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1 The moment of the birth of the subject cannot be established without a certain presupposition, which consists in taking this subject to be univocal, a consensual object whose identification is supposedly indisputable, and whose origin can be exactly specified. Yet nothing indicates that such a representation is appropriate, given that so many authors in the philosophical tradition (although they may sometimes take as their object what we have called subject since the seventeenth century) do not always understand each other, and do not all speak of the same thing. In this regard, the debates that current research tries to set up between the great philosophers of the past may well never amount to anything more than a dialogue of the deaf, and the history of philosophy to a mere demonstration of what has always been irreducible in an author’s most original and powerful thought. Thus recent work seeking to identify the site of emergence of subjectivity does not so much diverge from one writer to another, as it tends to determine the birth of a type of subjectivity that is in each case different and original—that is to say, ultimately, to establish a correspondence between a certain type of subjectivity and a certain type of site, date, and corpus. In which case there is no genealogy of the subject, but only genealogies of the subject—or better still, genealogies of subjects, depending on whether one seeks the subject in antiquity or turns to the medieval period, or reduces it to the “pure ego” of the Cartesian-Pascalian self. [2]

2 One of the aims of this inquiry must be the precise determination of the site (and the necessity) of the emergence of the Cartesian self, as opposed to those other concepts of self that have always been claimed as its direct predecessors—above all, Montaigne’s. [3] For Montaigne and Descartes must be confronted, if only because, as Gilson perceived admirably, [4] everything points toward the hypothesis of a strong subtextual presence of Montaigne’s Essays in the Discourse on Method, particularly the first part. To this first argument, a second must be added: Montaigne is usually known as the one who, at the moment of the turn to modernity, dared to posit himself as “the matter of [his] book,” [5] anticipating the Cartesian gesture of a promotion of the ego to being the foundation of all truths. Montaigne and Descartes would then be links in a chain, partners in a gradual movement of the promotion of subjectivity that would be crowned by the accession of the ego cogito to the rank of first principle. Within such a teleological history, the Essays would announce the Cartesian self; or, stronger still, the Cartesian experience of the self would already have been authorized by Montaigne’s Essays. These two arguments suffice to indicate the pertinence of a comparison of the first part of the Discourse and Montaigne’s Essays, if it is true that the Discourse is indeed, before the Meditationes de prima philosophia, the site of the slow mutation of the empirical self into the transcendental ego—that is to say, into that which the Meditationes will call “ego ille” (VII, 25, 14; 27, 29; 49, 13) and which is the first, the most proper, and the most precise conquest of Descartes’s (not yet, nor ever to be, metaphysical) [6] meditative approach.

3 This comparison can be carried out on the basis of a methodological hypothesis: the hypothesis that the first part of DM is the locus of properly Montaignian experiences, and that only that which exceeds those experiences, or even contradicts them, can and must be determined to be authentically Cartesian. We believe it possible to subsume these Montaignian experiences under two types of practice: the practice of books, on the one hand, and the practice of travelling, on the other—in other words, in the reading of authors and a frequentation of the world. Thus reprising a cliché of medieval literature—the dichotomy between liber scripturae and liber naturae—Montaigne finds himself surpassed by Descartes, for whom the search for truth ultimately cannot proceed without study within oneself. The Cartesian excess, which consists in recusing liber naturae and liber scripturae alike, albeit not without having practiced both of them first, thus goes hand in hand with the promotion of a type of subjectivity entirely different to that which we see at work in the Essays.

1. First Level: The World of Books

4 The beginning of the Discourse on Method shows us a Descartes “nourished on letters since [his] childhood” (4, 21). [7] In fact, his childhood, up to the age of eighteen years, proceeds by way of a demanding and rigid “course of study,” [8] comprising logic, physics, metaphysics, and morals, to which we must add the two years of law, at the end of which he obtains his degree from the University of Poitiers. Now, precisely, this beginning of the Discourse contains a sort of condensate of Cartesian thinking on letters, and in particular the critique of bookish knowledge as futile and vain. This critique, more subtle than is usually recognized, is sufficiently well known that we can content ourselves with reprising it schematically here—not without first recalling a prejudicial fact: that this critique bears upon an experience that endows it with a twofold legitimacy. On the one hand (a qualitative experience), Descartes having attended “one of the most renowned schools of Europe” (5,1), [9] a school, indeed, that he will himself recommend to a correspondent seeking his advice, [10] one cannot impute his critique to the mediocrity of the teaching he received or the studies he pursued—on the contrary, a critique of the very best school (La Flèche) can only reflect a fortiori on other schools, which are necessarily inferior. By criticizing the most prestigious and serious school, Descartes ipso facto takes as his target all other educational establishments. On the other hand (a quantitative experience), Descartes not only studied at one of Europe’s finest establishments, he also studied everything, not only “the disciplines we were taught there” (5, 5–6), [11] but also “the most curious and most unusual” disciplines (5, 7), [12] which he discovered himself. In short, he went “through all the books” (5, 6, my emphasis). [13] The qualitative experience of the best system of teaching is redoubled by an experience as quantitatively wide as possible of the domain of knowledge. Thus, underpinned by a sort of universal competence, Descartes’s critique of letters is reinforced.

5 This critique deploys several motifs: (1) Books give rise to “so many doubts and errors” (4, 28–29); [14] books and authors contradict each other, leaving the mind more confused than truly instructed; what is more, the greater the erudition, the greater the number of books read, the greater is the confusion into which the student is plunged. (2) Books dispense pseudoknowledge: in a passage that combines a reevaluation of scholarly culture and an irony against that same culture (“I did not, however, cease…deceived by them” 5, 19–6, 16), [15] Descartes unmasks the trickery of certain supposed knowledges, in particular philosophy, which “provides the means of speaking plausibly about all things and of making oneself admired by the less learned” (6, 8–10), [16] and medicine and other sciences which “bring honors and riches” (6, 12). Knowing in what esteem Descartes holds the plausible, presumption, honors, and riches, one cannot read these lines without discerning in them a pointed irony. (3) A too-assiduous reading of history and literature distances men from their real conditions of existence and leads them to a misunderstanding of themselves with regard to the possible and the real alike (their own epoch and mores). (4) Finally, specific critiques can be made of each particular science, for precise reasons: rhetoric is outclassed by clarity of mind, which is always more persuasive; poetry is a gift, which cannot be taught; mathematics currently has not discovered its true usage, reserved as it is for the mechanical arts; theology and science are useless, since ignorant people can be good and get to heaven, [17] and are reserved for those who have divine grace; philosophy is the terrain for a diversity of opinions so wide that everything in it seems plausible rather than true; and as to the other sciences, in so far as they borrow their principles from philosophy, in virtue of a still medieval-Aristotelian subordination, they suffer fundamentally from the same shortcomings.

