Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bakewell, Sarah. "Montaigne, Philosopher of Life, Part 1: How to Live." GUARDIAN May 10, 2010.

This series is about Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a 16th-century philosopher who proposed no theories, put no trust in reason, and showed no desire to convince readers of anything. In his vast book Essays, he contradicted himself, preferred specifics to generalities, embraced uncertainty, and followed his thoughts wherever they led. Was he a philosopher at all? In his own view, he was, but only of an "unpremeditated and accidental" kind. He wrote about so many things, he said, that his essays were bound to coincide with the wisdom of the ancients from time to time. Others have seen him not just as a philosopher but as the world's truly modern thinker, because of his intense awareness that he was complex and self-divided, always double in himself, as he put it. In my opinion, he was the first and greatest philosopher of life as it is actually lived, and perhaps the one who has the most to offer our troubled 21st century. . . . what he truly liked doing had nothing to do with either work or family. He would go walking or riding in the local forests, thinking inquisitive thoughts about himself and the world; at home, he would read, and write, and talk to people. He converted a chubby tower at one corner of his property to be his library. (You can still visit it today.) There, he started writing down the hundred or so lively, rambling pieces which he called his Essays – a word he coined from essayer: "to try". That is just what they were: trials, or attempts upon himself. What is it to be a human being, he wondered? Why do other people behave as they do? Why do I behave as I do? He watched his neighbours, his colleagues, even his cat and dog, and looked deeply into himself as well. He tried to record what it felt like to be angry, or exhilarated, or vain, or bad-tempered, or embarrassed, or lustful. Or to drift in and out of consciousness, in a half-dream. Or to feel bored with your responsibilities. Or to love someone. Or to have a brilliant idea while out riding, but forget it before you can get back to write it down – and then feel the lost memory recede further and further the more you hunt for it, only to pop into your head as soon as you give up and think about something else. He was, in short, a brilliant psychologist, but also a moral philosopher in the fullest sense of the word. He did not tell us what we should do, but explored what we actually do. He published the results for the first time in 1580, and saw his Essays become an instant Renaissance bestseller. . . . Read the rest here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/may/10/montaigne-philosophy.

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