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Michel de Montaigne (28 February 1533 – 13 September 1592) was a statesman and philosopher of Renaissance humanism based on classical Roman authors. There is no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.

Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne

Quotations from Montaigne


What do I know?

The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.

Our own peculiar condition is that we are as fit to be laughed at as able to laugh.

I had rather fashion my mind than furnish it.

The finest souls are those that have the most variety and suppleness.

The most profound joy has more of gravity than of gaiety in it.

There is no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.

There is no desire more natural than the desire of knowledge.

The conduct of our lives is the true mirror of our doctrine.

The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to live with purpose.

The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long, yet get little from life.

Learned we may be with another man’s learning: we can only be wise with wisdom of our own.

There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.

Better to be tentative than to be recklessly sure — to be an apprentice at sixty, than to present oneself as a doctor at ten.

There is no more expensive thing than a free gift.

I enjoy books as misers enjoy treasures, because I know I can enjoy them whenever I please.

Let us judge how the man has profited from his education, not from the evidence of his memory but from that of his life and actions.

Excellent memories are often coupled with feeble judgments.

My art and profession is to live.

Let us give Nature a chance; she knows her business better than we do.

Man is certainly stark mad; he cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens.

I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more as I grow older.

Obsession is the wellspring of genius and madness.

How many things served us yesterday for articles of faith, which today are fables for us?

Off I go, rummaging about in books for sayings which please me.

I quote others only in order the better to express myself.

I know that the arms of friendship are long enough to reach from one end of the world to the other.

The most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds is, in my opinion, conversation.

Saying is one thing and doing is another … Every movement reveals us.

Stubbornness and foolhardiness fill their hosts with joy and assurance.

If I speak of myself in different ways, that is because I look at myself in different ways.

If you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.

He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.

To forbid us anything is to make us have a mind for it.

There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.

Let the philosophers say what they will, the thing at which we all aim, even in virtue, is pleasure.

We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere.

No wind favors he who has no destined port.

Sources for Montaigne quotes: WikiQuote, GoodReads, EGS,


COMMENTS on Michel de Montaigne

I know that the arms of friendship are long enough to reach from one end of the world to the other. This is a wonderful idea because it includes those people whom we will never meet. Montaigne’s most loved friends must have been the classic Greeks and Romans because he quotes them most often.

The finest souls are those that have the most variety and suppleness. We are granted by fate with our body’s limitations, but we can expand our experiences greatly by what we do with our time, and the people we spend our time with. With the media in its many forms available to all we have the possibility to form some truly spectacular friendships. We may also vicariously have a vast amount of secondhand experiences, and these can be real enough if we pay attention.

I had rather fashion my mind than furnish it. I read this as Montaigne’s idea of how to cultivate one’s habits. It’s rather like Sherlock Holmes’ statement about not caring if the Moon orbited the Earth, because it didn’t help him with his chosen tasks.

There is no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally. This statement doesn’t give a clue as to how to acquire the knowledge of the wisdom of living well, but it does emphasize the idea – get wisdom, and then get understanding. Once wisdom is had even in a small degree it helps greatly in getting the learning and understanding that will enable one to live a varied and enjoyable life.

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