Saturday, March 04, 2006

The End of Montaigne

I finally finished The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne. Overall it is a good book, especially the bibliography which lists several books I will be trying to track down. I wouldn't recommend The Cambridge Companion for general reading or unless you have read all of Montaigne's essays, though you could get through it fine if you've only read An Apology for Raymond Sebond. The second to last essay by Ann Hartle, "Montaigne and Skepticism" was a bit dull for me. I suppose if I were a Montaigne scholar it would have been interesting, but as a general reader I really don't care if Montaigne can be classed as a true skeptic or not. The most interesting bit in the essay was the brief summary of the history of the philosophy of skepticism. That and I learned that Montaigne's personal emblem was a scale with the motto "What do I know?" The final essay, "Montaigne on Moral Philosophy and the Good Life," by J.B. Schneewind (love the guy's name!) was interesting. Schneewind placed Montaigne in the context of a history of moral philosophy and shows how Montaigne differed from the Hellenistic and Roman moral philosophers he read. Post-Montaigne, Hume, Bentham, and Kant all attempt to further develop Montaigne's ideas with Kant being a sort of culmination (and a great admirer of Montaigne). Schneewind also talks briefly about how current moral philosophers are still trying to answer some of the questions Montaigne raised. I don't feel compelled to read Hume and Bentham, but I am feeling like I should read Kant. This is disturbing to me because I have read a bit of Kant before in college and found him impenetrable. But maybe it was what I read--his ideas on beauty and the sublime--and in trying again I might at last find a way in. I think I'll let the prospect of Kant sit for awhile until it doesn't seem so daunting. In the meantime I am done with Montaigne. Sort of. I am moving on to Emerson but am starting with Representative Men one of whom is Montaigne. I can't just quit cold turkey.