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Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de (1533–92)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-C026-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

Montaigne was a sixteenth-century French philosopher and essayist, who became known as the French Socrates. During the religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants in France, he was a friend and adviser to leaders of both sides, including the Protestant leader Henri de Navarre, who converted to Catholicism and became King Henri IV. Montaigne counselled general toleration for all believers, a view promulgated by the new king in the Edict of Nantes (1598). His main literary work was in the form of essais (a word originally meaning ‘attempts’), or discussions of various subjects. In these he developed various themes from the sceptical and Stoic literature of antiquity, and in his unique digressive way presented the first full statement in modern times of Pyrrhonian scepticism and cultural relativism. In particular, he presented and modernized the ancient sceptical arguments about the unreliability of information gained by the senses or by reason, about the inability of human beings to find a satisfactory criterion of knowledge, and about the relativity of moral opinions. His advocacy of complete scepticism and relativism was coupled with an appeal to accept religion on the basis of faith alone. His writings became extremely popular, and the English translation by John Florio, first published in 1603, was probably known to Shakespeare and Francis Bacon. Montaigne, whose essays provided the basic vocabulary for modern philosophy written in vernacular languages, was one of the most influential thinkers of the Renaissance, and his works are regarded as classics of literature and philosophy.

Citing this article:
Popkin, Richard H.. Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de (1533–92), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-C026-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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