- The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne
The welcome appearance of Montaigne on the list of authors in the Cambridge companions to philosophy series is not without its ironies. Montaigne [End Page 890] does not occupy a secure place in the history of philosophy, nor are the Essays often an object of study for philosophers in the academy. It is perhaps not coincidental that only two of the ten contributors to the Companion are listed as belonging to a philosophy department. As Ullrich Langer points out in his introductory remarks, Montaigne himself insisted in "De la vanité" that he was not a philosopher ("Je ne suis pas philosophe"), and Ian Maclean elaborates on this point in his essay which situates the essayist uncomfortably within the logic and epistemology of his time: "[N]o professional philosopher of the late Renaissance would have recognized what Montaigne wrote as a contribution to his subject" (144). Yet in the "Apologie" Montaigne himself allowed perhaps ironically, that he might be a philosopher, but of a new and original kind: "Nouvelle figure: un philosophe impremedité et fortuite," as Ann Hartle seeks to demonstrate in her exploration of Montaigne's untraditional skepticism. This second is the Montaigne who emerges from the essays in the Companion volume, an unphilosophical philosopher, a philosopher by chance and of chance (after Anne Tyler we can appreciate Hartle's preference for Frame's "accidental philosopher"). And this Montaigne, the volume implies, however unpremeditated, unsystematic, or lacking in theoretical rigor his reflections on ethics, politics, or nature may appear, deserves the place in the philosophical pantheon that the canonical Cambridge series will help him achieve.
This then is a book about Montaigne the thinker, primarily about the inflection of his ideas through dialogue with the historical, intellectual, political, legal, religious, and cultural context of his time. The volume is not meant to be encyclopedic in its approaches. Concerns about what Jules Brody called "la spécificité verbale du texte" (Lectures de Montaigne, 1982), about how Montaigne's ideas — philosophical and other — take shape in and through the very language and the form of Montaigne's discourse, or about issues of textuality, writing, self-representation, and the diverse implications of what Friedrich called "le chemin du moi" (Montaigne, 1968) are not central to the project. Instead, the authors of the essays in the volume are primarily interested in exploring how the "outside" of Montaigne's writing influences the philosophical thought they locate in the Essays. There are valuable essays by Tom Conley on the Essays and the New World, André Tournon on Montaigne and the law, and Warren Boutcher on what it meant to "make a book" in the aristocratic culture of the sixteenth century. John O'Brien writes on Montaigne and antiquity, Francis Goyet on the fashioning of the prudent nobleman, and George Hoffman on the essayist as a skeptical naturalist. In his concluding essay, Jerome Schneewind treats Montaigne's moral philosophy as a precursor of modern, and especially Kantian, notions of morality.
The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne, its essays and bibliography, is intended as a reference work and guide for students and nonspecialists. Although Renaissance specialists will also benefit from the individual essays in the volume, they will want to consult the extensive scholarly writings of the contributors on many of the same topics. And while this most useful addition to the Cambridge series does fulfill the aim of providing a conspectus of recent developments in the (contextualist) interpretation of Montaigne, it could have been enriched by some [End Page 891] attention to how ideas in the Essays — even philosophical ideas — appear in the light of recent "textualist" or poststructuralist readings.