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Montaigne on the art of judgment: the trial of Montaigne

  • Craig Walton
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives internationales d’histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 117)

Abstract

C’est grand cas que les choses en soyent la en nostre siècle, que la philosophie, ce soit, jusques aux gens d’entendement, un nom vainet fantastique, qui se treuve de nul usage et de nul pris, (c) et paropinion et par effect. Michel de Montaigne

The essay is by now an established literary form, despite the salacious content sometimes given to it by its inventor. In fact we are hard-pressed to find any essayist as embarassingly personal as Montaigne. But if we make our way back to his original work, quite a different light is shed. For to him, of course essayerwas not “to write a work of literature” but “to try or to test” something. Montaigne tried and tested things as a judge in Bordeaux. Trials, formal andinformal, were familiar to him. Readers of Montaigne are familiar with his notion of “a word in a corner”, an oblique or indirect approach to inquiry.Perhaps the word ‘apologie’ in the title of his EssaisII/12 on Raimond Sebonde and Sextus Empiricus is such an oblique hint, and like the “Apologia” ofSocrates, may be interpreted as a trial. Clearly it is not a plain “defense” ofSebonde’s 1487 Natural Theology, since it demolishes every genus and species of argument found in that work. But that is not to say that the “Apologie” is therefore ironic to the point of sarcasm and ridicule. Rather, I suspect that we have textual and autobiographical evidence to say that it is in truth a trial, taking place in Montaigne’s life and thought, With Sebonde as defendant accused of dogmatism and Sextus Empiricus’ Pyrrho the plaintiff.

