How does Montaigne view human nature?
Montaigne's Essays show a mixed view of human nature. As he writes in "Of Repentance," "I do not portray being: I portray passing ... I may indeed contradict myself now and then." He does, however, believe that it is human nature across the globe for people to assume their own customs to be superior to those of other groups. He sees this faith in the superiority of one's culture as a problem that can lead to barbarism, war, and the acceptance of cruelty. In his essay "On Cannibals," he contrasts the culture of cannibals, usually regarded as "primitive" and inferior to European culture, to how Europeans live, and finds cannibal culture superior: they don't have kings or hierarchy, they dance all day (enjoy life), and they don't practice the commonplace cruelties and hypocrisies of Europeans. In "An Apology of Raymond Sebond," he describes human nature as "proud," and attacks the human belief that we are superior to animals. Because of the tendency of human nature to be narrow-minded (prejudiced in favor of one's group) and unreasonably proud, he advocated that people cultivate their tolerance, open-mindedness, rationality and willingness to view life from other points of view, parts of human nature he also recognized and affirmed.
I think that Montaigne possesses a fairly optimistic view of human nature. His model was Socrates, representing the idea that human inquiry and the mind as a thinking tool is of the utmost of importance. Montaigne is renowned for wearing the medallion around his neck that suggests "What do I know," raising fundamental questions about the nature of human endeavor. Yet, I think that Montaigne's body of work suggests that this is something that he uses as an opportunity to refine the nature of the human being. The fact that Montaigne does not subscribe to anything in the nature of dogmatic or oppressive notions of the good is reflective of his idea that he saw opportunity for growth and advancement of the human being. His exploration of education as a social venture, where children are able to gain much in terms of their exposure to as many arenas as possible would represent an optimistic and rather redemptive notion of human nature. His own life as one committed to the social and political experiment whereby a sense of the progressive was highly evident serves to enhance the idea that Montaigne was not afraid of the nature of the human being, rather being able to embrace it with promises and possibilities.