6 It would be possible here to enter further into the details, and even to nuance this rather summary presentation of Descartes’s thought: it will be perceived that the critique, once understood with more precision, reevaluates and restores the dignity of certain teachings of the schools, establishing a relation between Descartes and culture that is far less negative than may at first appear. [18] Nevertheless, it remains the case that the Descartes of the years 1615–1616 is a Descartes torn between the desire for truth and a distaste before the profusion of opinions and the multiplicity of the false. As H. Gouhier has written, in a magisterial formula, “the scholarly universe is a scandal.” Books did not satisfy the young Descartes, enamored of truth: they had to be abandoned.

2. Second Level: “The Great Book of the World:” Montaigne in Descartes—But Which Montaigne?

A Montaignian Descartes: From the World of the Book to the Book of the World

7 Thus, the disqualification of book learning propels Descartes into his travels:


This is why, as soon as age permitted me to emerge from the supervision of my teachers, I completely abandoned the study of letters. And resolving to search for no knowledge other than what could be found…in the great book of the world…
(9, 17–22). [19]

9 We must pause at this expression: “the great book of the world.” It seems to us to signal the passage to a second level, the passage from the world of the book to the book of the world, from the narrow and cloistered site of the school to the open and multiple space of society and travel.

10 Descartes saw two advantages to this study in the great book of the world:

11 (1) An advantage in relation to truth:


For it seemed to me that I could find much more truth in the reasonings that each person makes concerning matters that are important to him, and whose outcome ought to cost him dearly later on if he has judged badly, than in those reasonings engaged in by a man of letters in his study, which touch on speculations that produce no effect
(9, 9–10, 4). [20]

13 Truth is thus better served by people of the world than by men of letters. This properly epistemological quality is founded in the practical, immediate, or sensible efficacy of experience as opposed to speculation: experience seems to prove one right or wrong, with no apparent equivocation; it seems to decide and to provide its own verification through its successes and failures, whereas the scholar balances everything up, and his theses are unverifiable. Thus (but we know that this is not Descartes’s last word on the question) in this second moment, truth is more surely to be found in the artisan than in the philosopher. [21]

14 (2) Another advantage of traveling, greater still than the first (“the greatest profit,” 10, 16–17), [22] resides in the work of the purification of reason exercised by the frequenting of the world, and the suspicion toward custom to which it invites one: “Not to believe anything too firmly of which I had been persuaded only by example and custom” (10, 21–23). [23] In this way, travel gains a critical status, in relation to ethnocentrism:


It is good to know something of the customs of various peoples, so as to judge our own more soundly, and so as not to think that everything that is contrary to our ways is ridiculous and against reason, as those who have seen nothing have a habit of doing
(6, 21–26). [24]

16 It is in fact an empirical critique of judgment to which travel invites us. Better still, travelling puts it to work, deploys it, by purifying reason and by distinguishing it from that which, while not being reason, is confused with it and obscures it, the dross and residue sedimented by too much reading.

17 Montaigne had, before Descartes, already argued for these two benefits of travel, in his Essays. [25] If Descartes reprises them, he does so by working through them—and thus modifying them.

18 (1) Montaigne’s valorization of man and of practice is based on a certain representation of concrete situations: the latter call for technical reactions that are well adapted, flexible, and often approximative, rather than the subtleties of a mind which, as perspicacious as it might be, often ends up in doubt (from an epistemological point of view) and failure (from a technico-practical point of view):


The more commonplace and less tense of wits are more appropriate to the conduct of affairs and more successful. The high inquisitive opinions of philosophy prove unsuited in practice. Such sharp vigour of soul and such supple restless whirring motions trouble our negotiations. We must manage the affairs of men more rough-and-readily, more superficially, leaving a good and better share to the rights of Fortune. There is no need to cast light so deeply and keenly on to our affairs. You lose yourself in them by contemplating so much varied brilliance and such diverse forms: “Volutantibus res inter se pugnantes obtorpuerant animi” [“Minds wallowing in mutual contradictions are benumbed”—Livy]. This is what the ancients said of Simonides. When King Hiero posed him a question to answer which he had several days to meditate upon, his powers of thought presented him with so many keen and subtle considerations that, doubting which was the most likely, he totally despaired of the truth.
He who seeks out all the circumstances and grasps their consequences impedes his choice. A modest talent suffices and can equally well carry into execution matters of great and little weight. Note how those who best manage their estates are the least able to explain how they do so, while the most skilful talkers are as often as not useless at it. I know one man who is excellent at talking about all kinds of estate-management and at describing it but who has let a hundred thousand pounds of income slip through his fingers. I know another who speaks and deliberates better than any man in his council-chamber; never in the world was there a more beautiful display of intelligence and of competence; yet when it comes to practice his servants find he is quite other than that—I mean, even leaving aside bad luck
(II, 20, 675). [26]

20 Descartes takes up this inspiration favorable to concrete man, making of it one of the advantages of going out into the world, outside the narrow circle of erudite schoolmen.

21 (2) The critique of ethnocentrism is found as such in Montaigne: “Frequent commerce with the world can be an astonishing source of light for a man’s judgment. We are all cramped and confined within ourselves: we can see no further than the end of our noses.” [27] And again:


For this purpose, mixing with people is wonderfully appropriate. So are visits to foreign lands…mainly learning of the humours of those peoples and of their manners, and knocking off our corners by rubbing our brains against other people’s. I would like pupils to be taken abroad from their tenderest years. [28]

23 We can see the commonality between Descartes and Montaigne: travels and the frequenting of the world have the effect of purifying reason. They isolate that which properly belongs to the latter, by distinguishing what is reason and what is custom: “That is why we think that it is reason which is unhinged whenever custom is—and God knows how often we unreasonably do that!” (I, 23, 116). [29] Comparing the two proves most informative. Descartes: “So as to judge our own more soundly, and so as not to think that everything that is contrary to our ways is ridiculous and against reason”; Montaigne: “Frequent commerce with the world can be an astonishing source of light for a man’s judgment,” and “knocking off our corners by rubbing our brains against other people’s.” In Montaigne as in Descartes, judgment is honed through contact with the world.

