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Essays of Michel de Montaigne — Complete by Michel de Montaigne

Introduction

❶And of all the philosophers, he most frequently echoes ancient sceptics like Pyrrho or Carneades who argued that we can know almost nothing with certainty.

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The Essays

He neither wanted nor expected people beyond his circle of friends to be too interested. Reader, you have here an honest book; … in writing it, I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end. I have had no consideration at all either to your service or to my glory … Thus, reader, I myself am the matter of my book: The ensuing, free-ranging essays, although steeped in classical poetry, history and philosophy, are unquestionably something new in the history of Western thought.

They were almost scandalous for their day. Modern art no longer restricts its subject matters to classical myths, biblical tales, the battles and dealings of Princes and prelates.

Montaigne frequently apologizes for writing so much about himself. He is only a second rate politician and one-time Mayor of Bourdeaux, after all. But the message of this latter essay is, quite simply, that non, je ne regrette rien , as a more recent French icon sang:.

Were I to live my life over again, I should live it just as I have lived it; I neither complain of the past, nor do I fear the future; and if I am not much deceived, I am the same within that I am without…I have seen the grass, the blossom, and the fruit, and now see the withering; happily, however, because naturally.

Within a decade of his death, his Essays had left their mark on Bacon and Shakespeare. 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. Did Montaigne turn to the Stoic school of philosophy to deal with the horrors of war? Certainly, for Montaigne, as for ancient thinkers led by his favorites, 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. 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.

So maybe there is some happy medium, a composite essay, if you will. Something both full of voice but at the same time driven by some focal idea. It is a wonderful answer and it helps me see your essay in yet another light.

Voice is what most impressed me. I have been teaching college comp for over twenty-five years, and I can tell you that voice has been put aside. His body was failing him, and he died less than two years later, on September 13, But when Montaigne gives the title Essays to his books from now on called "the book" , he does not intend to designate the literary genre of the work so much as to refer to the spirit in which it is written and the nature of the project out of which it emerges.

The Essays is a decidedly unsystematic work. There rarely seems to be any explicit connection between one chapter and the next.

Moreover, chapter titles are often only tangentially related to their contents. Montaigne intersperses reportage of historical anecdotes and autobiographical remarks throughout the book, and most essays include a number of digressions. Part of that project, he tells us at the outset, is to paint a portrait of himself in words, and for Montaigne, this task is complicated by the conception he has of the nature of the self.

I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness. I take it in this condition, just as it is at the moment I give my attention to it. I do not portray being: I may presently change, not only by chance, but also by intention.

This is a record of various and changeable occurrences, and of irresolute and, when it so befalls, contradictory ideas: So, all in all, I may indeed contradict myself now and then; but truth, as Demades said, I do not contradict.

While on the one hand he expresses the conception of the self outlined in the passage above, in the very same essay - as if to illustrate the principle articulated above - he asserts that his self is unified by his judgment, which has remained essentially the same his entire life. In addition to the pursuit of self-knowledge, Montaigne also identifies the cultivation of his judgment and the presentation of a new ethical and philosophical figure to the reading public as fundamental goals of his project.

The first is the attempt to understand the human condition in general. This involves reflecting on the beliefs, values, and behavior of human beings as represented both in literary, historical, and philosophical texts, and in his own experience. The second is to understand himself as a particular human being. This involves recording and reflecting upon his own idiosyncratic tastes, habits, and dispositions. Thus in the Essays one finds a great deal of historical and autobiographical content, some of which seems arbitrary and insignificant.

Yet for Montaigne, there is no detail that is insignificant when it comes to understanding ourselves: A second aim of essaying himself is to cultivate his judgment. In essaying himself, he aims to cultivate his judgment in a number of discrete but related ways. First, he aims to transform customary or habitual judgments into reflective judgments by calling them into question. By doing so, he is able to determine whether or not they are justifiable, and so whether to take full ownership of them or to abandon them.

In this sense we can talk of Montaigne essaying, or testing, his judgment. Another aspect of the cultivation of judgment has to do with exercising it through simple practice. Thus Montaigne writes that in composing his essays, he is presenting his judgment with opportunities to exercise itself:.

Judgment is a tool to use on all subjects, and comes in everywhere. Therefore in the tests essais that I make of it here, I use every sort of occasion. If it is a subject I do not understand at all, even on that I essay my judgment, sounding the ford from a good distance; and then, finding it too deep for my height, I stick to the bank. And this acknowledgment that I cannot cross over is a token of its action, indeed one of those it is most proud of.

There it plays its part by choosing the way that seems best to it, and of a thousand paths it says that this one or that was the most wisely chosen.

The third fundamental goal of essaying himself is to present his unorthodox way of living and thinking to the reading public of 16 th century France.

