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Montaigne (Past Masters Series) Hardcover – October, 1982

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About the Author

Peter Burke is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Past Masters Series
  • Hardcover: 81 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Univ Pr (T); First American Edition edition (October 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809070014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809070015
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,018,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
Montaigne wanders through many different worlds in search of himself. In this small introductory work Peter Burke describes some of the contradictions within Montaigne and his various worlds, and moves us to wonder still more about his ultimate meaning and message. On the one hand a devout Catholic and the other the father of modern skepticism, on the one hand a patrician homebody locked into his fortress studio, and in another an adventurer traveling and learning in his books to distant lands , on the one hand very much a man of his own generation of the 1530's and in another a man whose heart is with the ancients Plutarch,and Seneca that are his favorite reading. Burke makes it clear that the very method of Montaigne's writing in which he inserts the words of others in his own text raise endless questions of determining the real intended meaning of Montaigne. There is something of the spirit of play in his endless wandering on the page, the same play which he himself paradoxically defined when he said ' there is nothing more serious than the games of children'. Burke gives us background to the puzzle of Montaigne without conclusively trying to solve it- or even perhaps suggest that solution is possible. One oft- repeated cliche about Montaigne is that he is the first modern man in making himself and his self- definition the major subject of that work. But Burke shows that that self too is elusive and its definition a game, skeptical or not whose meaning readers have enjoyed puzzling out for four hundred plus years and will continue to enjoy reading in the future.
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Format: Hardcover
Peter Burke provides a brilliantly concise summary of the historical context of Montaigne's life and work, and of the work itself. His short well written chapters on Montaigne's humanism, skepticism, religion, politics, psychology and so on focus on defining what were Montaigne's positions in each of these areas. Burke compares Montaigne's ideas and his particular skepticism with those of contemporaries and with classical philosophers who were Montaigne's prime sources of reference.

This analytical structure boxes Burke into a presentation that largely misses what made Montaigne a great philosopher. Yes, he had some tentative assertions and positions, but what makes him stand out in the Western tradition is that unlike almost anyone except possibly David Hume, he did not come to a final dogmatic assertion of what is truth. Even Socrates, with whom Montaigne could be compared, developed at length (at least in Plato's version) the claim that an ideal Republic should be governed by... who else, philosophers. Montaigne, who actually worked in government, made no such assertions.

Montaigne is an inspiration to those of us who believe that philosophy is not (only) about categorizing statements, but about considering what is the right way to live and to think - the process of reflection, rather than a final conclusion.

Nourished by a rich knowledge of the classics, and stimulated by recent cultural discoveries from the exploration of America - materials that provided an inexhaustible store of examples and counterexamples to any dogmatic claim - Montaigne embodied the questioning, thoughtful, reflective, good humored life of a humane and generous spirit.

Read Burke for the background, read him quickly, and then get on to Montaigne's Essays - a word he coined to represent that they were trials, explorations, reflections rather than an attempt to establish any definitive position about his colorful, wide range of topics.
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By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on December 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michel de Montaigne is one of those authors from a bygone era who's aged well (although a lot depends on the translation one uses; for my money, you can't do better than M.A. Screech's). His essays are intrinsically interesting and frequently insightful, and their personal quality, in which Montaigne uninhibitedly shares with the reader all kinds of personal information about himself, makes the author quite lovable.

But it's also true that many a potential reader has either been intimidated by the sheer bulk of the collected essays, or by what appears on a first and casual reading to be the scattered, disjointed rambling of the author. Peter Burke's little study of Montaigne is a good preface to Montaigne himself, because Burke helps new readers to put Montaigne in context and to discern his method and major themes.

As Burke points out, one of the reasons Montaigne is still lively reading today is his wonderment at the extraordinary diversity of human experience. Laws, customs, tastes, religious notions, and philosophies change from time to time and place to place. Even an individual's opinions vary with the seasons of life, leading Montaigne to adopt as his personal motto "Que sais-je?", "What do I know?" But in exploring the diversity of the world, Montaigne is able to transform his wonderment and even initial confusion more often than not into brilliant observations: Humans differ from animals in theoretical knowledge, but not prudential knowledge; miracles are determined by religious context; spiritual cannibalism is much worse than literal cannibalism; progress is an illusion, but so is fear of it; constancy in one's individual life, as in social life, is an antidote to chaos, but it ought not to be seized mindlessly.
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