Descartes contra Montaigne I

24 The efficacy of practice in the search for truth, the purification of judgment through the frequentation of the world: Descartes here seems to repeat Montaigne. Must we conclude that the book of the world is, for Descartes, the site where truth is attained? Not at all. The world of the book was abandoned for the book of the world, but this does not guarantee the success of the quest for truth. Paradoxically, the opposite may be the case, if we consider the curious blockage encountered in VI, 10, 12–14: “So long as I only considered the customs of other men, I found hardly anything there about which to be confident, and I noticed there was about as much diversity as I had previously found among the opinions of philosophers.” [30] Thus, worldly voyages suffer from the same weakness as books: far from indicating the one and only route towards the one and only truth, they bring to light the multiplicity and diversity of the uncertain course of the world: what does this mean, if not that they lead to the same relativity as books do?

25 In a sense the ground was prepared for this, since travel had already been the object of an argument made several pages previous (“But I believed I had already given enough time to…their powers,” VI, 6, 17–7, 10). [31] This passage calls for two comments: (a) However it may at first appear, the evocation of travel here is not in its favor, as the concessive structure of the argument attests: “It is good to know…. But when one takes too much time….” [32] Despite its advantages, too much travel has the inconvenience of rendering man a stranger to himself, just like fables make us lose the sense of reality. (b) This passage is wedged between an argument on letters and Descartes’s interest for all the sciences, including the most false sciences, and an argument on eloquence which opens up a review of all the disciplinary fields. This position indicates quite well that the argument in question does not so much concern travel as such, but reading; or rather, it does concern travel only in so far as, through a slippage, it primarily concerns reading, since the critique directed against books gains support from that directed against travel: Descartes has recourse to an analogy between travel and reading only so as to discredit reading. Thus a general principle of analogy: “Conversing with those of other ages is about the same thing as traveling”; which means that, if travel, despite the profit that can be drawn from it, renders one “a stranger in one’s own country” (6, 27), [33] then letters themselves render oneself a stranger in the world and in one’s own time, and make one lose the sense of the categories of the possible and impossible. The prior disqualification of travel thus permits the disqualification of letters. This analogy is found again in DM 10, 12–26, where the great book of the world offers the same disparity as books themselves. But then the movement is inverted: whereas in VI, 6 the disqualification of travel allows, through a slippage, the disqualification of letters, in VI, 10 it is the disqualification of letters that opens onto the disqualification of travels, still by way of analogy. Travel and letters in the Discourse thus work towards a mutual disqualification, according to crisscrossing repudiations: the introduction of the shortcomings of travel in the argument on letters dismisses letters, and the introduction of the shortcomings of letters in the argument on travel dismisses travel.

26 So we can see that the principle of these repudiations remains the same—a principle which, identifying temporal distancing and spatial distancing, is announced rather early on: “Conversing…is about the same thing as travel” (6, 19–21). Whence is established a (quasi-) equality between the book of the world and the world of the book, which disqualifies both.

27 Yet this principle of quasi-equivalence is marked in Montaigne first of all: “In his commerce with men I mean him to include—and that principally—those who live only in the memory of books…these great souls of former years” (I, 26, 156). [34] As in Descartes, reading and travel are both subsumed under the category “commerce with men.” However, (and here is the great reversal) the Discourse on Method makes a considerable step forward. Since reading equals travel, the reading of the great book of the world leads to the same impasses as the reading of books: it offers no certainty, and the diversity of customs is just a species of the diversity of opinions. Travel confounds the mind in search of truth just as scholasticism does: “[S]o long as I merely considered the customs of other men, I found hardly anything there about which to be confident…. I noticed there was about as much diversity as I had previously found among the opinions of philosophers” (10, 12–16). [35] Descartes thus turns against Montaigne a principle of equivalence that is itself Montaignian. It is in the name of Montaigne that Descartes disqualifies Montaigne; thus, the tour de force consists in playing Montaigne against Montaigne. [36] Descartes appeals to travel for the same reasons as Montaigne, but disqualifies travel in virtue of the principle of identity travel/reading, which is itself Montaignian.

28 Let us go further in the description of this reversal. In tracing back reading and travel to the practice of men, Montaigne had added to the reading of books that of the great book of nature: added, not replaced. In Montaigne’s eyes, reading as principle of humanist culture is maintained: the shortcomings of reading, far from disqualifying it radically, call for its complement—its complement, and not its surpassing—in the reading of the great book of the world. The young humanist advances only armed with two lots of baggage, with two libraries: the authors of the tradition and the great book of the world. Thus, in Montaigne, the assimilation of the two books weighs in favor of a principle of addition: the two books, in being added together, complement and correct each other. In Descartes, on the other hand, this assimilation weighs in favor of a principle of disqualification. It is not a matter of positing that teaching and travel are without effect on the young man and do not constitute an education to be recommended, but rather of claiming that they are without effect—or even that they are counterproductive—in the search for truth. With one book replacing the other (the book of the world replacing the book), Descartes does not operate a principle of addition, but a principle of substitution based upon a disqualification that is in each case precise and without appeal. However, Descartes does begin with Montaigne. What has happened? Montaigne’s starting point and that of Descartes are indeed the same: reading and travel allow us to see human variety, and this is why they can be subsumed under the same category (“commerce with men,” in Montaigne’s words). But then, from one to the other, what is the difference? It is that, finding in the customs of men the same “diversity” (10, 15) [37] as in philosophical opinions, Descartes recuses both diversities, and thus rejects the book of the world just as he had previously rejected the books of the school. What differs between Descartes and Montaigne is thus their conception of truth: whereas Montaignian empiricism accommodates itself to the variety of things, and ends up with a skeptical theory of knowledge, [38] Cartesian rationalism posits, on the example of mathematics, that truth is one: far from satisfying the Cartesian mind’s appetite for truth, “diversity” boosts and widens it, whereas Montaigne is content to entertain this diversity indefinitely.

