Michel de Montaigne on Making Opinions
In his three books of essays, Michel de Montaigne reflects upon his life to uncover some of the stable truths that will help to guide a man’s opinions. He claims that man is “miraculously vain, various and wavering. It is difficult to found a judgement [sic] on him which is steady and uniform” meaning that man and his opinions are unstable and fluid. It is possible for a reader of the essays to see how Montaigne employs his theories within his own life as he searches for the truth the natural world can provide.
A flaw of humanity, according to Montaigne, is a lack of healthy doubt. Man takes facts and “ignore[s] the whats and expatiate[s] on the whys.” Instead of questioning facts from outside sources, man takes them as being the truth and blindly follows them. Humanity looks to tradition and history -- the way things have always been done -- and assumes them to be correct instead of being skeptical of the fluidity of events. In traditions of old, the “wavering” quality is found in Alexander the Great and causes him to change paths. He was considered “ the most generous toward the vanquished” yet, unpredictably, had Betis brutally dismembered. Montaigne suggests that in order to enter the realm of well-considered judgment, one must first begin to reject commonly accepted traditions and historical ideas and instead look within for the beginnings of truth. Humanity, and everything in life is unstable and changing. Making sound judgments is difficult because the man and what is being judged are constantly in states of flux. Montaigne says to be “suspicious of the things discovered by our minds…of which we have abandoned Nature and her rules…” Through saying this, Montaigne declares that one needs to be faithful to his unchanging nature in order to find truth. As an example in his own life, Montaigne relates that he considers his actions as “ruled by what I am and are in harmony with how I was made.” Montaigne believes...
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