Montaigne’s Essays are a deeply personal investigation into ourselves and our lives that isn’t typically treated by philosophy books. Here, in another great BBC series, Alain de Botton (a notable philosopher in his own right), talks about Montaigne’s notion of self-esteem and how philosophy can be a guide to happiness. It kicks off around 1 minute in…
De Botton focuses on Montaigne’s three key ways that people feel inadequate: discomfort with their bodies, unease at being judged and feeling intellectually inferior. He covers Montaigne’s responses to all three conditions weaving in biographical notes from Montaigne’s life while talking to ordinary Britons and Cambridge graduates. Watching this is no substitute for Montaigne’s poignant and witty prose, but you will get a feel for what a profoundly caring thinker he was and a sense of his eminently practical advice for dealing with the vicissitudes of everyday life.
Having a philosopher talk about farts, bowel movements and his penis is certain to crack any veneer of intellectual austerity or distance. (But then again, so should one talking about hammering or farming. Doesn’t always work out that way.) Montaigne is not typically considered a figure in the canon of Western Philosophy. That said, I’m attracted to the philosophical focus on problems facing everyday people and accessibility to the lay reader. Perhaps he belongs to the likes of Plutarch, Caesar and Erasmus – not bad company even if you don’t consider them “philosophers.”