29 This conclusion is attested to on one particular point: the relation between custom and truth. For Descartes as for Montaigne, travel reveals the importance of custom. Descartes:


I learnt not to believe anything too firmly of which I had been persuaded only by example and custom; and thus little by little freed myself from many errors [the quantitative importance of custom] that can darken our natural light and render us less able to listen to reason [the qualitative importance of custom]
(10, 21–26). [39]

31 Montaigne:

32 It is for custom to give shape to our lives, such shape as it will (III, 13, 1080); [40]


[Habit] later discloses an angry tyrannous countenance, against which we are no longer allowed even to lift up our eyes.
(I, 23, 109); [41]


The principal effect of custom is to seize us and to grip us in her claws that it is hardly in our power to struggle free and to come back into ourselves, where we can reason and argue about her ordinances
(I, 23, 115–116). [42]

35 But this importance accorded to custom gives rise here and there to not only different but exactly contrary positions. (a) For Descartes, custom must be rejected as a source of errors, as an obscuring of the natural light in the search for truth (but not in the conduct of life, since Descartes maintains the distinction between the epistemological plane and the practical plane). [43] Methodological doubt will consist in disencumbering oneself of custom, literally in casting doubt upon it. (b) For Montaigne, on the other hand, custom is truth itself, since there is no other truth to which we have access: “The more he reads, the more he lives, the more he is convinced that experience and custom shape what we call truth.” [44] For if “[t]he essence of truth is to be constant and uniform [divine, therefore, and inaccessible], … [and] out of weakness we corrupt and debase it” (II, 12, 553), [45] then truth ends up being conflated with custom, so that it is not a matter of disencumbering oneself of custom, but merely “of becoming conscious of its alienating mechanism.” [46]

36 Thus, the relation to travel and the association between travel and reading are grounded in a conception of truth. For Montaigne, travel and reading, in being identified, are brought together, giving a motley vision of the world which ends up being the very truth of a world deserted by being. For Descartes, the motley vision of a Montaigne is not to be recused in the field of action, but it can in no way accede to the dignity of truth, since on the contrary it contradicts it exactly.

3. Passage to the Third Level: Two Books Plus One

“To Study in Myself Too”: A Topical Investigation?

37 It is here that the reversal of the Montaignian thesis is doubled by a surpassing. Unsatisfied with the schools and the great book of nature, Descartes adds a third book: the self.


But after I had spent some years thus studying in the book of the world and in trying to gain some experience, I resolved one day to study within myself too and to spend all the powers of my mind in choosing the path that I should follow (10, 26–31; emphasis mine). [47]

39 The investigation of the self is thus but the third moment of a search that the two preceding moments had left unsatisfied. This passage to the study within the self, as banal as it may seem, takes on a very particular cast if one is attentive to its position, after the appeal to books and to the great book of the world; to the use of the book of the schools and then of the great book of nature. For these, Descartes ultimately substitutes the use of the self as book. Note that Descartes does not say “to study myself,” but “to study within myself too”: the self becoming, not an object of study, but the site of a possible study—in short, a book. One studies in oneself as one studies in a book. Thus, here we find a work on a locus communis (the book properly so called/the great book of the world/the book of the self), which must be measured in order to take the measure of the magnitude of the Cartesian decision.

40 Ernst Robert Curtius has shown this in his masterful work European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages:


Summing up, we find that the concept of the world or nature as a “book” originated in pulpit eloquence, was then adopted by medieval mystico-philosophical speculation, and finally passed into common usage. In the course of this development the “book of the world” was frequently secularized, i.e., was alienated from its theological origin, but this was by no means always the case. [48]

42 There can be no doubt that the usage of the book of the world in Montaigne and Descartes is, to a large extent, “secularized,” and is not the product of a “common usage” of the topos; and indeed Curtius cites both, opposing them to Bacon, who conserves the theological representation in his De augmentis scientarium. [49] It is no longer a matter of making of the creatura a “liber sanctae doctrinae,” as the Imitation of Jesus Christ (II, 4) has it, nor even of affirming, as does Louis of Granada (1504–1588) in his Símbolo de la fe, that “filosofar en este gran libro de las criaturas” (“philosophizing in the great book of creatures”) allows us to see the creatures “como letras quebradas y iluminadas que declaran bien el primor y la sabiduría de su autor” (“like broken and illuminated letters that proclaim highly the beauty and wisdom of their author”). Certain differences are found in the different forms of the alternative liber scripturae/liber creaturae, or, in the exemplary words of Campanella, between codex scriptus (the Bible) and codex vivus (Nature), the idea of a book of the world that doubles that of holy scripture must serve to multiply the traces of God in the world and to call man to seek his creator. [50] Nonetheless, in so far as it can be traced, this dichotomy sometimes covers very different things, and the liber creaturae may signify just as well man as nature, and, sometimes even wider, everything terrestrial. The human mind itself may be compared to a book: Curtius evokes John of Salisbury, for whom our reason is a book wherein are inscribed divine ideas and the images of things; [51] but this is also the case for Nicholas of Cusa: “Mens vero est ut liber intellectualis, in se ipso et omnibus intentionem scribentis videns.” [52]

43 How to situate Descartes and Montaigne in this history of a topos? The matter is simple, almost schematic: whereas Montaigne is content to add (according to the principle of addition that we have emphasized) the experience of the world to the experience of books, articulating with each other the two books of tradition, Descartes proceeds in two stages: a first disqualification of books substitutes travels for them (principle of substitution); and then, in virtue of the principle of quasi-equivalence between travel and reading, a second disqualification substitutes for the book of the world the book of the self. Descartes thus added to Montaigne’s two books (liber scripturae/liber mundi) the book of the self—liber mentis, book of the mens, if we dare authorize Nicholas de Cusa as anticipating the Meditationes. In adding them, he did not just “pile” them one on top of the other in such a way as to conserve the preceding books each time a new one appeared: unlike Montaigne, and the whole tradition of the two books, Descartes replaces one book with another, and in the end, replaces the world of the book and the book of the world with the book of the self. This book of the self does not preserve the other books, and is not situated in relation to them as in an ever-living and sometimes dialectical opposition—he simply sees them off, radically disqualifies them, expatriates them from the site of truth. The self becomes the sole book in which truth may ultimately be read, or at least where it must be sought.

