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Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and SuccessMichel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success


Michel de Montaigne (1533-92)


French writer and philosopher (pictured right), who wrote his famous essays after he inherited his family’s estate near Bordeaux.


His most famous book is...

Essays, a collection of his essays, published in 1580, 1588 and 1595.


What did he teach us about success?

 Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

1. Examine yourself

His famous motto was

“What do I know?”

The answer is not very much!


  • accept your own ignorance, imperfections and ordinariness.
  • strive to increase your knowledge by questioning everything (see point 2).

 Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

2. Question everything

Montaigne was a sceptic i.e. he believed that you should always:

  • challenge existing knowledge
  • find new and better ideas and moral truths (like love and beauty).

So philosophy (and its pursuit of wisdom) must be central to your life.

Don’t be the slave of

  • habit.
  • other people’s opinions.

 Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

3. Live for today

  • do what you want now for pleasure and happiness (the present is the only thing that matters)

  • accept things as they are (if you try to improve things, you will make matters worse).

  • don't plan for the future 

 Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

4. Respect other cultures and living creatures

One culture is no better than another, so we must respect each other’s customs, values and beliefs.

Humans aren’t superior to other species, so you should treat all living creatures equally well.


5. Live well

Make the most of your life through:

  • willpower. Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success
  • making life your purpose (“Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself”, he said).
  • managing your time effectively. 
  • virtue (but a virtuous life isn’t easy - “a rough and thorny path”, Montaigne called it).

However good we are, we all do and think things that would “deserve hanging ten times” in our lives.


6. Value your family and friends

Running a family is just as vital the most important paid job.Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

Successful relationships with others depend on:

  • giving up control over what they do.
  • sharing and being open with them.
  • regarding them as more important than yourself (without sacrificing your self-esteem).
  • being kind (cruelty is a terrible vice)

 Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

7. Find peace of mind

This doesn’t come from fame but from:

  • quiet reflection
  • having no regrets
  • faith in God (Montaigne was a devout Roman Catholic).


8. Don’t worry

 Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

a) accept and overcome life’s problems.

Montaigne overcame a morbid obsession with death and decided to get on with his life.

After nearly dying from a riding accident in 1569 or 1570, he never feared death again.


b) be prepared for death

(because it can come at any time).

 Michel de Montaigne - Philosophy and Success

9. Learn continuously

Be aware of your experiences, so that you can learn from them.

Montaigne read lots of books and humbly learned from other people.


Key quote on time management

The value of life lies not in the length of days but in the use you make of them.


Key quote on peace of mind

Fame and tranquillity can never be bedfellows.


Key quote on learning and wisdom

What do I know? (his motto)


Key quote on society

Man is quite insane. He wouldn’t know how to create a maggot, and he creates gods by the dozen.


Key quote on globalization

Everyone calls barbarism what is not customary to them. (on respecting other cultures).

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