Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 246

Montaigne's Apology for Raymond Sebond is a defense of the Catalan theologian referred to in the title. And the defense is only part of the work; instead, Montaigne uses the occasion of a defense to discuss matters of skepticism, reason, and faith as befits Catholic theology. Montaigne, who wrote the essay on the occasion of translating Sebond's Liber naturae sive creaturarum ("Treatise on nature or its creations") as requested by his late father, believes that man occupies a comparatively low position in relation to the divine. It is rife with both discussion of classical philosophers such as Diogenes and Plato as well as metaphors from the natural world. Montaigne approaches the religion with a pragmatic view and occasionally adduces Plato's concept of the soul. When Plato insisted that the soul was immortal, many of his follows killed themselves. That we humans are not doing this is a sign that we are not made of divine substance.

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Montaigne insists that man is wretched—barely master of himself, let alone external things to which he lays claim. Small accidents in human affairs would not bother us if we were of divine substance. Moreover, Montaigne notes that certain animals exhibit the qualities that we call exceptionally human (such as mutual defense and membership of a social order). Ultimately, humans' only approach to the divine is to "accompany our faith with all the reason we have," but not assume that we will ever be capable of comprehending divine knowledge fully.

Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 239

This essay, one of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne’s longest, sets forth the reasons for the great French humanist’s belief in skepticism. It is the work that was most influential in reviving and popularizing the Greek skeptical theory of Pyrrhonism during the Renaissance and in the seventeenth century. Montaigne’s followers based their arguments on this essay, and many important philosophers, including René Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, Blaise Pascal, and Nicolas de Malebranche studied it and used some of Montaigne’s ideas in developing their own philosophies. The essay is also one of the first writings that discuss philosophical issues in a modern language. It had a tremendous vogue in the seventeenth century. Late in the century it was put on the Roman Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books. It has remained one of the major classics of French literature and thought and is one of the richest examples of Renaissance humanism and skepticism.

The essay was apparently begun in 1575 when Montaigne was studying writings, recently translated into Latin, of the Greek Skeptic Sextus Empiricus, who wrote in the third century. These works so impressed Montaigne that they caused him to doubt all of his previous views and caused him to undergo his own personal skeptical crisis. During this crisis, he sought to show that the knowledge that people claimed to have gained through the use of their senses and their reasoning capacities was all open to doubt.

A Defense of Sebond’s Views

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 423

The “Apology for Raymond Sebond” purports to be a defense of the views of the fifteenth century Spanish rationalist theologian Raymond Sebond. At the outset, Montaigne tells his reader that at the request of his father, he had translated Sebond’s Theologia naturalis, sive Liber creaturarum (1485; the book of creatures: or, natural theology). His father had received the work much earlier from a French theologian who reported that he had been saved from Lutheranism by studying Sebond’s rational arguments in favor of Christianity. After Montaigne’s edition of Sebond appeared in 1569, shortly after...

(The entire section contains 3692 words.)

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