Who Is Michel de Montaigne?

Who Is Michel de Montaigne?

The ignorance that was naturally in us we have by long study confirmed and verified. To really learned men has happened what happens to ears of wheat: they rise high and lofty, heads erect and proud, as long as they are empty; but when they are full and swollen with grain in their ripeness, they begin to grow humble and lower their horns. Similarly, men who have tried everything and sounded everything, have found in that pile of knowledge and store of so many various things nothing solid and firm, and nothing but vanity, have renounced their presumption and recognized their natural condition.

- Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology to Raymond Sebond

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Born near Bordeaux in 1533, Montaigne retired from a life of public service aged 38 and began to write. He called these short works 'essais', or 'attempts'; they deal with an eclectic range of subjects, from the dauntingly weighty to the apparently trivial. Although he never considered himself a philosopher, he is often now seen as one of the most outstanding Sceptical thinkers of early modern Europe. His approachable style, intelligence and subtle thought have made him one of the most widely admired writers of the Renaissance.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Montaigne on the In Our Time podcast

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

No one before Montaigne in the Western canon had thought to devote pages to subjects as diverse and seemingly insignificant as “Of Smells”, “Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes”, “Of Posting” (letters, that is), “Of Thumbs” or “Of Sleep” — let alone reflections on the unruliness of the male appendage, a subject which repeatedly concerned him.

French philosopher Jacques Rancière has recently argued that modernism began with the opening up of the mundane, private and ordinary to artistic treatment. Modern art no longer restricts its subject matters to classical myths, biblical tales, the battles and dealings of Princes and prelates.

If Rancière is right, it could be said that Montaigne’s 107 Essays, each between several hundred words and (in one case) several hundred pages, came close to inventing modernism in the late 16th century...

Continue reading Matthew Sharpe's article: Guide to the classics: Michel de Montaigne’s Essays

Further Reading

Given the huge breadth of his readings, Montaigne could have been ranked among the most erudite humanists of the XVIth century. But in the Essays, his aim is above all to exercise his own judgment properly. Readers who might want to convict him of ignorance would find nothing to hold against him, he said, for he was exerting his natural capacities, not borrowed ones. He thought that too much knowledge could prove a burden, preferring to exert his ‘natural judgment’ to displaying his erudition...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Montaigne by Marc Foglia

Related Topics

 Friendship | IgnorancePascal | Skepticism | The Value of Knowledge | Wisdom

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.

[mc4wp_form id="204"]

Posted by in Ideas