Michel de Montaigne

Incorporates text from Wikipedia:Michel de Montaigne. See that page for complete edit history.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism. He is sometimes read in the Shimer College curriculum, and in the Chicago period he is the namesake of the Montaigne scholarship competition.

Montaigne became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes[1] and autobiography—and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as "Attempts") contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a direct influence on writers the world over, including René Descartes,[2] Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stefan Zweig, Eric Hoffer,[3] Isaac Asimov, and possibly on the later works of William Shakespeare.

In his own time, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that, 'I am myself the matter of my book', was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne would be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt which began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, 'Que sçay-je?' ('What do I know?' in Middle French). Remarkably modern even to readers today, Montaigne's attempt to examine the world through the lens of the only thing he can depend on implicitly—his own judgment—makes him more accessible to modern readers than any other author of the Renaissance. Much of modern literary non-fiction has found inspiration in Montaigne and writers of all kinds continue to read him for his masterful balance of intellectual knowledge and personal story-telling.


  • by Adrian Nelson, in "'Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition.'", blog.shimer, 2009-02-25:
    The essay I read by Montaigne was "On the Education of Children." I received it roughly a month or two before the competition, and so had ample time to read it... twice, I think. I tried taking notes on the essay like they recommended, but I had no idea how to approach the text, or what I was supposed to be thinking, so I imagined asking questions and wrote a few things. The day of the competition came--oh, there's the nervousness I should have felt months ago. Why didn't I read over it more? Too late for that. Those thoughts ran through my head as I exchanged a few words with people I'd never met before upon getting to Shimer, before heading off to the first part of the competition: the written part.




  1. His anecdotes are 'casual' only in appearance; Montaigne writes: 'Neither my anecdotes nor my quotations are always employed simply as examples, for authority, or for ornament . .They often carry, off the subject under discussion, the seed of a richer and more daring matter, and they resonate obliquely with a more delicate tone,' Michel de Montagne, Essais Pléiade, Paris (ed.A.Thibaudet) 1937, Bk.1,ch.40 p.252 (tr.Charles Rosen)
  2. Buckley, Michael J., At the Origins of Modern Atheism, Yale UP, 1990, p. 69.
  3. from Truth Imagined, memoir by Eric Hoffer.

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