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. 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. 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. Furthermore, his Essays were seen as an important contribution to both writing form and skepticism. The name itself comes from the French word essais , meaning "attempts" or "tests", which shows how this new form of writing did not aim to educate or prove. Rather, his essays were exploratory journeys in which he works through logical steps to bring skepticism to what is being discussed.
Montaigne's stated goal in his book is to describe himself with utter frankness and honesty " bonne foi ". The insight into human nature provided by his essays, for which they are so widely read, is merely a by-product of his introspection. Though the implications of his essays were profound and far-reaching, he did not intend, nor suspect his work to garner much attention outside of his inner circle,  prefacing his essays with, "I am myself the matter of this book; you would be unreasonable to suspend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.
Montaigne's essay topics spanned the entire spectrum of the profound to the trivial, with titles ranging from "Of Sadness and Sorrow" and "Of Conscience" to "Of Smells" and "Of Posting" referring to posting letters.
Montaigne wrote at a time preceded by Catholic and Protestant ideological tension. Christianity in the 15th and 16th centuries saw protestant authors consistently attempting to subvert Church doctrine with their own reason and scholarship. Consequently, Catholic scholars embraced skepticism as a means to discredit all reason and scholarship and accept Church doctrine through faith alone.
He reasoned that while man is finite, truth is infinite; thus, human capacity is naturally inhibited in grasping reality in its fullness or with certainty. According to the scholar Paul Oskar Kristeller , "the writers of the period were keenly aware of the miseries and ills of our earthly existence". A representative quote is "I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself. He opposed European colonization of the Americas , deploring the suffering it brought upon the natives.
Citing the case of Martin Guerre as an example, Montaigne believes that humans cannot attain certainty. His skepticism is best expressed in the long essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond " Book 2, Chapter 12 which has frequently been published separately. Montaigne posits that we cannot trust our reasoning because thoughts just occur to us:
Complete summary of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne's The Essays. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of The Essays.
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. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Montaigne Essays by Michel de Montaigne. The Montaigne Essays are a selection of essays by French philosopher [ ].
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, His father was a merchant and had occupied many municipal offices in Bordeaux in France. 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).
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. In the essay “On Experience” Michel de Montaigne writes, “I study myself more than any other subject. That is my metaphysics ; that is my physics.” At first glance this statement seems generally narcissistic, even flamboyantly so. Essentially, Montaigne disregards the entire study of.