Montaigne, a French Thinker: A Talmudic Marranic Voice

Montaigne's Portrait 1533-1592

By Béa Aaronson

“What do I know?”
“There is a plague on man, the opinion that he knows something.”
“Everything is but a passage.”
−Michel de Montaigne

Why would I give a lecture on this 16th century French Renaissance man? How can he reach us five centuries later? Not only can his wisdom truly help us understand our world better, but his recipes for happiness will hopefully inspire some precious soul cooking inside of you!

Lecture
Montaigne, a French Thinker: A Talmudic Marranic Voice
Mon, Jan 11, 4pm
The Jewish Cultural Center of San Miguel, the JC3
Calle de Las Moras 47, corner Cinco de Mayo
For reservations call 415 185 9191
or email shalomsanmiguel@yahoo.com.mx
130 pesos members/150 pesos non-members

Progenitor of the human sciences, pioneer of cultural relativism, precursor of the liberation of animals and the liberation of Earth, creator of a new literary genre, the essay, Michel de Montaigne paved the way to much of our liberal, ecological, modern thinking. I would like to introduce you to his humanism. Together with milestone biographical and historical information, I shall talk about his stoicism, skepticism, epicureanism, relativism, and the way these philosophical theories and inspired both his life and work. Have you heard of “happy pessimism?” I shall disclose this marvelous hygiene of thought and life. You will be quite startled! Montaigne reassures us that we have nothing to fear but fear itself! By recognizing the rule of appearances and the loss of connection with the truth of being, he warns us against the fascism of thought and badly digested knowledge. Montaigne questions the possibility of all knowing. He sees human beings as creatures of weakness, inconstancy and uncertainty, incapacity and fragmentation: “Man … A marvelous, vain, diverse and undulating thing!”

Throughout the essays, Montaigne wants to open minds, to reach and maintain freedom of judgment by avoiding commitment to any particular theoretical position: “on one hand, on the other hand.” Aha! He wants to understand the human condition and uses himself as an exemplum: “Je suis moi-même la matière de mon livre.” (I am myself the matter of my book) because “chaque homme porte en lui la forme entière de l’humaine condition.” (Each man carries in himself the entire form of the human condition.

I shall share with you his most important thoughts about vanity, glory, and fame—all illusions—about anger, smell, education, marriage, animals and nature, torture, cultural relativism, conscience, fanaticism, superstition, imagination, friendship, fear, and death.

Is Montaigne a philosopher? I do not think the word philosopher suits him. He does not propose any theory at all, no system, only common sense, and most of all, free individual thinking. Montaigne is a thinker. What he has in mind has more in common with what we now call critical thinking, and Montaigne’s form of critical thinking gives great weight to doubt, what I call “the elegance of thought.”

 

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