44 Such an interpretation entitles us to a certain objection: Cannot one identify historical antecedents to the Cartesian approach? Is Descartes the first to have made a book of his self? One thinks, obviously, of the case of Saint Augustine or Montaigne himself. We should respond firstly that nowhere in Saint Augustine or in Montaigne does the self come to be substituted, as a third instance of truth, for books and the world, following the succession of stages described in the Discourse on Method. Hence, to find in Montaigne or Augustine the echo of a convocation of the self does not mean that their approaches (themselves very different) can be identified with Descartes’s. Indeed, comparing them will, paradoxically, show up the exact difference. Let us take Augustine, then: if Descartes’s introspective method [53] inevitably owes something to Augustine and to the classical age’s “return to Augustinianism” (a return for which Descartes is, what is more, responsible to a large degree [54]), it nonetheless remains that the Augustinian ego is in no way akin to a book from whose pages it would be possible to instruct oneself. For when Augustine turns to himself, he finds in his heart God, interior intimeo meo. [55] The Interior Master is precisely not the ego, but that which, within the ego, transcends it.

45 The self cannot, therefore, in Augustine, play the part of the fixed site which can be assured of a conscious knowledge of itself; much rather the mind in search of knowledge is carried away in the infinite spiral of memoria which is called God (Confessiones), where one must hearken to the Interior Master, the sole source of true knowledge (De magistro). Thus there is properly speaking no Augustinian self, since the latter loses itself in God: it is not the site of any study, not being itself its own site, since “in place of the self” is found God. [56] Montaigne’s case is notably more delicate: Is the writing of the Essays not constitutive of a book-self (“I am myself the matter of my book”) [57] comparable to the Cartesian book-self? No, and for one reason: the discredit of the Essays to which the ego owes its emergence.

Descartes Contra Montaigne II

46 Our hypothesis is as follows: in dismissing the study of the book of nature, Descartes dismissed a certain experience of himself, namely precisely the Montaignian experience of self: “I spent the rest of my youth traveling…testing myself in the encounters that fortune offered me, and everywhere engaging in such reflection upon the things that presented themselves that I was able to derive some profit from them” (9, 22–28; emphasis mine). [58] These lines, which describe the second book (“the book of the world,” 10, 27), bear witness that the experience of travel gives rise to two types of experience: (i) “testing myself”; (ii) “engaging in reflection on things.” Now, these two experiences, far from already indicating the study within myself (the third book), can easily be interpreted as still-Montaignian experiences, and even as the experiences of which the Essays are very exactly the deployment: (i) The testing of oneself, is this not what constitutes the Essays? What is an essay if not this putting oneself to the test before the manifold of experiences? We would argue that the “testing of myself” of VI, 9, 25 designates very exactly the object of the Montaignian essay, and that it would therefore be nothing more or less than a misinterpretation to understand the “testing myself” (9, 25) as referring to the science of “what could be found within myself” evoked just before (9, 20–21). [59] On the contrary, this science sought within oneself, merely announced in 9, 20, will only be investigated after the moment of the testing of the self, and indeed because of the disqualification of the said test. What is more, these tests of the self are the recollection of (ii) reflective judgments on things: the Montaignian self is determined only through its work, in the testing of things, as judgment on things, as Descartes says. We can thus argue here that the Cartesian experience of travel puts into operation exactly the Montaignian experience of the essay: here the self is found only through the mediation of reflection on things, events, and beings, the memorabilia and curiosa of this world.

47 One argument confirms our analysis: the young Descartes and the Montaigne of the Essays relate and thematize experiences whose proximity is incontestable. For, during the years 1619–1621—precisely the years dedicated to “testing himself in the encounters fortune offered [to him],” according to the words of the Discourse—Descartes had diverse experiences perfectly comparable to the experiences described in the Essays. (a) In a letter to Beeckman dated March 26, 1619, reporting on his peregrinations, he evokes literally the “testing of the self:” “Probavi enim me ipsum, …audacior evasi ad majus iter inchoandumI tested myself, ...and emerged with an increased boldness to undertake a greater voyage” (X, 158, 9–11; emphasis mine). The Montaignian concept of experience subsumes exactly the type of event lived through by Descartes that we refer to, an event relayed by Baillet and a copy made by Leibniz significantly entitled (by Leibniz? by Descartes himself?) Experimenta.

48 Better still, (b) Baillet relates a misadventure that befell Descartes during a voyage (undoubtedly from the Netherlands to Denmark), a misadventure that loses its anecdotal character once it is analyzed in terms of the Essays: Descartes having the allure “of a young man of little experience,” the sailors plot to rob him, before Descartes, understanding their language, anticipates what is coming:


[He] drew his sword with unexpected haughtiness and threatened to run them through there and then if they dared attempt to harm him. It was in this encounter that he perceived the impression a man’s boldness can have on a vile soul; I say a boldness that rises far above one’s forces in execution: a boldness which, on other occasions, might pass for pure bragging. His actions had a marvelous effect on the state of mind of those wretched scoundrels. The fright they had was followed by a stupefaction that prevented them from considering their advantage, and they took them on their way as peaceably as could be wished. [60]

50 This passage should be compared with chapter 12 of book 3 of the Essays (1060–1062), [61] where Montaigne recounts two adventures from which only his “fine air and presence” extracted him (1060). [62] Like Descartes, Montaigne only escaped the incident (both times involuntarily) through his “countenance,” the first time through his “frank behavior” (1061), [63] the second through his “firmness” (1062). [64] A cavalier attitude makes the enemy retreat, ipso facto defeating them. It is this type of experience that the Essays recount: “It has often happened that people who have had no previous acquaintance with me, people going merely by my fine air and presence, have put great trust in me either for their own affairs or my own” (1060). [65] And in introducing the story of these two episodes, Montaigne does invoke the concept of experience: “The following two experiences are perhaps both worth narrating in detail” (1060). [66] The second moment of the Cartesian itinerary is thus very literally a “Montaignian moment.” In this sense, the Montaignian essay could well be translated, in the Cartesian lexicon, by a probatio sui ipsius (“Probavi enim me ipsum”), a testing of the self.

