Best Quotes by Montaigne

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes by Michel de Montaigne. Details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.

On fear:

The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear. . . . [Those] in immediate fear of a losing their estates, of banishment, or of slavery, live in perpetual anguish, and lose all appetite and repose; whereas such as are actually poor, slaves, or exiles, ofttimes live as merrily as other folk. And the many people who, impatient of the perpetual alarms of fear, have hanged or drowned themselves, or dashed themselves to pieces, give us sufficiently to understand that fear is more importunate and insupportable than death itself.

Essays, I, 17, Of Fear, trans. Charles Cotton

On death:

Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know, how to die delivers us from all subjection and constraint.

Essays, I, 19, That to Study Philosophy Is to Learn How to Die, trans. Charles Cotton

On custom:

Custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by little and little, slily and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes.

Essays, I, 22, Of Custom, trans. Charles Cotton

On self-knowledge:

If, as we who study ourselves have learned to do, every one who hears a good sentence, would immediately consider how it does in any way touch his own private concern, every one would find, that it was not so much a good saying, as a severe lash to the ordinary stupidity of his own judgment.

Essays, I, 22, Of Custom, trans. Charles Cotton

On pleasure and pain:

If the headache should come before drunkenness, we should have a care of drinking too much; but pleasure, to deceive us, marches before and conceals her train.

Essays, I, 38, Of Solitude, trans. Charles Cotton

On reputation:

Of all the follies of the world, that which is most universally received is the solicitude of reputation and glory; which we are fond of to that degree as to abandon riches, peace, life, and health, which are effectual and substantial goods, to pursue this vain phantom and empty word. . . . And of all the irrational humours of men, it should seem that the philosophers themselves are among the last and the most reluctant to disengage themselves from this.

Essays, I, 41, Not to Communicate a Man’s Honour, trans. Charles Cotton

On politics:

It can be no easy task to rule others, when we find it so hard a matter to govern ourselves; and as to dominion, that seems so charming, the frailty of human judgment and the difficulty of choice in things that are new and doubtful considered, I am very much of opinion that it is far more easy and pleasant to follow than to lead; and that it is a great settlement and satisfaction of mind to have only one path to walk in, and to have none to answer for but a man’s self

Essays, I, 42, Of the Inequality Amoungst Us, trans. Charles Cotton

On happiness:

Whatever the benefits of fortune are, they yet require a palate to relish them. ‘Tis fruition, and not possession, that renders us happy.

Essays, I, 42, Of the Inequality Amoungst Us, trans. Charles Cotton

On lying:

He who has not a good memory should never take upon him the trade of lying.

Essays, I, 9, Of Liars, trans. Charles Cotton

On truth:

If falsehood had, like truth, but one face only, we should be upon better terms; for we should then take for certain the contrary to what the liar says: but the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand forms, and a field indefinite, without bound or limit.

Essays, I, 9, Of Liars, trans. Charles Cotton

On desire:

Desires are either natural and necessary, as to eat and drink; or natural and not necessary, as the coupling with females; or neither natural nor necessary; of which last sort are almost all the desires of men; they are all superfluous and artificial. For ‘tis marvellous how little will satisfy nature, how little she has left us to desire; our ragouts and kickshaws are not of her ordering. The Stoics say that a man may live on an olive a day. The delicacy of our wines is no part of her instruction, nor the refinements we introduce into the indulgence of our amorous appetites . . . These irregular desires, that the ignorance of good and a false opinion have infused into us, are so many that they almost exclude all the natural; just as if there were so great a number of strangers in the city as to thrust out the natural inhabitants, or, usurping upon their ancient rights and privileges, should extinguish their authority and introduce new laws and customs of their own.

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On ignorance:

We have only by a long study confirmed and verified the natural ignorance we were in before. The same has fallen out to men truly wise, which befalls the ears of corn; they shoot and raise their heads high and pert, whilst empty; but when full and swelled with grain in maturity, begin to flag and droop. So men, having tried and sounded all things, and having found in that mass of knowledge, and provision of so many various things, nothing solid and firm, and nothing but vanity, have quitted their presumption, and acknowledged their natural condition.

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On equality:

The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mould; the weight and importance of the actions of princes considered, we persuade ourselves that they must be produced by some as weighty and important causes; but we are deceived; for they are pushed on, and pulled back in their motions, by the same springs that we are in our little undertakings. The same reason that makes us wrangle with a neighbour causes a war betwixt princes; the same reason that makes us whip a lackey, falling into the hands of a king makes him ruin a whole province. They are as lightly moved as we, but they are able to do more. In a gnat and an elephant the passion is the same.

