Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success
Michel de Montaigne (1533-92)
French writer and philosopher (pictured right), who wrote his famous essays after he
inherited his family’s estate near Bordeaux.
His most famous book
Essays, a collection of his essays, published in 1580, 1588 and 1595.
What did he teach us about success?
1. Examine yourself
His famous motto was
“What do I know?”
The answer is not very much!
- accept your own ignorance,
imperfections and ordinariness.
- strive to increase your knowledge by questioning everything (see point 2).
2. Question everything
Montaigne was a sceptic i.e. he believed that you should always:
- challenge existing knowledge
- find new and better ideas and moral
truths (like love and beauty).
So philosophy (and its pursuit of wisdom) must be central to your life.
Don’t be the slave of
3. Live for today
4. Respect other cultures and living creatures
One culture is no better than another, so we must respect each other’s customs, values and
Humans aren’t superior to other species, so you should treat all living creatures equally
5. Live well
Make the most of your life through:
- making life your purpose (“Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself”,
- managing your time effectively.
- virtue (but a virtuous life isn’t easy - “a rough and thorny
path”, Montaigne called it).
However good we are, we all do and think things that would “deserve hanging ten times” in
6. Value your family and friends
Running a family is just as vital the most important paid job.
Successful relationships with others depend on:
- giving up control over what they do.
- sharing and being open with them.
- regarding them as more important than yourself (without sacrificing
- being kind (cruelty is a terrible vice)
7. Find peace of mind
This doesn’t come from fame but from:
- faith in God (Montaigne was a devout Roman Catholic).
8. Don’t worry
a) accept and overcome life’s problems.
Montaigne overcame a morbid obsession with death and decided to get on with his life.
After nearly dying from a riding accident in 1569 or 1570, he never feared death again.
b) be prepared for death
(because it can come at any time).
9. Learn continuously
Be aware of your experiences, so that you can learn from them.
Montaigne read lots of books and humbly learned from other people.
Key quote on time
The value of life lies not in the length of days but in the use you make of them.
Key quote on peace of
Fame and tranquillity can never be bedfellows.
Key quote on learning and
What do I know? (his motto)
Key quote on
Man is quite insane. He wouldn’t know how to create a maggot, and he creates gods by the dozen.
Key quote on
Everyone calls barbarism what is not customary to them. (on respecting other cultures).