51 One last argument may confirm our analysis: the role allotted to fortune. It will be agreed that in Cartesianism submission to fortune in place of method and the voluntary direction of the mind is so far from commonplace as to merit emphasis: “Testing myself in the encounters that fortune offered me” (9, 25–26), [67] or: “Engaging in such reflection upon the things that presented themselves” (9, 27–28). [68] Thus the traveler’s mind in Descartes allows itself to be manipulated by chance, whose circumstances it can only afterward recollect or reflect upon. This is precisely what the practice of the essay brings into play: the submission to fortune, to occasions, to accidental sources of inspiration or of experiences of the self, all diversities designated by the Montaignian term fortuit. Montaigne recognizes this: “I am moreover a man who willingly commit myself to fortune and throw myself headlong into her arms; and have hitherto found more reason to applaud, than to condemn my conduct in so doing” (III, 12, 1061). [69] In short, the Montaignian essay, in so far as it obeys the vagaries of fortune, corresponds to the Cartesian voyage; on the other hand, the Cartesian decision “to study within myself too” will repudiate fortune—as, at the same time, it repudiates the Montaignian essay: “I resolved one day to study within myself too and to spend all the powers of my mind in choosing the path that I should follow” (10, 28–31; my emphasis). [70] The Cartesian resolution is thus opposed, in every point, to Montaignian carelessness (“and throw myself headlong into her arms”).

52 We must conclude that in disqualifying the experience of travels, Descartes thereby also disqualifies the Montaignian egoistic experience as unfit to deliver truth. There is consequently a substitution, for the (Montaignian) experience of the self, of another (properly Cartesian) experience of the ego:


But after I had spent some years thus studying in the book of the world and in trying to gain some experience, I resolved one day to study within myself too and to spend all the powers of my mind in choosing the path that I should follow (10, 26–31; emphasis mine). [71]

54 The Montaignian ego cannot deliver truth, for it finds itself before the already constituted: it consists only in a reflection, a recollection of an experience always already proposed by fortune. It is this shortcoming that the Cartesian experience of the ego will palliate. Is the nature of this study within oneself already identifiable, at the moment? Certainly not in this first part of the Discourse: let us posit that it is a matter of the metaphysical investigation reported in the fourth part and in the Meditationes de prima philosophia. It is therefore to an ego very different from the Montaignian self that the experience of doubt and then of the cogito will open up: an ego which, far from being born of a confrontation with the world, as in Montaigne or in the Cartesian travels, is born of a refusal of the world, of its revocation in doubt. At the same time, it is an ego that is not born of any judgment upon the realia, but which is constituted as an autoaffective act, an act of grasping oneself, which could be qualified as a “metaphysical experience,” in Ferdinand Alquié’s words; an ego which, far from finding itself faced with an always already-constituted experience, would have to reconstitute it as much as rediscover it—that is to say, an ego that would assume a transcendental function, in which the experience of the cogito may be called an experience of the transcendental ego, since it gives access not so much to a self that exists or reveals itself only in judgment (as in Montaigne), but to a self that makes possible all judgment and which is the foundation of everything that can be an object of judgment. Whereas in Montaigne we find deployed a “nontranscendental phenomenology,” [72] Descartes secures his knowledge by experiencing in himself the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, and thus already opening up the perspective of transcendental phenomenology. [73]

Conclusions: The Cogito and Experience

55 Montaigne’s Essays may well constitute a study of self, a study whose essential resource is the variety of the world which puts the self to the test; but they never offer a study of the ego pure and simple. The empirical subjectivity of the Montaignian horizon can therefore offer nothing certain, charged as it is with the variations and fluctuations which Cartesian research cannot accommodate, and which it dismisses under the name of experiences. Montaigne may well affirm that “it is not what I do that I write of, but of me, of what I am” (II, 6, 379), [74] but the self here is the self that makes a unity out of diverse experiences. It is a result-self, a product-self; the Montaignian self emerges from the Essays[75]—whereas the Cartesian experience of the ego is the experience of a condition of the emergence of all experience, of the condition of emergence as such; of an ego as starting point. The Montaignian self can be discerned in the Discourse only as that subject that undergoes the testing of the self in contact with the world, according to the hazards of the world—but which very quickly frees itself from this type of test in order to substitute for it another, metaphysical, reasoned and ordered investigation: “Where I seek myself I cannot find myself; I discover myself more by accident than by inquiring into my judgment” (I, 10, 40). [76] Montaigne stops here, whereupon Descartes, after having accompanied him for a certain time, abandons him in favor of a mastered and ordered knowledge of self. Thus it is that subjectivity is constituted with Descartes at the dawn of modernity. This is why Descartes abandoned reading and the practice of the world, two experiences of books (liber scriptus, liber mundi) which Montaigne sought to conjugate, and whose association would constitute in some way the very matter of his self. This very abandonment itself leads to the Cartesian refusal of that conception of truth as dispersed and uncertain which Montaigne is quite happy to accommodate. In search of truth, of a fundamentum inconcussum (as Heidegger says, but never Descartes), Descartes could not be satisfied with the experience of books or that of the great book of the world; and this is why, once book learning had been disqualified, and once the study of the great book of the world had been disqualified—that is to say, once Montaigne himself had been disqualified—Descartes came to add to this topical couplet a third term: the self as book. From the first to the second level, and from the second to the third, it is always the unsatisfied desire for truth that raises itself to the indubitable experience of the cogito, sum. Thus the Montaignian experience of the self does not at all anticipate the Cartesian experience of the ego, for it does not offer the self to itself as site of a possible investigation; on the contrary even, since, in Montaigne, the self results from the hermeneutic of the world.