Keywords

High Road Natural Theology Religious Philosopher Intellectual Intuition Ontological Dualism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Michel de Montaigne, “De l’Institution des enfans”, Essais I/xxvi, 159, in Oeuvres complètes,ed. Thibaudet & Rat; Bibliotècque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), p. 158c. Allcitations to the original will be to this edition, and will be cited in the text parenthetically as,e.g., (I/xxvi/158c). All quotations from the Essays in English translation will be from DonaldFrame’s translation, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958, and will be cited similarily inthe text, parenthetically. The letters A, B, and C refer (respectively) to the editions of 1580,1588, and the 1595/Bordeaux copy; these are particularly significant to the thesis of this paperinsofar as Socrates enters Montaigne’s work on the art of judgment most of all in the 1588 bk.Ill and then in the “C” additions.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Richard H. Popkin, The High Road to Pyrrhonism, ed. Richard A. Watson and James E.Force, San Diego: Austin Hill Press, 1980, p. 133. This citation is from the chapter titled,“David Hume and the Pyrrhonian Controversy”, originally published in Review of Metaphysics Vol. 6, 1952, pp. 65–81. Subsequent references to this work are abbreviated as HighRoad.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Cf. Richard Regosin, The Matter of My Book: Montaigne’s Essais as the Book of the Self, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977, and my review in Journal of the History ofPhilosophy, Vol. 18, 1980, pp. 474–475.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Craig Brush, Montaigne and Bay le: Variations on the Theme of Skepticism, The Hague:Martinus Nijhoff, 1966.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Guillaume Beranger, Reponses à plusieurs iniures et railleries, Ecrites contre MICHELSEIGNEUR DE MONTAIGNE..., Avec un beau Traite de l’éducation des Enfans, & Cinqcens Excellens passages tirez de Livre DES Essais, pour montre le mérite de cet Autheur. ARouen, Chez Laurens Mavrry,… MDCLXVII. Arnauld and Nicole’s La logique… firstappeared in Paris: chez Charles Savreux, 1662. Cf. the édition critique by Pierre Clair &François Girbal, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Guillaume Beranger, Reponses à plusieurs iniures et railleries, Ecrites contre MICHELSEIGNEUR DE MONTAIGNE..., Avec un beau Traite de l’éducation des Enfans, & Cinqcens Excellens passages tirez de Livre DES Essais, pour montre le mérite de cet Autheur. ARouen, Chez Laurens Mavrry,… MDCLXVII. Arnauld and Nicole’s La logique… firstappeared in Paris: chez Charles Savreux, 1662, pp. 5 and 34.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Guillaume Beranger, Reponses à plusieurs iniures et railleries, Ecrites contre MICHELSEIGNEUR DE MONTAIGNE..., Avec un beau Traite de l’éducation des Enfans, & Cinqcens Excellens passages tirez de Livre DES Essais, pour montre le mérite de cet Autheur. ARouen, Chez Laurens Mavrry,… MDCLXVII. Arnauld and Nicole’s La logique… firstappeared in Paris: chez Charles Savreux, 1662, p. 6.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Guillaume Beranger, Reponses à plusieurs iniures et railleries, Ecrites contre MICHELSEIGNEUR DE MONTAIGNE..., Avec un beau Traite de l’éducation des Enfans, & Cinqcens Excellens passages tirez de Livre DES Essais, pour montre le mérite de cet Autheur. ARouen, Chez Laurens Mavrry,… MDCLXVII. Arnauld and Nicole’s La logique… firstappeared in Paris: chez Charles Savreux, 1662, p. 34.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Guillaume Beranger, Reponses à plusieurs iniures et railleries, Ecrites contre MICHELSEIGNEUR DE MONTAIGNE..., Avec un beau Traite de l’éducation des Enfans, & Cinqcens Excellens passages tirez de Livre DES Essais, pour montre le mérite de cet Autheur. ARouen, Chez Laurens Mavrry,… MDCLXVII. Arnauld and Nicole’s La logique… firstappeared in Paris: chez Charles Savreux, 1662, p. 71.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Guillaume Beranger, Reponses à plusieurs iniures et railleries, Ecrites contre MICHELSEIGNEUR DE MONTAIGNE..., Avec un beau Traite de l’éducation des Enfans, & Cinqcens Excellens passages tirez de Livre DES Essais, pour montre le mérite de cet Autheur. ARouen, Chez Laurens Mavrry,… MDCLXVII. Arnauld and Nicole’s La logique… firstappeared in Paris: chez Charles Savreux, 1662, pp. 77–78.Google Scholar
  11. 12a.
    Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 3, pt. II, New York: Doubleday ImageBooks, 1963;Google Scholar
  12. 12b.
    first published, The Newman Press, 1953, pp. 34f. Emile Bréhier, The History ofPhilosophy, Vol. 3, tr. Wade Baskin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965;Google Scholar
  13. 12c.
    firstpublished Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1931, pp. 234–239, is more accurate on thequestion of Pyrrhonism: Bréhier sees Montaigne’s “Apologie” as more of a case for “anunlimited inquiry” than for “indifference and inertia”, Sextus Empiricus’s attitude to moralphilosophy. John Herman Randall, Jr., in his The Career of Philosophy, New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, Vol. 1, pp. 98–101, paints Montaigne as “a thoroughly humanizedAugustinian scepticism”. But, summarizing, Randall realizes that Montaigne “is too largeand too personal a figure to fit into any facile classification”. The pioneering work of RichardGoogle Scholar
  14. 12d.
    H. Popkin The History of Scepticism. From Erasmus to Descartes, Assen: Van Gorcum &Co., 1960, focuses on the “Apologie” with regard to the problem of knowledge and Villey’snotion of the crise pyrrhoniènne.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Cited in R. A. Sayce, The Essays of Montaigne. A Critical Exploration, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972, pp. 177–178.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    Frederick Kellerman, “Montaigne’s Socrates”, Romanic Review Vol. 45, 1954, p. 175.Kellerman sees a “high devotion” in Socrates but holds that it was based on “purely mysticaland spiritual principles” (Ibid.).Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    John Holyoake, “The Idea of ‘Judgment’ in Montaigne”, Modern Language Review Vol. 63,1968, pp. 350f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 16.
    Hiram Haydn, The Counter-Renaissance, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950, pp.471–498.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    Popkin, The History of Scepticism, Assen: Van Gorcum &Co., 1960, p. 42.Google Scholar
  20. 18.
    Brush, Montaigne and Bay le: Variations on the Theme of Skepticism, The Hague:Martinus Nijhoff, 1966, ch. IV.Google Scholar
  21. 20.
    Donald M. Frame, “Montaigne on the Absurdity and Dignity of Man”, in Renaissance Menand Ideas, ed. Robert Schwoebel, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971, pp. 122–135.Google Scholar
  22. 21a.
    The case for fideism in the “Apologie” is presented by Popkin, The History of Scepticism, Assen: Van Gorcum &Co., 1960, p. 42, who agrees with Villeythat Montaigne did have his own “crise pyrrhoniènne”. One careful rebuttal of the view thatthere is some important fideism in Montaigne is that of Sayce, op. cit., Ch. 9. My own view ofthe “crise” problem is that if Descartes’ experiences with the “malin génie” exemplify thecrise, and produced (at least a demand for) a criterion of certainty, then Montaigne had nosuch experience.Google Scholar
  23. 21b.
    He considered such demands unhealthy and mad. Cf. Frame,“Montaigne on the Absurdity and Dignity of Man” Montaigne. ABiography, ed. Robert Schwoebel, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971, p. 175, that the “Apologie” is a repudiation of Stoicism (and of neoplatonism), but not an affirmation of Pyrrhonism and contains no crise.Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    See Yale French Studies, No. 64, 1983, ed. Gerard Defaux, especially Catherine Demure’s“Montaigne: The Paradox and the Miracle — Structure and Meaning in ‘The Apology forRaymond Sebond’(Essais II: 12)”, pp. 188–208.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    Popkin, High Road, p. 24.Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Cf. my “Xenophon and the Socratic Paradoxes”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol.16, 1978, pp. 687–700.Google Scholar
  27. 25.
    Popkin, History of Scepticism, p. 28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Craig Walton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NevadaLas VegasUSA

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