Selections from the Essays of Montaigne

Ontological Freedom in Montaigne’s Selections from the Essays

For many readers, Montaigne’s Selections from the Essays at first seems scattered both in rhetorical structure and topic. However, as one reads through the individual works, there is one concept that the diverse text consistently refers to: man's need to strive for freedom. Yet Montaigne did not seek to write an instructional philosophical work, like many other Renaissance writers; rather, he sought to utilize a unique writing style and reflective anecdotes to indirectly convey his message. Montaigne seeks to reveal to his readers, though his own eyes, how personal experience and reflection can lead to a higher degree of ontological freedom.

One of the first and most crucial steps towards achieving a greater state of freedom is to realize that humans are significantly limited in scope and are not free when they are tangled in worldly affairs. In the scheme of life, a mere human being is practically nothing. In Montaigne’s words, man is “the most vulnerable and frail of all creatures” (59), one that is “neither above nor below the rest” (60). This conclusion is based on the empirical instances of man’s limitations and instability, and an experienced man should recognize his own meager existence. Montaigne describes this...

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