gain from fighting, Wallace tells them what they'll lose if they don't. Perhaps it's telling that, unlike Henry, he doesn't get very specific. It might've been an opportunity for someone in the ranks to run a thought experiment, "What specific aspects of my life will be measurably different if we have 'freedom' versus if we don't have 'freedom'? What exactly AM I trading ALL the days for? And if I magically had that thing without the cost of potentially dying, what would my preferences be then?" Or to just notice their confusion and be able to recognize they were being loss averse and without the ability to define exactly what they were averse to losing.
Meanwhile, Maximus tells his troops, "What you do in life echoes in eternity." He's more honest and direct about the probability that you're going to die, but also reminds you that the cost/benefit analysis extends beyond your own life, the implication being that your 'honor' (reputation) affects your placement in the afterlife and (probably of more consequence) the well being of your family after your death. Life is an iterated game and sometimes you have to defect (or cooperate?) so that your children get to play at all.
And lastly, Patton says, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his." He explicitly rejects the entire 'die for your country' framing and foists it wholly onto the enemy. It's his version of "The enemy's gate is down." He's not telling you you're not going to die, but at least he's not trying to convince you that your death is somehow a good or necessary thing.
When taken in this company, Henry actually comes across more like a villain. Of all of them, he's appealing to their desire to achieve rational interests in an irrational way without being at all upfront about their odds of actually getting what he's promising them.