Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne

Born: 1533. Died: 1592.


- An acceptance of the duality of the human condition (man's spiritual aspirations counterbalanced by the physical limitations of the body) enables man to pursue the masterpiece of living well.

- A life committed to moderation is superior to one that has allowed excesses and extremes.

- The senses through which man knows the world are imperfect and limit his ability to claim knowledge of anything (God alone is omniscient).

- Man's ability to say definitively either 'I know' or 'I do not know' leads to an interrogative formula, 'What do I know?' to reflect the cautious suspension of judgement man must consider.

- All living things, including human beings, are in a state of constant flux; being consists of movement and action.

- Study of the self is man's primary duty and responsibility.


Michel de Montaigne was born in Chateau de Montaigne, near Bordeaux, France. He received his early education at the College de Guyenne in Bordeaux and studied law at Bordeaux and Toulouse, becoming a counselor of the Court des Aides of Perigueaux, the Bordeaux Parliament and, in 1561, at the court of Charles IX.

In 1565, Montaigne married Francoise de la Chassaigne. They raised one daughter, with four other children dying in infancy.

He lived the life as a country gentleman and traveled extensively through Switzerland, Germany, and Italy.

Montaigne was a moderate Roman Catholic and an advocate of toleration, acting as an intermediary between Henry of Navarre and the court party. As a result, in 1588, he was arrested by members of the Protestant League and thrown into the Bastille for several hours.

His work Essais established the essay as a new literary form and influenced both French and English writers; it was quoted by William Shakespeare and imitated by Francis Bacon.

Michel de Montaigne died on September 13, 1592 at his chateau in France.

Major Works of Michel de Montaigne

- Essays, 1588

Quotes from Michel de Montaigne

- "A Lacedaemonian was asked what had made him live healthy so long. "Ignorance of medicine," he replied." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Any man may speak truly; but to speak with order, wisely, and competently, of that, few men are capable." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Arts and sciences are not cast in a mold, but are formed and perfected by degrees, by others handling and polishing, as bears leisurely lick their cubs into form." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Before complaining to myself I consider not so much what is taken away from me as what I still keep safe, both within and without." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Death often weighs heavier on us by its weight on others, and pains us by their pain almost as much as by our own, and sometimes even more." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "The eloquence that diverts us to itself harms its content." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Especially in an age as corrupt and ignorant as this, the good opinion of the people is a dishonor." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Every man rushes elsewhere and into the future because no man has arrived at himself." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "The evil means men use in our day to push themselves show clearly that the end is not worth much." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to onesel." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Habituation puts to sleep the eye of our judgment." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "He who imposes his argument by bravado and command shows that it is weak in reason." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "I do not judge opinions by their years." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "I do not want to be considered either so affectionate or so loyal a servant as to be found fit to betray anyone." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "I have my own laws and court to judge me, and I address myself to them more than anywhere else." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "I look upon all men as my compatriots, and embrace a Pole as a Frenchman, making less account of the national than of the universal and common bond." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "I want death to find me planting my cabbages." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "In the experience I have of myself I find enough to make me wise, if I were a good scholar." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "To judge of great and lofty things we need a soul of the same caliber; otherwise we attribute to them the vice that is our own." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Life is a slavery if the freedom to die is wanting." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Lucius Arruntius killed himself, he said, to escape both the future and the past." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Malice sucks up the greater part of its own venom, and poisons itself with it." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Memory is a wonderfully useful tool, and without it judgment does its work with difficulty." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Miracles arise from our ignorance of nature, not from nature." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "[Most of our schools] are a real jail of captive youth." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Nature has made us a present of a broad capacity for entertaining ourselves apart, and often calls us to do so, to teach us that we owe ourselves in part to society, but in the best part to ourselves." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Obstinacy and heat of opinion is the surest proof of stupidity. Is there anything so certain, resolute, disdainful, contemplative, grave, and serious as an ass." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "On the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Our truth of nowadays is not what is, but what others can be convinced of." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Some, either from being glued to vice by a natural attachment, or from long habit, no longer recognize its ugliness." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "The study of books is a languishing and feeble activity that gives no heat, whereas discussion teaches and exercises us at the same time." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "The sun shines on their successes, and the earth hides their failures." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "There are defeats more triumphant than victories." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "There are two parts in ... vainglory, namely, to esteem ourselves too highly, and not to esteem others highly enough." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "There is a sort of gratification in doing good which makes us rejoice in ourselves.." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thoughts under the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Those things are dearest to us that have cost us most." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "The value and height of true virtue lies in the ease, utility, and pleasure of its practice, which is so far from being difficult that children can master it as well as men, the simple as well as the subtle." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "We are born to act." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "We are more unhappy to see people ahead of us than happy to see people behind us." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "We must not always say everything, for that would be folly; but what we say must be what we think." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "What I have learned bears no other fruit than to make me realize how much I still have to learn." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "When someone opposes me, he arouses my attention, not my anger. I go to meet a man who contradicts me, who instructs me. The cause of truth should be the common cause for both." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "Your self-condemnation is always accredited, your self-praise discredited." (from "Essays", 1588)

- "A man should neither pursue nor flee ["natural pleasures"]: he should receive them." (from "The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne")

- "I can hardly blame anyone but myself for my mistakes or misfortunes, for I seldom ask the advice of others-except out of politeness or when I need information. ... Though I set little value on my opinions, I set no more on the opinions of others." (from "The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne")

- "I would prefer to trust a physician who has himself suffered from the malady he would treat." (from "The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne")

- "The man who feels the hail coming down on his head thinks the entire hemisphere is swept by the storm." (from "The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne")

- "The man who makes it his business to please the multitude is never done." (from "The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne")

- "What I offer here [in my writings] is not my teaching, but my study; not a lesson for others, but for myself." (from "The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne")

- "With the tenderness of a mother, Nature has provided that our necessary actions should be pleasant. She invites us to them not only by reason but also by appetite, and it is ingratitude to break her laws." (from "The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne")

- "To strengthen the mind you must harden the muscles." (from "Emile; or, Treatise on Education" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau)

- "There are secret aspects, beyond divining, in all we do- ... aspects mute and invisible, unknown to their own possessors, brought forth only under the incitements of circumstance." (from "The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power" by Garry Wills)


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