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Montaigne and the Origins of Modern Philosophy

Ann Hartle

Publication Year: 2013

Montaigne’s Essays are rightfully studied as giving birth to the literary form of that name. Ann Hartle’s Montaigne and the Origins of Modern Philosophy argues that the essay is actually the perfect expression of Montaigne as what he called "a new figure: an unpremeditated and accidental philosopher." Unpremeditated philosophy is philosophy made sociable—brought down from the heavens to the street, where it might be engaged in by a wider audience. In the same philosophical act, Montaigne both transforms philosophy and invents "society," a distinctly modern form of association. Through this transformation, a new, modern character emerges: the individual, who is neither master nor slave and who possesses the new virtues of integrity and generosity. In Montaigne’s radically new philosophical project, Hartle finds intimations of both modern epistemology and modern political philosophy.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book is dedicated, in gratitude and admiration, to Francis Slade, my teacher, friend, and exemplar of the integrity of the life of philosophy and the life of faith. His work on the origins of modern philosophy, especially the political philosophy of Machiavelli, has influenced my understanding of Montaigne at the most fundamental level. ...

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pp. xi-xx

What is modernity? What is modern philosophy? What is modern society? And what, if anything, does philosophy have to do with the possibility of a free society? ...

Note on the Texts

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pp. xxi-xxii

Part One: The Transformation of Philosophy

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One. Reversing Aristotle

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pp. 5-28

In his discussion of Montaigne’s ancient sources, Hugo Friedrich says that “traces of readings in Aristotle are weak in the Essais . . . It cannot be established to what extent he actually read Aristotle; certainly it was not a thorough study.”1 It is true that the number of explicit references to and discussions of Aristotle in the Essays would give that impression. ...

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Two. Sticking to the Old Ways: Montaigne and Sacred Tradition

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pp. 29-50

How is it possible for the philosopher to see himself as just a man? To what can he turn in order to ground his recovery of a common humanity? What is it that allows Montaigne to see the possibility of society? I argue that, in spite of his radical break with the philosophical and theological tradition, ...

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Three. The Philosophical Act (I): Judgment

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pp. 51-76

For Montaigne, the philosophical act is neither contemplation nor practical wisdom, neither escape to the eternal nor immersion in the immediacy of practice. Rather, the philosophical act is judgment, purged of the self of the philosopher. Judgment subjects reason to the good. ...

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Four. The Philosophical Act (II): Ending in Experience

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pp. 77-96

Montaigne’s unpremeditated and accidental philosophy is the reformation of philosophy because it separates the man from the philosopher and thus humanizes him. The philosopher, in the tradition, believes that he alone bears “the entire form of the human condition.” ...

Part Two: The Invention of Society

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Five. Overcoming Natural Mastery

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pp. 99-134

Unpremeditated and accidental philosophy is both the separation of the man from the philosopher and also the humanization of the philosopher through the submission of philosophy to the social. In the same way, the overcoming of natural mastery is both the separation of the man from the prince and also the humanization of the prince ...

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Six. The Primacy of the Private and the Origins of a Free Society

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pp. 135-154

Society is a new, modern form of association. As Francis Slade demonstrates, the distinction of having first invented society belongs to Machiavelli. Machiavelli “generates the distinction between State and Civil Society. The term itself, civil principality, is Machiavelli’s invention.”1 ...

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Seven. The Character of the Free Individual

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pp. 155-180

Because society is the association of individuals that is free from the control of government, it therefore serves to limit the power of government. In the Essays, Montaigne reveals the new character of the free individual that is necessary for the existence of a free society. ...

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Conclusion: The Invisibility of Philosophy and the Light of the Good

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pp. 181-184

Montaigne’s philosophical project, I have argued, is nothing less than the invention of society, a new mode of association of free individuals. Yet, how can he produce such an astonishing effect when he himself warns us that he is nothing more than an accidental philosopher? ...


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pp. 185-206

Works Cited

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pp. 207-212


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pp. 213-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780810167339
E-ISBN-10: 0810167336
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810129320
Print-ISBN-10: 0810129329

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 867741194
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Montaigne and the Origins of Modern Philosophy

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Subject Headings

  • Montaigne, Michel de, 1533-1592 -- Political and social views.
  • Montaigne, Michel de, -- 1533-1592 -- Philosophy.
  • Montaigne, Michel de, 1533-1592. Essais.
  • Philosophy in literature.
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