He was a hero to the enlighteners Montesquieu and Diderot. So what are these Essays, which Montaigne protested were indistinguishable from their author? Anyone who tries to read the Essays systematically soon finds themselves overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of examples, anecdotes, digressions and curios Montaigne assembles for our delectation, often without more than the hint of a reason why. Many titles seem to have no direct relation to their contents. Nearly everything our author says in one place is qualified, if not overturned, elsewhere.
Certainly, for Montaigne, as for ancient thinkers led by his favourites, Plutarch and the Roman Stoic Seneca, philosophy was not solely about constructing theoretical systems, writing books and articles.
Montaigne has little time for forms of pedantry that value learning as a means to insulate scholars from the world, rather than opening out onto it. We are great fools. Their wisdom, he suggests , was chiefly evident in the lives they led neither wrote a thing. In particular, it was proven by the nobility each showed in facing their deaths.
Socrates consented serenely to taking hemlock, having been sentenced unjustly to death by the Athenians. Indeed, everything about our passions and, above all, our imagination , speaks against achieving that perfect tranquillity the classical thinkers saw as the highest philosophical goal.
We discharge our hopes and fears, very often, on the wrong objects, Montaigne notes , in an observation that anticipates the thinking of Freud and modern psychology. Always, these emotions dwell on things we cannot presently change. Sometimes, they inhibit our ability to see and deal in a supple way with the changing demands of life.
Philosophy, in this classical view, involves a retraining of our ways of thinking, seeing and being in the world. And though nobody should read me, have I wasted time in entertaining myself so many idle hours in so pleasing and useful thoughts?
Montaigne wants to leave us with some work to do and scope to find our own paths through the labyrinth of his thoughts, or alternatively, to bobble about on their diverting surfaces. Their author keeps his own prerogatives, even as he bows deferentially before the altars of ancient heroes like Socrates, Cato, Alexander the Great or the Theban general Epaminondas.
And of all the philosophers, he most frequently echoes ancient sceptics like Pyrrho or Carneades who argued that we can know almost nothing with certainty. Writing in a time of cruel sectarian violence , Montaigne is unconvinced by the ageless claim that having a dogmatic faith is necessary or especially effective in assisting people to love their neighbours:.
Between ourselves, I have ever observed supercelestial opinions and subterranean manners to be of singular accord ….
This scepticism applies as much to the pagan ideal of a perfected philosophical sage as it does to theological speculations. Even virtue can become vicious, these essays imply, unless we know how to moderate our own presumptions. If there is one form of argument Montaigne uses most often, it is the sceptical argument drawing on the disagreement amongst even the wisest authorities.
If human beings could know if, say, the soul was immortal, with or without the body, or dissolved when we die … then the wisest people would all have come to the same conclusions by now, the argument goes.
It points the way to a new kind of solution, and could in fact enlighten us. Documenting such manifold differences between customs and opinions is, for him, an education in humility:. Manners and opinions contrary to mine do not so much displease as instruct me; nor so much make me proud as they humble me.
We are horrified at the prospect of eating our ancestors. A very great deal , is the answer. I have known in my time a hundred artisans, a hundred labourers, wiser and more happy than the rectors of the university, and whom I had much rather have resembled.
By the end of the Essays, Montaigne has begun openly to suggest that, if tranquillity, constancy, bravery, and honour are the goals the wise hold up for us, they can all be seen in much greater abundance amongst the salt of the earth than amongst the rich and famous:. I propose a life ordinary and without lustre: And so we arrive with these last Essays at a sentiment better known today from another philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, the author of A Gay Science First he points out failings in reason and then points out failings in experience.
Montaigne comes to the conclusion that the only way to acquire knowledge, truth or understanding lies within the composite human — a thinking, and sensuous being.
First Montaigne discusses the failures of reason or contemplative thinking-a thing implied to be purely of the mind, and to have direct connection to the senses. When reason fails us we make use of experience. On one level, they suggest that humans will naturally try to contemplate things first to gain knowledge. To Montaigne the laws are a downfall of reason because they move away from a general interpretation of, in this case, justice to multiple interpretations.
So to Montaigne laws are best made by someone who uses reason to create the law but experience to measure its applicability. And that is to say that a composite human is best suited for making laws, understanding justice, or more generally, grasping the truth.
This pervasive difference makes experience an inherently faulty way of examining the world. They have nothing to do with knowledge so sublime. The crucial idea to understand is that to Montaigne truth cannot be grasped by experience alone. Experience needs to be filtered by the mind in order for it to elucidate any truths or knowledge. This filtering process is what a composite human, both a thinking and sensing, would intuitively do, and which is what Montaigne believes is the way to truth, knowledge or understanding.
The point of this section is to demonstrate the human as a composite. That is to say that experience can be a philosophical act. For someone to sense something he needs to know they are sensing it; for someone to understand something it must pass first through the senses.
To Montaigne the human is body and mind and for a human to have understanding, or know truth he must use both parts of his duality. To Montaigne difference and uncertainty pervade the world and make it impossible to glean any knowledge through the application of either reason or experience alone. But, as I have argued, these two tools used in conjunction are the key to understanding the world and gathering any truth.
To Montaigne we can examine ourselves and therefore our sensual experience with, and along side of, our reason to find that subtle certainty and similarity in the very difference that subsists throughout the world. Montaigne finds a most basic certainty in the embrace of our composite selves as a necessity to glean knowledge, truth or understanding. This essay is quite impressive. I think I like the poetry of the language as much as the ideas.
I must confess this is my first exposure to Montaigne and suspect it is a good one. I think the most important reason to read Montaigne is that he invented the essay. I think if we could somehow get back to that way of writing people would be writing essays with more voice in them.
To essay is to “test” or “try,” and Montaigne, thinking of his works as trials of his own judgment and capacities, succeeded in inventing the essay with a personal slant. While often personal, his essays are not confessional or confidential but achieve the universal quality of the greatest literature.
Montaigne Essays Sparknotes Michel De Montaigne As an essayist Introduction: Michel de Montaigne the famous essayist is considered as the great French essayist was born 28th February,
Montaigne Essays Summary SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. Montaigne's essay "On the Education of Children" is dedicated to Diana of Foix. English journalist and politician J. M. Robertson argued that Montaigne's essays had a profound influence on the plays of William Shakespeare, citing .
Montaigne Essays Simplified - essays in days (Almost) everyday, I intend to take one of Montaigne's essays, and summarise it here as clearly, concisely, and comprehensively as possible. Everything in each essay is . Unlock This Study Guide Now. Start your hour free trial to unlock this 3-page Of Cannibals study guide and get instant access to the following: Summary; 9 Homework Help Questions with Expert Answers; You'll also get access to more than 30, additional guides and , Homework Help questions answered by our experts.