Montaigne and Plutarch: A Scepticism that Conquers the Mind

  • Nicola Panichi
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 199)

The breath-taking strength of Montaigne's scepticism — on which whole generations of scholars1 have practised — is based on the opposition between human mind and divine mind. This opposition, which is a classical revival with strong sceptical connotations, will interact and converge with all other resolves in the Essays.2

The Apology, in particular, ends on the dichotomy between divine being/ mind (immota mens) and human being/mind (mota mens). As has been pointed out, the last pages of the Apology are in fact a rewriting of Plutarch's long passage taken from the booklet De E apud Delphos, read by Montaigne in Amyot's translation.3 The main thesis is that God has no mutation, declination, time, whereas man is, intus et in cute, mutation, declination, time. And it is for this reason that “We have no communication with Being” (Plutarch's passage, in the faithful translation by Amyot, states: “nous n'avons aucune participation au vray estre”).4 Change, movement, passage, metamorphosis connote the existing. With the phrase: “once we have gone outside our being we have no commerce (communication) with that which is” (I.3. 13C) Montaigne also introduces an oscillation of sense between being and existence. So, we have no communication with being. In his transcript of Plutarch's passage, with a conscious change in meaning, Montaigne substitutes a key word with another: participation with communication. With this change in sense, it was believed that Montaigne placed the problem under the sign of hermeneutics more than that of ontology. In the place of the ontological question of being, he places the issue of communication with the divine.5 So at the centre of the Essais we find the issue of language, seen as “our soul's interpreter” (II.18.757A) (“truchement de nostre ame”: II.18.667A), sermo imago mentis, and its dialogic ways that are the dialogic ways of reason. Certainly, if the booklet De E apud Delphos does offer the key to the understanding of the concept of sceptical reason, it does confirm all its importance in understanding Montaigne's scepticism.


Human Intellect Negative Theology Sceptical Reason Elaborate Style Faithful Translation 
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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicola Panichi
    • 1
  1. 1.Université degli Studi di UrbinoItaly

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