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MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE

Why was Montaigne important?

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592), the essayist who became mayor of his hometown of Bourdeaux, France, resurrected the ancient Greek skepticism of Sextus Empiricus (160-210 c.e.), with some reliance on Cicero. Although Montaigne lived during the end of the Renaissance, his ideas set the stage for much thought that would follow during the scientific revolution and early modern philosophy. In the history of ideas and philosophy, he is therefore much more than a Renaissance figure.

What is fideism and what does it have to do with what Montaigne demonstrated about skepticism?

Montaigne (1533-1592) demonstrated how skepticism could be a double-edged sword: it could be used to reject irrational claims, and it could be used to attack the certainty of any body of knowledge, including scientific knowledge based on the senses and the conclusions of logical reasoning. This made skepticism extremely useful for Catholic theologians attacking the claims of Protestants, and vice versa. Today, we think of skeptics as those who require careful scientific evidence for claims and judgments. Usually a skeptic is someone who will not take anything on faith. But Montaigne showed that even the best evidence, including sensory information, can be doubted, so that for him, the skeptic is someone who is better off relying on faith. What Montaigne had in mind was not only faith about knowledge that could not be proved to a certainty, but a life of faith in which all attempts at rigorous knowledge were avoided. This is known as fideism.

How did Montaigne convey his ideas?

Montaigne (1533-1592) used an indirect approach to explaining his ideas, which was not surprising for someone as intellectually sophisticated about literature, philosophy, and history as he was. Montaigne translated Natural Theology; or, The Book of Creatures, (written from 1420 to 1430) by Raimond Sebond, a fifteenth century Spanish theologian, who had taught at the University of Toulouse, where Montaigne had studied. The University of Toulouse offered much advanced and humanistic thinking at that time in a curriculum that encouraged intellectual creativity. Montaigne's translation, The Apology of Raimond Sebond, was the result of Montaigne's original embellishments. His primary thesis was that sensory and intellectual knowledge are uncertain. His conclusion was that judgment should therefore be suspended concerning

Michel de Montaigne showed that skepticism could be used to effectively argue for either science or religion (Art Archive).

Michel de Montaigne showed that skepticism could be used to effectively argue for either science or religion (Art Archive).

What were some examples of Montaigne's famous wit?

Montaigne had sayings from Sextus Empiricus (160-210 c.e.) carved into the beams of the rafters of his study. His favorite, which became his own motto and the motto of the Essays, was "Que sais-je?" or "What do I know?"

The following aphorisms are excerpts from his Essays.

"Wise men have more to learn of fools than fools of wise men."

"From the same sheet of paper on which a judge writes his sentence against an adulterer, he tears off a piece to scribble a love note to his colleague's wife."

"Don't discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; and if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved."

"Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own ass."

"Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the desire to seem rather than to be."

"He who is not strong in memory should not meddle with lying."

"I will fight the right side to the fire, but excluding the fire if I can."

"There are some defeats more triumphant than victories."

"Age prints more wrinkles in the mind, than it does in the face, and souls are never, or very rarely seen, that in growing old do not smell sour and musty."

"Books are a languid pleasure."

"Even in the midst of compassion we feel within I know not what tart sweet titillation of malicious pleasure in seeing others suffer; children have the same feeling."

"Few men are admired by their servants."

"The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself."

matters that go beyond experience. Along the way to that conclusion, Montaigne discussed many conflicts of opinion that were relevant to disputes current in his day.

 
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