56 The last phrase of the Discourse makes very explicit what is to be gained by such an approach, which consists in surpassing the world of the book with the book of the world, and then the book of the world with the book of the self: “In this [studying within myself] I had much more success, it seems to me, than had I never left either my country or my books” (10, 31–11, 2). [77] How does the refounding by the ego require the foregoing experiences? The matter would be entirely comprehensible if the three levels constituted the three moments of a dialectic, but this is not the case. No internal necessity calls for the passage from one age to another, unless it is the insufficiency, before the desire for truth, of the first two moments. This dependency can only be understood as the appeal to an external adjuvant to the experience of doubt and of the cogito: the success of the cogito is all the more assured if the doubt is better entertained, and Descartes better manages to “feign” and “to fool [him]self.” What enterprise of persuasion, albeit self-directed, can do without arguments? Doubtless the two levels prior to the cogito then acquire the status of arguments, mobilized by an imagination which, in the metaphysical experience, ceaselessly intervenes and feeds itself “reasons to doubt.” A capital status since, from being sterile experiences in truth, they would acquire, within the horizon of the cogito, the precogitative status of motives and motifs, that is to say methodological auxiliaries in the search for the true. [78] Further, is it not in this functional mutation—the probable in the service of the true, just as error is the child of our freedom—that we must see the Cartesian theodicy?


