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On Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne's Essais help us better frame and address the fundamental question: "how to live?"
"I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself", said Montaigne, describing his own poor memory, his ability to solve problems and mediate conflicts without truly getting emotionally involved, his disgust for man's pursuit of lasting fame, and his attempts to detach himself from worldly things to prepare for death.
Montaigne was not a systematic philosopher, and as Waterstone's Guide to Ideas puts it, preferred to believe "in the powers of allusion, anecdote and aphorism to illuminate problems and questions which other writers felt obliged to consider more systematically".
Montaigne speaks to the value of questioning and exploring ideas without being tied to a predetermined conclusion. By putting forward "formless and unresolved notions," he suggests that we should be open to the possibility that our ideas and beliefs may not be fully formed or resolved and that we should be willing to engage in debate and discussion to seek out the truth. Rather than seeking to establish the truth through dogmatic certainty, we should embrace seeking it through exploration and debate.
In effect, Montaigne believed that humans cannot attain certainty, and he rejected general and absolute statements of dogma. However, as Socrates had famously said that the unexamined life was not worth living, and Montaigne eventually found that his only subject matter was himself; so he resolved to try (essayer) to assay himself, his nature, his opinions, his attitudes and reactions, pretending nothing and confessing all...in short, as he said, "I am myself the matter of my book".
Montaigne has been covered well in both In Our Time and in a Philosophy Bites interview with Sarah Bakewell - listen also to Bakewell on Montaigne and/or read her series of Guardian articles about Montaigne.
The online writer and thinker Maria Popova is in many ways an exemplary modern disciple of Montaigne. See for example her Essential Life-Learnings from 14 Years of Brain Pickings.
For more on Montaigne, see e.g.
- How to Live: Lessons from Montaigne
- Les Essais - The Montaigne Project;
- The Essay: Montaigne
- Michel de Montaigne - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Michel de Montaigne - Wikipedia
- How to Live: Lessons from Montaigne, Godfather of Blogging
- The Great Philosophers: Michel de Montaigne
- Montaigne: an everyman for our times
- Montaigne on How to Succeed at Solitude and His Antidote to the Three Great Fears That Haunt Self-Knowledge
- On Michel de Montaigne - The School of Life
- A-t-on vraiment retrouvé la sépulture de Montaigne? - Le Figaro
Please see below selected recent quietness-related change.
- What's New - Quietness
- What's New? - Stillness
- What's Changing? - Attention
- What's Changing? - Emotions
- What's Changing? - Therapy