My Introduction to Montaigne

In plodding my way slowly through the Great Books series, I found a special treat in Michel de Montaigne, a 16th Century French philosopher.  His thoughts peel back the surface of human interaction, often to an uncomfortable degree.  But he does it in such a self-effacing and often humorous way that we take it in stride and ingest it.  He is surely a great mind that deeply influenced many others, including another of my favorites, Eric Hoffer.  

Below are some of the best quotes I pulled from my brief and selective reading of Montaigne.  I’m sure I’ll be back to visit him.

From “Of Pedantry”
“We suffer ourselves to lean and rely so strongly upon the arm of another, that we destroy our own strength and vigour.”

“though we could become learned by other men’s learning, a man can never be wise but by his own wisdom.”

“these fellows, to make a parade and to get opinion, mustering the ridiculous knowledge of theirs, that floats on the superficies of the brain, are perpetually perplexing and entangling themselves in their own nonsense.”

“All other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of goodness.”

From “Of the Education of Children”
“I have no other end in this writing, but only to discover myself, who, also, shall, peradventure, be another thing tomorrow, if I chance to meet any new instruction to change me.”

“the greatest and most important difficulty of human science is the education of children.”

“we may whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them against those of others.”

“[the student] shall, by reading [great] books, converse with the great and heroic souls of the best ages.”

“The conduct of our lives is the true mirror of our doctrine.”

From “That it is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity”
“resolutely to condemn anything for false and impossible, is arrogantly and impiously to circumscribe and limit the will of God, and the power of our mother nature, within the bounds of my own capacity. . . .”

“How many unlikely things are there testified by people worthy of faith, which, if we cannot persuade ourselves absolutely to believe, we ought at least to leave them in suspense; for, to condemn them as impossible, is by a temerarious presumption to pretend to know the utmost bounds of possibility.”

From “Of Cannibals”
“every one gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country.”

From “That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion we Have of Them”
“The confidence in another man’s virtue is no light evidence of a man’s own. . . .”

“not he whom the world believes, but he who believes himself to be so, is content;”

“A straight oar seems crooked in the water.”

From “Upon Some Verses of Virgil”
“few will quarrel with the license of my writings, who have not more to quarrel with in the license of their own thoughts. . . .”

“Every one is wary and discreet in confession, but men ought to be so in action;”

“Every one avoids seeing a man born, every one runs to see him die;”

“there are . . . people . . . who value themselves upon contempt of themselves, and purport to grow better by being worse.”

“Amongst chief deformities I reckon forced and artificial beauties. . . .”

1 Comment

Mike says:


thanks for this post. Montaigne seems to have done more to open the minds of the French to allow for the Enlightenment than anyone else. He developed the writing style of the “essay” and his skepticism and rejection of dogmatism landed him at the front of those who would help extract the world from the closed thinking of the Middle Ages. I need to read more of him.

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