- Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de
- (1533–1592)French essayist. The father-figure of scepticism in France and modern Europe, Montaigne was born near Bordeaux. He followed a sporadic career in public life before retiring in 1571, although he continued to play a role in politics on behalf of the Protestant Henri de Navarre, and was mayor of Bordeaux in 1581. As befits someone involved in the civil and religious unrest of the time, Montaigne had no very high opinion of the faculties and achievements of mankind. His attitude found ample confirmation in the work of Sextus Empiricus, whose motto, ‘Que sais-je’ (‘What do I know?’), Montaigne adopted for himself. His fame rests on his Essais (1580, trs. as Essays, 1603, and possibly known to Shakespeare) which reveal an engaging, humane, shrewd, and self-conscious philosophical personality. His most famous philosophical essay, the ‘Apology for Raimond Sebond’, is a masterly compendium of sceptical arguments, and had an immense influence on the following generation of French philosophers (see Descartes, Foucher, Gassendi, Mersenne ). In the ‘Apology’ Sebond, an otherwise minor theologian who undertook to show how Catholic belief can be established by the light of reason, is defended by the backhanded device of admitting that his reasons for his beliefs are bad, but showing that they are no worse than other human reason for belief. Montaigne can be interpreted both as a forerunner of Kant, confining reason to make room for faith, and as an Enlightenment figure before his time.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.