In this passage from his essay on cannibals, Montaigne contrasts the behavior of the cannibals he describes with that of supposedly civilized Europeans. He begins with an observation that recalls the parable of the mote and the beam from the Sermon on the Mount. People in Europe are quick to notice the barbarity of cannibalism, but they are blind to the savagery of their own conduct. He then makes the point that, though cannibals presumably have to kill people in order to eat them, their victims are already dead by the time the act which Europeans consider so barbarous can take place. In civilized countries, however, living people are tortured in far more horrific ways.
Montaigne goes on to refer to the acts in question, which, he avers, are much worse than the consumption of human flesh. First he refers to "tearing apart" living bodies, perhaps on the rack, then to burning people alive. Finally, he alludes to the closest European practise to cannibalism, that of feeding live men to pigs or dogs to "be gnawed and chewed." This is the comparison Montaigne makes when he compares the consumption of a dead man with a live one. Although Europeans do not eat their victims themselves, the terrible pain caused by this form of torture makes the cannibals appear almost benign by comparison.