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Steps Toward a Rhetoric of Judgment in Montaigne's "De Democritus et Heraclitus" (I,50)


This article presents a close reading of Montaigne's "De Democritus et Heraclitus" (Essais I,50) and explores the notion of judgment that Montaigne develops in this chapter as well as the rhetoric used in expressing this notion. I argue that several rhetorical structures used by Montaigne in this essay – structures such as paradox, inversion of subject and object, and polysemic language that invites multiple interpretations – play an important role in expressing Montaigne's critique of judgment. As he notes in his "Apologie de Raimond Sebond," sceptical views of judgment are difficult to express: they are subject to logical paradoxes similar to the liar's paradox. The rhetoric of "De Democritus et Heraclitus" can be understood as an answer to this logical difficulty. At the heart of my reading is a reinterpretation of a maxim well known to readers of the Essais: "Tout mouvement nous descouvre." This reinterpretation grew out of a study of the polysemous words used in this maxim, of Montaigne's claims about judgment in other essays, and of a careful inspection of the way that it appears in the Exemplaire de Bordeaux.

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Russell, N.C. Steps Toward a Rhetoric of Judgment in Montaigne's "De Democritus et Heraclitus" (I,50). Neophilologus 85, 177–192 (2001).

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  • Comparative Literature
  • Historical Linguistic
  • Careful Inspection
  • Close Reading
  • Logical Difficulty