Paul Kent, author of 'Montaigne - and the way we live now' (published by Creative Content this month), answers the question: Why Montaigne?
Since writing my somewhat personal take on the work of the mighty Michel de Montaigne, several friends have asked me why. Not why I wrote the book so much as “Why Montaigne?” Why choose him out of all the other philosophers I could have written about?
Well, here’s why. IMHO, of all the great thinkers, certainly in the Western tradition, none is more appropriate for a 21st-century audience. There, I’ve said it.
Philosophy, when most of us think about it at all, is too often viewed as something too difficult or abstruse for the modern age: its reputation isn’t helped by comments like this one from Karl Marx, who judged it to be “To the real world what masturbation is to sex”. Which is, of course, utter tripe, because philosophy lies at the heart of everything we are, whether we acknowledge it or not. Our personal philosophies are continuously (and often unconsciously) moulded by countless factors in our past and present that influence and ultimately govern how we think, feel and behave. Yes, in the real world.
Montaigne’s essays, all 107 of them, constitute the story of one man’s philosophy, written simply and directly for anyone to understand. As we read we can almost see him thinking, so we not only get the philosophy, but the process that grows and shapes it as well. It’s a process which is influenced by Montaigne’s onboard sanity, affability and, most importantly of all, balance. For he weighs everything carefully, sifting the knowledge and wisdom in an ongoing process of trying to understand who and what he is. And by leading from the front, he actually encourages us to do some thinking of our own.
If a philosopher is traditionally viewed as “someone with a problem for every solution”, Montaigne is the exact opposite; the Essays don’t tell us what to think, but quietly urge us how to think – and think well. There’s not many other philosophers you can say that about! - Paul Kent
The second book in Paul Kent's philosophy series, 'Voltaire - the last happy writer', publishes in September.