He often remarks his intense desire to make himself and his unusual ways known to others. Living in a time of war and intolerance, in which men were concerned above all with honor and their appearance in the public sphere, Montaigne presents his own way of life as an attractive alternative.

He vehemently opposes the violent and cruel behavior of many of the supporters of the Catholic cause, and recognizes the humanity of those who oppose them.

Espousing an openness antithetical to contemporary conventions, he openly declares his faults and failures, both moral and intellectual. In other words, Montaigne challenges the martial virtues of the day that he believes have led to cruelty, hypocrisy, and war, by presenting himself as an example of the virtues of gentleness, openness, and compromise.

Just as Montaigne presents his ways of life in the ethical and political spheres as alternatives to the ways common among his contemporaries, so he presents his ways of behaving in the intellectual sphere as alternatives to the common ways of thinking found among the learned.

He consistently challenges the Aristotelian authority that governed the universities of his day, emphasizing the particular over the universal, the concrete over the abstract, and experience over reason. Rejecting the form as well as the content of academic philosophy, he abandons the rigid style of the medieval quaestio for the meandering and disordered style of the essay. Moreover, he devalues the faculty of memory, so cultivated by renaissance orators and educators, and places good judgment in its stead as the most important intellectual faculty.

Finally, Montaigne emphasizes the personal nature of philosophy, and the value of self-knowledge over metaphysics. His concern is always with the present, the concrete, and the human.

Rather than discursively arguing for the value of his ways of being, both moral and intellectual, Montaigne simply presents them to his readers:. These are my humors and my opinions; I offer them as what I believe, not what is to be believed.

I aim here only at revealing myself, who will perhaps be different tomorrow, if I learn something new which changes me. I have no authority to be believed, nor do I want it, feeling myself too ill-instructed to instruct others.

Thus the end of essaying himself is simultaneously private and public. Montaigne desires to know himself, and to cultivate his judgment, and yet at the same time he seeks to offer his ways of life as salutary alternatives to those around him. Montaigne is perhaps best known among philosophers for his skepticism. Just what exactly his skepticism amounts to has been the subject of considerable scholarly debate.

Given the fact that he undoubtedly draws inspiration for his skepticism from his studies of the ancients, the tendency has been for scholars to locate him in one of the ancient skeptical traditions. While some interpret him as a modern Pyrrhonist , others have emphasized what they take to be the influence of the Academics. Once they recognize two mutually exclusive and equipollent arguments for and against a certain belief, they have no choice but to suspend judgment. This suspension of judgment, they say, is followed by tranquility, or peace of mind, which is the goal of their philosophical inquiry.

We find him employing the skeptical tropes introduced by Sextus in order to arrive at equipollence and then the suspension of judgment concerning a number of theoretical issues, from the nature of the divine to the veracity of perception.

We cannot arrive at any certain conclusion regarding practical matters any more than we can regarding theoretical matters. If there are equipollent arguments for and against any practical course of action, however, we might wonder how Montaigne is to avoid the practical paralysis that would seem to follow from the suspension of judgment. Here Sextus tells us that Pyrrhonists do not suffer from practical paralysis because they allow themselves to be guided by the way things seem to them, all the while withholding assent regarding the veracity of these appearances.

The Pyrrhonist, then, having no reason to oppose what seems evident to her, will seek food when hungry, avoid pain, abide by local customs, and consult experts when necessary — all without holding any theoretical opinions or beliefs. In certain cases, Montaigne seems to abide by the fourfold observances himself. In other words, it appears that his behavior is the result of adherence to the fourfold observances of Sextus.

This has led some scholars, most notably Richard Popkin, to interpret him as a skeptical fideist who is arguing that because we have no reasons to abandon our customary beliefs and practices, we should remain loyal to them. Indeed, Catholics would employ this argument in the Counter-Reformation movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Yet, for all the affinities between Montaigne and the Pyrrhonists, he does not always suspend judgment, and he does not take tranquility to be the goal of his philosophical inquiry.

Thus Montaigne at times appears to have more in common with the Academic Skeptics than with the Pyrrhonists.

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Michel de Montaigne was a French statesman and author, and one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance. He is celebrated for popularizing the essay as a literary genre, and for his effective merging of casual anecdotes, political commentary, and autobiography.

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"Of Cannibals" is an essay from a collection by Michel de Montaigne, simply titled Essays, or Essais in the original French. The collection of over essays delves into the reality of human. The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, by Michel de Montaigne The essay segues innocuously to a discussion of lying via the observation, ‘Not without reason is it said that no one who is not conscious of having a sound memory should set up to be a liar’ (30).

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Michel de Montaigne was a 16th century French author who developed the essay as a literary genre. His first two books of essays were published in Synopsis. When Michel de Montaigne retired to his family estate in , aged 38, he tells us that he wanted to write his famous Essays as a distraction for his idle mind. He neither wanted nor expected.