  • [1]
    Citations of Descartes refer to Charles Adam and Paul Tannery’s Œuvres complètes, revised by B. Rochot and P. Costabel, 11 vols. (Paris: Vrin/CNRS, 1964–1974). We indicate the volume and lines, without always giving the indication ‘AT.’ DM is used for the Discourse on Method. For Montaigne, we cite the Essais in the Villey-Saulnier edition (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1965, republished in the “Quadrige” imprint, 1999), indicating in brackets the number of the book, chapter, and page (for example: III, 4, 837). [The English translations cited are René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. D. Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), and Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, trans. and ed. M. A. Screech (London: Penguin, 2003).]
  • [2]
    On these debates, see Olivier Boulnois, ed., Généalogies du sujet (Paris: Vrin, 2007); Alain de Libera, Archéologie du sujet, 2 vols. (Paris: Vrin, 2007–2008); Gwenaëlle Aubry and Frédérique Ildefonse, eds., Le Moi et l’intériorité (Paris: Vrin, 2008); Vincent Carraud, L’Invention du moi (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2010).
  • [3]
    The Montaigne/Descartes rapprochement, a common resort of Montaignian and above all Cartesian studies has, to our knowledge, to date only been the subject of local studies (including Léon Brunschvicg’s disappointing work Descartes et Pascal lecteurs de Montaigne (Neuchâtel: La Braconnière, 1942–1945; republished, Paris: Pocket, 1995), and is sadly lacking in any overall study.
  • [4]
    Cf. Descartes, Discours de la méthode, with text and commentary by Étienne Gilson (Paris: Vrin, 1925), whose critical apparatus abounds in references to Montaigne’s Essays.
  • [5]
    Montaigne, “To the Reader,” in The Complete Essays, xv [Essais, 3].
  • [6]
    The ego does not belong immediately in the Meditationes to metaphysics, as Jean-Luc Marion has shown (“Quelle est la métaphysique dans la méthode?” in Questions cartésiennes I (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1991), especially 61 ff) and, above all, Vincent Carraud (L’invention du moi, sixth lesson).
  • [7]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3.
  • [8]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3.
  • [9]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3.
  • [10]
    Cf. Descartes to ***, September 12, 1638 (?), AT II, 377–379. This letter sheds all the more light upon the critique of the Discourse in so far as it is almost contemporary with it.
  • [11]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3.
  • [12]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3.
  • [13]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3.
  • [14]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3.
  • [15]
    Descartes, Discourse, 3–4.
  • [16]
    Descartes, Discourse, 4.
  • [17]
    We see here the retrospective light that these lines cast. For if Descartes affirms firstly, as if to valorize it, that “theology teaches us to get to heaven,” the reminder of the virtue of the ignorant condemns it subsequently as futile.
  • [18]
    On this point, see Denis Kambouchner, “Descartes et la culture,” Bulletin de la Société Française de Philosophie (2000), and my own study, “Historia philosophiae, historia stultitae? Critique, stratégie et inspiration: pour une réévaluation de la conception cartésienne de l’histoire de la philosophie,” in Klésis (2009).
  • [19]
    Descartes, Discourse, 5–6. We have excised “within myself” (5)[9, 21] here, since our entire aim is precisely to situate this “within myself” in relation to the Cartesian project.
  • [20]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [21]
    This point should, no doubt, be related to the motif—precocious, perennial and deployed in various forms—of the “utility” of philosophy (cf. already, the “utilitas methodi” of the Regulae, AT X, 373).
  • [22]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [23]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [24]
    Descartes, Discourse, 4.
  • [25]
    We do not claim to give an exposition of the Montaignian thinking on travel and “commerce with the world” in itself, since it is a very rich subject: cf. Jean Balsamo’s article “Voyage(s),” in Dictionnaire de Michel de Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan (Paris: Champion, 2004), 1207–1211. Also, the critique of ethnocentrism is made above all through the intermediary of the new world, and thus of stories of travels, rather than travels themselves.
  • [26]
    Montaigne, Essays, 766–767.
  • [27]
    Montaigne, Essays, 172.
  • [28]
    Montaigne, Essays, 172.
  • [29]
    Montaigne, Essays, 130.
  • [30]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [31]
    Descartes, Discourse, 4.
  • [32]
    Descartes, Discourse, 4.
  • [33]
    Descartes, Discourse, 4.
  • [34]
    Montaigne, Essays, 175.
  • [35]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [36]
    It is entirely significant that the extracts from Montaigne cited are all drawn from essay 26, “On Educating Children,” a veritable treatise on Montaignian education, and that the Discourse on Method, at least in its first part, show us the years of education of the young Descartes. Such a rapprochement allows us to presume the humanist context of Descartes’s youth. We must then remember, with Henri Gouhier, who makes it the primary thesis of his Premières Pensées de Descartes (Paris: Vrin, 1958), that Descartes’s critique of his own education, as being unsuited to offering the truth, must be open to interpretation as a critique of the humanist tradition of teaching.
  • [37]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [38]
    Of knowledge, not of truth: to write that “we have no communication with being” does not mean that truth—being—is not (as for Pyrrho, according to Marcel Conche), but that we have no access to it. It is on the basis of a Platonic conception of truth (immutability and eternity) that Montaigne refuses to human cognition, always grappling with change and movement, the possibility of attaining essences.
  • [39]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [40]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1226.
  • [41]
    Montaigne, Essays, 122.
  • [42]
    Montaigne, Essays, 130.
  • [43]
    Cf. IVae Responsiones, AT VII, 149, 5, and Principia 1, 3, AT VII, 5.
  • [44]
    Philippe Desan, “Vérité,” in Dictionnaire, ed. Desan, 1179–1182; here, 1179.
  • [45]
    Montaigne, Essays, 622.
  • [46]
    André Tournon, “Coutume,” in Dictionnaire, ed. Desan, 266–269; here, 268.
  • [47]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [48]
    Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 321 [La Littérature européenne et le Moyen Âge latin, trans. J. Bréjoux (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1956), 34]. The whole of chap. 16, section 7, 319–325 [Vol. II, chapter 6, section 7, 32–41], concerns the question of the two books and the “book of the world”; one will find there all the references cited, and many more.
  • [49]
    De augmentis scientarium, Book I, in Opera (Frankfurt, 1655), 26; cited in Curtius, European Literature, 322 [La Littérature européenne, 35].
  • [50]
    We know that Sebond went too far in claiming that “scripturas sacras facile quis impia interpretatione subruere potest, sed nemo est tam execrandi dogmatis hereticus, qui naturae librum falsificare possit (cited by Curtius, European Literature, 320 [La Littérature européenne, 31]): this inversion of the dogmatic relations between liber naturae and scripturae sacrae earned him a condemnation from the Council of Trent.
  • [51]
    Policraticus, ed. Webber, I, 173, cited by Curtius, European Literature, 320 [La Littérature européenne, 33].
  • [52]
    De apice theoriae, precept 6, cited by Curtius, European Literature, 321 [La Littérature européenne, 34].
  • [53]
    We use this word for want of a better one, conscious that there is, properly speaking, no Augustinian interiority, but that the ego is always decentered, God being “interior intimeo meo.”
  • [54]
    Cf. Henri Gouhier, Cartésianisme et augustinisme au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Vrin, 1978) and, in particular, Geneviève Rodis-Lewis’s enlightening and decisive theory: “Far from having engaged with the echo of the prevailing Augustinianism, Descartes seems to have allowed his contemporaries to discover the metaphysical originality of the thinker from Hippo through his affinities with the Cartesian approach. The second half of the seventeenth century therefore saw an alliance between Augustinianism and Cartesianism that was strictly limited to the perspectives of the latter system” (Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, “Augustinisme et cartésianisme,” in Augustinus magister: Congrès International Augustinien, Paris, 21–24 septembre 1954: Communications (Paris:  E?tudes Augustiniennes, 1954), 1087–1104; reprinted in L’Anthropologie cartésienne (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1990), 101–125 (here, 101)).
  • [55]
    Tu autem eras interior intimo meo et superior summo meo—you are more interior than the interior of myself and more high than the most high of myself,” Confessiones III, 16, 11 (Bibliothèque Augustinienne, 13, 382).
  • [56]
    To take up the title of Jean-Luc Marion’s book, Au Lieu de soi. L’approche de saint Augustin (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2008). See in particular §10–13 and 43, from which we borrow our analyses.
  • [57]
    Essays, “To the Reader,” xv [Essais, “Au lecteur,” 3].
  • [58]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [59]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [60]
    A. Baillet, The Life of Monsieur Des Cartes…, trans. “S. R.” (London: R. Simpson, 1693) [Vie de Monsieur Descartes, I, 102–103.] Translation modified.
  • [61]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1173–1206.
  • [62]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1202.
  • [63]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1203.
  • [64]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1205.
  • [65]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1202.
  • [66]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1201.
  • [67]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [68]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [69]
    Montaigne, Essays, 1203. Montaigne would judge the Cartesian method impossible, precisely because fortune and chance also direct our thoughts: “‘We argue rashly and inadvisedly,’ says Timaeus in Plato, because in our reasoning as in ourselves, a great part is played by chance” (I, 47, 286); Montaigne, Essays, 320.
  • [70]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [71]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [72]
    According to the just expression of Jocelyn Benoist: “Montaigne, penseur de l’empirisme radical: une phénoménologie non transcendantale,” in Montaigne: scepticisme, métaphysique, théologie, eds. Vincent Carraud and Jean-Luc Marion (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2004), 211–228.
  • [73]
    Husserl recognizes this entirely explicitly, despite his criticisms of Descartes: “France’s greatest thinker, René Descartes, gave transcendental phenomenology new impulses through his Meditations; their study acted quite directly on the transformation of an already developing phenomenology into a new type of transcendental philosophy.” Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, trans. D. Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960), 1 [Méditations cartésiennes, trans. Pfieffer-Levinas (Paris: Vrin, 1947; paperback edition 1992), 17].
  • [74]
    Montaigne, Essays, 426.
  • [75]
    Jean-Luc Marion puts it very well, albeit according to a conceptuality that is certainly non-Montaignian: “Thus Montaigne does not start with the ‘I,’ as a lazy reading might lead us to think; he only ends up arriving at it, not without difficulty, and always provisionally, by applying himself to the hard discipline of reduction” (“Qui suis-je pour ne pas dire ego sum, ego existo?,” in Montaigne, eds. V. Carraud and J.-L. Marion, 248.
  • [76]
    Montaigne, Essays, 40.
  • [77]
    Descartes, Discourse, 6.
  • [78]
    The letter to Mesland of May 2, 1644, sets out the “metaphysical” modalities of such a “practical” recourse to motives and to “reasons to doubt.”

This article seeks to show how the first part of the Discourse on Method is the locus of experiences that can properly be called “Montaignian,” and which are divided into two type of practices: the practice of books on one hand, and that of travels on the other; in other words, the reading of other authors and frequentation of the world. Thus reprising a cliché of medieval literature—the dichotomy between liber scripturae and liber naturae, the world of the book and the book of the world—Montaigne finds himself surpassed by Descartes, for whom the search for truth ultimately cannot be pursued without studying within oneself. The Cartesian excess over Montaigne, which consists in recusing liber naturae and liber scripturae alike (albeit not without having practised them first) thus goes hand in hand with the promotion of a transcendental-type subjectivity which can be opposed to Montaignian subjectivity.

Dan Arbib
Fondation Thiers/CNRS
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