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On human nature:

Presumption is our natural and original disease. The most wretched and frail of all creatures is man, and withal the proudest. He feels and sees himself lodged here in the dirt and filth of the world, nailed and rivetted to the worst and deadest part of the universe, in the lowest story of the house, the most remote from the heavenly arch, with animals of the worst condition of the three; and yet in his imagination will be placing himself above the circle of the moon, and bringing the heavens under his feet. ‘Tis by the same vanity of imagination that he equals himself to God, attributes to himself divine qualities, withdraws and separates himself from the the crowd of other creatures, cuts out the shares of the animals, his fellows and companions, and distributes to them portions of faculties and force, as himself thinks fit How does he know, by the strength of his understanding, the secret and internal motions of animals?—from what comparison betwixt them and us does he conclude the stupidity he attributes to them? When I play with my cat who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me?

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On ignorance:

Would you have a man healthy, would you have him regular, and in a steady and secure posture? Muffle him up in the shades of stupidity and sloth. We must be made beasts to be made wise, and hoodwinked before we are fit to be led.

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On ignorance:

The ignorance that knows itself, judges and condemns itself, is not an absolute ignorance. . . . Is it not better to remain in suspense than to entangle one’s self in the innumerable errors that human fancy has produced? Is it not much better to suspend one’s persuasion than to intermeddle with these wrangling and seditious divisions? . . .

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On memory:

For the memory represents to us not what we choose, but what she pleases; nay, there is nothing that so much imprints any thing in our memory as a desire to forget it. And ‘tis a good way to retain and keep any thing safe in the soul to solicit her to lose it.

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On truth:

If human grasp were capable and strong enough to seize on truth by our own means, these means being common to all men, this truth would be conveyed from hand to hand, from one to another; and at least there would be some one thing to be found in the world, amongst so many as there are, that would be believed by men with an universal consent; but this, that there is no one proposition that is not debated and controverted amongst us, or that may not be, makes it very manifest that our natural judgment does not very clearly discern what it embraces; for my judgment cannot make my companions approve of what it approves; which is a sign that I seized it by some other means than by a natural power that is in me and in all other men.

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On wisdom:

The wisest man that ever was, being asked what he knew, made answer, “He knew this, that he knew nothing.” By which he verified what has been said, that the greatest part of what we know is the least of what we do not; that is to say, that even what we think we know is but a piece, and a very little one, of our ignorance.

Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

On cowardice:

Cowardice is the mother of cruelty.

Essays, II, 27, Cowardice, The Mother of Cruelty, trans. Charles Cotton

On opinions:

I do not hate opinions contrary to my own: I am so far from being angry to see a discrepancy betwixt mine and other men’s judgments . . . that on the contrary . . . I find it much more rare to see our humours and designs jump and agree. And there never were, in the world, two opinions alike, no more than two hairs, or two grains: their most universal quality is diversity.

Essays, II, 37, Of the Resemblance of Children to Their Children, trans. Charles Cotton

On ignorance:

Great abuses in the world are begotten, or, to speak more boldly, all the abuses of the world are begotten, by our being taught to be afraid of professing our ignorance, and that we are bound to accept all things we are not able to refute.

Essays, III, 11, Of Cripples, trans. Charles Cotton

On ignorance:

Whoever will be cured of ignorance must confess it.

Essays, III, 11, Of Cripples, trans. Charles Cotton

On self-knowledge:

‘Tis an exact life that maintains itself in due order in private. Every one may juggle his part, and represent an honest man upon the stage: but within, and in his own bosom, where all may do as they list, where all is concealed, to be regular, there’s the point.

Essays, III, 2, Of Repentance, trans. Charles Cotton

On conversation:

The most fruitful and natural exercise of the mind, in my opinion, is conversation; I find the use of it more sweet than of any other action of life; and for that reason it is that, if I were now compelled to choose, I should sooner, I think, consent to lose my sight, than my hearing and speech. . . . The study of books is a languishing and feeble motion that heats not, whereas conversation teaches and exercises at once. If I converse with a strong mind and a rough disputant, he presses upon my flanks, and pricks me right and left; his imaginations stir up mine; jealousy, glory, and contention, stimulate and raise me up to something above myself; and acquiescence is a quality altogether tedious in discourse. . . . I love to discourse and dispute, but it is with but few men, and for myself; for to do it as a spectacle and entertainment to great persons, and to make of a man’s wit and words competitive parade is, in my opinion, very unbecoming a man of honour.

Essays, III, 8, Of the Art of Conference , trans. Charles Cotton

On reputation:

Whatever it be, whether art or nature, that imprints in us the condition of living by reference to others, it does us much more harm than good; we deprive ourselves of our own utilities, to accommodate appearances to the common opinion: we care not so much what our being is, as to us and in reality, as what it is to the public observation. Even the properties of the mind, and wisdom itself, seem fruitless to us, if only enjoyed by ourselves, and if it produce not itself to the view and approbation of others.

Essays, III, 9, Of Vanity, trans. Charles Cotton

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