Essays by Montaigne
Updated: Jul 22, 2019
Book One: Chapter 7: That Our Actions Should be Judged by our Intentions
(1) Why must restitution be distressing, inconvenient, and "felt as a weight" in order to be meaningful?
(2) Montaigne has written, "I shall see to it, if I can, that my death makes no statement that my life has not made already." Do you share with him this resolve?
Book One: Chapter 8: On Idleness
(3) Why must our imaginations be curbed and restrained?
Book One: Chapter 9: On Liars
(4) One a lie is told, why does it become easier or more tempting to tell another?
Do we become better liars as we age?
Book One: Chapter 19: That No Man Should be Called Happy Until After His Death
(5) How might your behavior in the face of death, reveal your disguises, eliminate all pretense, or redeem your name?
Book One: Chapter 21: On the Power of the Imagination
(6) How does our own imagination affect our body?
Book One: Chapter 22: That One Man's Profit is Another Man's Loss
(7) Are your "inward wishes" most often "born and nourished at the expense of others"?
Book One: Chapter 26: On the Education of Children
(8) Montaigne has suggested that the direction of a child's education should be determined by what is universally best and most profitable rather than by the particular behaviors, inclinations, and curiosities of the child at an early and tender age. Then he describes a kind of education for "a child of good family who seeks learning not for profit." Learning for profit is, according to Montaigne, an aim that is "unworthy of the Muses' grace and blessing, and anyhow depends on the cultivation of other men's favor." If the kind of education Montaigne describes is what is universally best and most profitable for all children then why is it characterized as an education for "a child of good family"? Are the "others" whose favor a good child learns to cultivate more fit for a different kind of education?
(9) By what means does Montaigne suggest that we lead a child into "understanding" rather than simply stuff their head with "knowledge"? How are knowledge and understanding different from one another?
(10) How do we avoid reducing the teaching of history to a "purely grammatical study" rather than "the anatomy of philosophy by which the deepest parts of our nature can be explored"?
(11) Montaigne calls for children to be taught philosophy regarding the following standards of behavior: "what it is to know and not to know, what the aim of his study should be be; what courage, temperance, and justice are; what the difference is between ambition and greed, servitude and submission, license and liberty; by what signs one may recognize genuine and solid contentment; to what extent we should fear death, suffering, and shame, by what springs we move; and the reason for all the different impulses within us." A child must "know how to die well and live well." By what means are these standards of behavior learned in contemporary education (in our own classrooms)?
Book One: Chapter 27: Measuring Truth and Error
(12) Is not Montaigne's appel to his own reason an appeal to his own self as an authority? Does Montaigne undermine his appeal to his own reason when he claims that nothing can be known to be certainly true or certainly false? Is there something circular about his argument?
Book One: Chapter 28: On Friendship
(13) What does a good friendship offer that cannot be found in a spouse?
Book One: Chapter 31: On Cannibals
(14) Is all humanity stricken with the disease of wanting to display one's own valor?
Book Two: Chapter 8: Affection of Fathers for their Children
(15) Montaigne laments: "It is unjust that an old, broken-down half-dead father should, alone in his chimney-corner, enjoy wealth that would suffice for the advancement and support of several children, and that he should let them, meanwhile, waste their best years, for lack of the means to advance themselves in reputation and in the public service. They are driven in desperation to seek any way, however wicked, of providing for their needs." Expand upon Montaigne's point that a father's neglect makes a child more prone to vices (or evil).
(16) Montaigne makes the claim that women are unfit to rule or even make decisions concerning the succession to the crown. He remarks: "It is dangerous to leave the disposal of our succession to women's judgement, and let them choose between our children for their choice is always capricious and unfair. For those undisciplined appetites and perverse tastes that they display during their pregnancies are present in their hearts at all times." How might you respond to Montaigne's characterization of mothers?
Book Two: Chapter 11: On Cruelty
(17) Must being virtuous always require suffering?
Book Two: Chapter 17: On Presumption
(18) Montaigne has suggested that "...mastery breeds contempt for what we hold and control." How does mastery breed contempt?
(19) Upon self-examination, are the falsest of our own opinions always born out of self-love or too high an estimation of ourselves?
(20) Concerning the telling of the truth, Montaigne writes: "Truth is the principal and fundamental part of virtue. It must be loved for its own sake. A man who speaks truth because he is in some way compelled or for his own advantage, and who is not afraid to tell a lie when it is of no importance to anyone, is not truthful enough. My soul naturally shuns a lie, and hates even the thought of one. I feel an inward shame and a sharp remorse if an untruth happens to escape me - as sometimes it does if the occasion is unexpected, and I am taken unawares." Must a virtuous man always (without exception) tell the truth?
Book Three: Chapter 2: On Repentance
(21) Montaigne has claimed that he knows "no quality so easy to counterfeit as godliness." How easy is it to counterfeit godliness?
Book Three: Chapter 3: On Three Kinds of Relationships
(22) Montaigne describes three kinds of companions: the companionship of a learned man, the companionship of a beautiful woman, and the companionship of books. He ranks the third, books, to be the best of the three. What kind of companionship do we (and does Montaigne) find it books that cannot be found in the other two kinds?
Book Three: Chapter 8: On the Art of Conversation
(23) Montaigne has called "conversation" the "most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds." He qualifies this further by noting that conversations ending quickly in agreement are not as valuable as those riddled with argument and debate. Montaigne explains, "If I talk with a man of strong mind and a tough jouster, he presses on my flanks, he pricks me right and left, his ideas stimulate mine. Rivalry, vanity, and the struggle urge me on, and raise me above myself. And agreement is an altogether tiresome constituent of conversation." How you have you learned from those conversations (even arguments) that have ended in disagreement? Why are conversations of this kind such a valuable and perhaps necessary part of learning?
(24) How does the avoidance of others' contradicting opinions lead us into obstinacy?
Book Three: Chapter 13
(25) Montaigne suggests that a child first experiences virtue as the exercise of reason to govern his/her own pain, pleasure, love, and hatred. Is his a helpful definition of childhood virtue?
(26) Montaigne describes Socrates as a philosopher who loves the pleasures of the mind more than the pleasures of the body but also recognizes that both pleasures must and should exist together. For Socrates, temperance is an exercise of the mind that holds the pleasures of the body in check. Montaigne writes, "For him temperance is the moderator, not the enemy of pleasures." Why must these two pleasures exist together? Why not pursue one and entirely deny the other?