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Montaigne's Essays (PH370)

Given the role of accidental (e.g. geographical) factors in determining what we believe, what kind of authority can we reasonably attribute to our beliefs? When you play with your cat, how do you know your cat is not in fact playing with you? Can a European legitimately pass moral judgement on distant cultural practices such as ritual cannibalism?

These are some illustrative examples of the sorts of questions on which Montaigne (in his famously engaging and unhurried style) ruminates in his Essays, first published in 1580. Immersing oneself in Montaigne’s thought can be a life-changing experience, and it certainly transforms one’s perspective on modern philosophy.

This module will be jointly taught by Mark Philp (History) and Johannes Roessler (Philosophy). Our aim will be to understand Montaigne’s concerns and arguments in their historical and political context, by looking at Montaigne’s response to contemporary religious turmoil and civil war, his diagnosis of France as a ‘disturbed and sick state’, and his intense interest in subjects as diverse as friendship, the New World, ancient scepticism and the cognitive abilities of non-human animals, and to engage philosophically with Montaigne’s ideas and questions. We may also look at aspects of the profound influence Montaigne’s work had on modern philosophy and wider modern culture, such as the passages from the essay ‘Of Cannibals’ that found their way into Shakespeare’s Tempest, or Montaigne’s role in the history of modern moral philosophy.


Module Director

Johannes Roessler (Philosophy)

Mark Philp (History)


This module is worth 15 CATS.