This essay argues that Montaigne draws on elements of both the Academic and Pyrrhonian skeptical traditions, but that the fundamental desire for self-knowledge that initially led him to appreciate the insights of the ancient skeptics ultimately leads him beyond them. What lies at the heart of Montaigne’s skepticism is neither an epistemological position nor the experience of doubt, but rather the determination to philosophize self-consciously.
"Each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice; for indeed it seems we have no other test of truth and reason than the example and pattern of the opinions and customs of the country we live in" (1.31.152, VS205).1 Remarks such as this from the essay "Of cannibals" have led commentators to argue that Montaigne subscribes to the theory of moral relativism, and that he takes "reason" to be a subjective, rather than an objective, standard for judgment.2 Yet (...) later in that same essay, Montaigne condemns the cannibals' brutal treatment of their enemies (1.31.155, VS209) and concludes that "we may call these people barbarians, in respect to the rules of reason, but not in respect to ourselves, who surpass them .. (shrink)
In the essay “Of repentance,” Montaigne proclaims his moral autonomy, explaining to readers that he lives his life according to his own laws and that he judges himself in his own court. This essay attempts to give an account of the nature of Montaigne’s conception of autonomy, and ultimately argues that it deserves the attention of philosophers interested in alternatives to the conceptions of autonomy offered by figures from the history of philosophy such as Plato, Kant, and Rorty.
This article attempts to contribute to the literature on what has become known as “student relativism” by suggesting that in many cases it is a symptom of a broader and equally problematic pre-reflective epistemological framework that students often bring with them to the study of philosophy. It goes on to describe the notion of a “dialectical fact,” and to propose that this concept can be a useful pedagogical tool for helping students to progress beyond that framework.
This essay argues that Montaigne and Emerson share not only a literary style and a form of skepticism, but also a moral project, namely—to borrow a concept from Charles Taylor—the affirmation of ordinary life. Moreover, Montaigne and Emerson approach this project in fundamentally the same way: rather than offering readers discursive arguments, they attempt to reform readers’ imaginations. Finally, recognizing the poetic nature of their respective affirmations of ordinary life allows us to appreciate how their seemingly dogmatic claims regarding human (...) equality and the human good are compatible with their shared form of skepticism. (shrink)
Michel de Montaigne Michel de Montaigne, the sixteenth century French essayist, is one of the most renowned literary and philosophical figures of the late Renaissance. The one book he wrote, Les Essais de Michel de Montaigne, is not a traditional work of philosophy. Having begun work on it around 1572, he published the first … Continue reading Montaigne, Michel de →.
Montaigne’s “Of friendship” is often read as a celebration of his relationship with his late friend, Étienne La Boétie. This is not wrong, but rather, incomplete. Drawing on the chapters of Montaigne’s Essays that immediately follow “Of friendship,” this essay argues that Montaigne’s chapter on friendship is part of a larger project in which he employs philosophical fictions—specifically, his “perfect friendship” with La Boétie and the “perfect society” that he depicts in “Of cannibals”—to reorient us in our relationships not only (...) with our friends, but also with our enemies. (shrink)
This essay argues that Montaigne’s deep appreciation for Plutarch is tied to a shared set of epistemological, metaphysical, and moral commitments that lie at the heart of both thinkers’ projects. Moreover, it contends that given Montaigne’s apparent appropriations of Plutarch’s ontological starting points, methods, and fundamental aims as a writer, the most fruitful approach to understanding Montaigne’s relationship with ancient Greek philosophy may well be one that focuses less on his engagement with Pyrrhonism and more on his engagement with Plutarch.
This book has two basic aims: to provide a clear and comprehensive account of the most prominent moral philosophies of ancient Greece and Rome, and to explain how for their adherents, these philosophies both motivated and constituted distinctive ways of life. Cooper succeeds admirably in achieving the first aim: he gives clear and concise accounts of the moral philosophies of Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Pyrrhonists, and the Platonists. Each chapter explores not only the basic theories of the (...) school in question, but also some lingering questions readers may have about those theories’ implications. Cooper aims for his book to be both accessible to readers with little formal .. (shrink)
Montaigne is widely appreciated as an important figure in the history of skepticism, but the precise nature of his skepticism remains unclear. While most treatments of Montaigne’s skepticism focus on the “Apology for Raymond Sebond,” there is reason to believe that the “Apology” does not contain his last word on the subject, and that—as many scholars have pointed out—whatever endorsement he gives there to ancient Pyrrhonism must be qualified in light of the fact that he does maintain beliefs, not only (...) about appearances, but also about reality itself. This essay argues that by the end of the Essais, Montaigne has developed a skepticism that is, as he would say, “all his own,” one that is best understood as a therapeutic practice meant to treat what Montaigne calls our “natural and original malady.”. (shrink)