Accueil > "Founding the Good City in One’s Soul”: Montaigne and the Humanist Response to Evil


Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

Humanism, broadly defined, offered one of history's more optimistic portraits of human potential. Many humanists of the early modern era, inspired by ancient philosophical thought, viewed the inner work of the individual as having a profound influence on the collective good. Indeed, one way to achieve the good and circumvent evil was to put vita contemplativa (private, contemplative life) in service of vita activa (political life). The early modern humanist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) provided one of history's most compelling examples of this in writing his Essays. The Essays are at once private and public and deal in a highly introspective way with the existence of evil in the polis amidst religious strife and civil war. In this seminar, we will use Montaigne's Essays as an entry point for considering the humanist response to evil in the public sphere. We will examine some of the following themes: the relationship between self-interest and the public good, moderation versus ambition, philosophy as therapeia for the ills of the polis, empathy in the face of condoned cruelty, and the politics of friendship versus the Machiavellian politics of power. The seminar will privilege close readings of the Essays in English (with the option of additionally following in the original French). Students will be required to purchase the Penguin Classics version of the Essays (trans. and ed. M.A. Screech, 2003). Additional secondary sources will be provided electronically. N.B. The first part of the title is borrowed from Michael Allen Gillespie's work on humanistic liberalism.


MAGIN, Johanna C. (Responsable pédagogique campus de Reims, Sciences Po)

Required reading

Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Essays. Trans. and ed. M.A. Screech. New York: Penguin, 2003