Montaigne, Charron, Descartes

Michael Moriarty

in Disguised Vices

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199589371
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191728808 | DOI:
Montaigne, Charron, Descartes

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Montaigne’s ethical views are complex and his positions sometimes ambiguous or apparently inconsistent. He condemns the attempt to find discreditable explanations for the great deeds of the great men of antiquity, but he finds his own age singularly lacking in virtue, because no one pursues virtue for its own sake. (Glory is an inadequate motive.) In general, he is shown to hold a more or less Aristotelian (or Aristotelian-Ciceronian) conception of virtue: but he stresses the difficulty of accounting for extreme actions of virtue within this framework, so that it becomes uncertain whether we should condemn the actions for the sake of their excess or question the framework that excludes them. His follower Charron echoes him in pointing to the extent to which good deeds can be done for bad motives. Descartes insists that rational judgement is essential to virtue, but this is in keeping with the Aristotelian conception.

Keywords: Montaigne; Charron; Descartes; Aristotle; Stoics; passion; motive

Chapter.  12798 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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