Linked inTwitter

A Mundane Comedy is Dom Kelleher's new book, which will be published in late 2024. The introduction is available here and further extracts will appear on this site and on social media in the coming months.

The 52:52:52 project, launching on this site and on social media later in 2024, will help you address 52 issues with 52 responses over 52 weeks.

This site addresses what's changing, at the personal, organisational and societal levels. You'll learn about key changes across more than 150 elements of life, from ageing and time, through nature and animals, to kindness and love...and much more besides, which will help you better prepare for related change in your own life.

Halcyon In Kaleidoscope features irregular and fragmentary writings - on ideas and values, places and people - which evolve over time into mini essais, paying humble homage to the peerless founder of the genre. The kaleidoscope is Halcyon's prime metaphor, viewing the world through ever-moving lenses.

On Michel de Montaigne

blog image


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.

In 1570, after sitting in Bordeaux’s parliament for 15 years, Montaigne retired to his chateau. This self-imposed solitude proved productive. He published two volumes of the “Essays” in 1580 and a third in 1588. In their pages he explores topics ranging from friendship to architecture to child-rearing. His prose weaves together history, personal experience and arguments from his favourite philosophers; anecdotes about his napping schedule are juxtaposed with maxims.

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 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

Indeed, in How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, Bakewell traced “how Montaigne has flowed through time via a sort of canal system of minds” and argues that some of the most prevalent hallmarks of our era - what Maria Popova calls our compulsive immersion in various forms of life-streaming, our social sharing, our oscillation between introspection and extraversion as we observe our private experiences more closely than ever so we can record and frame them more perfectly in public - can be traced down to this one "proto-blogger" - the Godfather of the essay as a genre.

Meanwhile, some consider that Popova herself is in many ways an exemplary modern disciple of Montaigne. See for example her Essential Life-Learnings from 14 Years of Brain Pickings

In History of Ideas – focusing on great political essays and essayists – David Runciman considered Montaigne as the man who invented a whole new way of writing and being read. From the fear of death to the joys of life, from the perils of atheism to the pitfalls of faith, from sex to religion and back again, Montaigne wrote the book of himself, which was also a guide to what it means to be human.


For more on Montaigne, see e.g.