What is Montaigne's perspective on the relationship between human nature and society?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Montaigne believed that society both reflected human nature and helped to refine it. Society reflects human nature because what we see socially is a mirror of how we view ourselves as individuals. A person who is trustworthy, for example, will find it easy to trust others: “Confidence in others' honesty,” he writes, “is no light testimony of one's own integrity.” A society has a symbiotic relationship with the individuals within it: the more self-realized each person is, the more productive and successful the society as a whole will be.

According to Montaigne, we fulfill our human nature and reach our highest potential through interacting with our fellow man. He believed that the best pursuits of the intellect involved working in community: “The most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds is, in my opinion, conversation,” he said.

Montaigne believed human nature to be both deeply problematic and full of promise. He famously noted: “I have seen no greater monster or miracle than myself.” For Montaigne, the purpose of society is to help humans develop our positive qualities and to help us exercise restraint in expressing our worst.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Illustration of a paper plane soaring out of a book

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial