Montaigne Essays

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Montaigne Essays: Writing Help

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Montaigne Essays: Samples

At a time when great change was occurring in the world, Michel de Montaigne's began writing The Essays, of which the subject under most discussion was himself. It is through this format that he discusses a huge variety topics. Although sometimes seemingly contradictory, Montaigne's arguments exemplify his belief in the importance of self knowledge not only to one's self but also to others.

Montaigne describes how people come to know in On experience. He states that being conscious of our lack of knowledge is a sign of intelligence, making an analogous statement that “if we are to learn that a door is shut against us we must first give it a shove”(p377). However he questions the limit of intelligence, especially in regards to the self, the study of which he finds so diverse that “it bears no other fruit than to make me know how much there remains to learn”(p377). Further on in the essay he seems to contradict this statement. For Montaigne studying himself allows him to be a relatively good judge of others. He claims there are “few topics on which [he] [speaks] more aptly and acceptably”(p378). He admits using his ability to make an insight into one particular person which was so “apposite that he was struck with amazement”(p378). It is obvious that having a valid insight of other human beings is a valuable skill. Montaigne proclaims he attained this skill by studying himself, and so surely this skill or knowledge is better, or more fruit like, than him studying himself and merely discovering how much more there is to know. Despite this contradiction Montaigne still exemplifies his belief in the importance of self knowledge to the self and others. In order to attain the valuable skill of insight he studied himself and furthermore trained himself from a young age to see his “life reflected in other people's”(p.378). Montaigne would not have been able to reflect his life in other people's if other people did not reveal knowledge of themselves and their lives at some point. If Montaigne proclaimed that he learned to judge others well by only studying himself, he would be subject to the “distressing and combative arrogance which has complete faith and trust in itself”(p377), which he himself despises.

In comparison to modern times the practice of medicine was unrefined when Montaigne was living his life. In is his essay On experience, he states “the art of medicine has not reached such certainty that, no matter what we do, we cannot find some authority for doing it”(p391). He believes the practice of medicine to be comprised somewhat of imagination, denying it's universal applicability when he states that “if your own doctor does not find it good for you to sleep, to use wine or any particular food, do not worry: I will find you another who does not agree with his advice”(p391). Yet Montaigne states that he hates “remedies which are more importunate than the sickness: being subjected to colic paroxysms and then made to abstain from the pleasure of eating oysters are two ills for the price of one”(p390). This contradicts his opinion that medicine is an art, for he acknowledges the fact that oysters contribute to the pain he gets in his bowels. By using the phrase “made to abstain”(p390) it is clear that he came to know this fact through his doctor.



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