I've been reading Montaigne's Of Experience and, to be quite frank, a lot of his arguments seem circular in nature.

He says that our own intuition “…is more familiar to us, and, doubtless, sufficient to instruct us in that whereof we have need. I study myself more than any other subject; 'tis my metaphysic, my physics.”

aka… “Oh, I’m spending my life alone in the mountains with no contact– of course I can trust myself and my intuition more than other people.” Honestly, it sounds more like a justification for anti-social behavior than some philosophical truth.

The question is: what do you think is Montaigne's relationship between reason and experience? What can experience give us that reason cannot?

  • I think Montaigne was a pragmatist, and his pragmatic Intuition probably included his pragmatic form of reason. Feb 21 '16 at 2:17
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    I think you are looking at all of this too ahistorically. Montaigne was a humanist, not a logician. He finds "experience" irreducible to "logic." This was radical in his day and becomes radical again and again, whenever some new dogma prevails, today, perhaps, in the form of computing enthusiasm. Feb 21 '16 at 4:27
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    But note that the "focus" of M's philosophy is not logic, metaphysics or epistemology; his interest is on laws and customs. Feb 21 '16 at 9:57
  • So then an early anthropologist, who takes the exotic natives to be his native fellow French-men...! Feb 21 '16 at 10:29

See Michel de Montaigne:

Montaigne rejects the theoretical or speculative way of philosophizing that prevailed under the Scholastics ever since the Middle Ages.

He moved from a conception of philosophy conceived of as theoretical science, to a philosophy conceived of as the practice of free judgment.

The Essays remain an exceptional historical testimony of the progress of privacy and individualism, a blossoming of subjectivity, an attainment of personal maturity that will be copied, but maybe never matched since. It seems that Montaigne, who dedicated himself to freedom of the mind and peacefulness of the soul, did not have any other aim through writing than cultivating and educating himself. Since philosophy had failed to determine a secure path towards happiness, he committed each individual to do so in his own way.

See Essais: Of experience (translated by Charles Cotton):

There is more ado to interpret interpretations than to interpret things, and more books upon books than upon any other subject; we do nothing but comment upon one another. Every place swarms with commentaries; of authors there is great scarcity. Is it not the principal and most reputed knowledge of our later ages to understand the learned? Is it not the common and final end of all studies? Our opinions are grafted upon one another; the first serves as a stock to the second, the second to the third, and so forth; thus step by step we climb the ladder; whence it comes to pass that he who is mounted highest has often more honour than merit, for he is got up but an inch upon the shoulders of the last, but one.


philosophical inquisitions and contemplations serve for no other use but to increase our curiosity. The philosophers; with great reason, send us back to the rules of nature; but they have nothing to do with so sublime a knowledge; they falsify them, and present us her face painted with too high and too adulterate a complexion, whence spring so many different pictures of so uniform a subject. As she [nature] has given us feet to walk with, so has she given us prudence to guide us in life: not so ingenious, robust, and pompous a prudence as that of their [the philosophers] invention; but yet one that is easy, quiet, and salutary, and that very well performs what the other promises, in him who has the good luck to know how to employ it sincerely and regularly, that is to say, according to nature. The most simply to commit one's self to nature is to do it most wisely.


I had rather understand myself well in myself, than in Cicero. Of the experience I have of myself, I find enough to make me wise, if I were but a good scholar: whoever will call to mind the excess of his past anger, and to what a degree that fever transported him, will see the deformity of this passion better than in Aristotle, and conceive a more just hatred against it; whoever will remember the ills he has undergone, those that have threatened him, and the light occasions that have removed him from one state to another, will by that prepare himself for future changes, and the knowledge of his condition. The life of Caesar has no greater example for us than our own: though popular and of command, 'tis still a life subject to all human accidents.

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