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On the Authority of Montaigne and Rabelais: Questioning Authority in an Unquestionable World.

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On the Authority of Montaigne and Rabelais: Questioning Authority in an Unquestionable World Don Tran In the age of medieval Christian thought, classical authorities reigned supreme as the ultimate source of knowledge about what was right and what was wrong. This, however, in the age of Christian humanist thought, was challenged by two writers in particular, Francois Rabelais and Michel de Montaigne. In their writings, they criticize European acceptance of dogma and what modern thinkers would today term "book knowledge," or learning without thinking carefully about what they learned. Throughout both of their works, Montaigne and Rabelais cite many past writers in a show of respect for their authority. Many will misinterpret Rabelais' and Montaigne's reference to authorities by calling them hypocritical. After all, it seems logical that if they were to criticize authorities in general, they would be reluctant to cite them at all. However, it is important to note that both authors do not bash authorities; rather, they only criticize the blind acceptance of such authorities. Thus, in analyzing both authors' viewpoints about the role that authority should have in one's life, it can be concluded that they ultimately share more than they do differ in their opinions. Their belief that acquiring knowledge should have high priority in daily activity, the theme of "knowing yourself" as the ultimate requisite before becoming an authority yourself, and finally, guidelines that reflect the danger of blind acceptance of authority in critical decisions, indeed run parallel throughout Rabelais' and Montaigne's thought. ...read more.


Throughout Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais emphasizes what seems to be the theme of the book: "know yourself." Montaigne indeed is no different in his beliefs on the importance self reflection and self discovery, before beginning to make any judgments as an authority. As a matter of fact, Montaigne begins his entire treatise by emphasizing that "I, myself, am the subject of this book" (3). His essays, therefore, were meant as a source of self-reflection, not necessarily to become an authority on subjects such as education of children. Although Montaigne does feel that many could learn from his own experiences, he does not intend this as the primary purpose of the book. His Essays therefore are the ultimate culmination and end product of "knowing yourself," in written form. Self-criticism, thus, is an important part of both authors' works. For example, Montaigne encourages students to "be satisfied with correcting himself without being seen to reproach others for doing things he would not do himself and without flouting public morality" (47). Thus, what Montaigne is asserting is that authorities do not always have to be another scholar or person: they can often be oneself. However, doing so requires much discipline and the ability to use reason to assess, analyze and evaluate one's own mistakes. Also, another point is the idea of doing what makes sense and what is reasonable for each individual. However, rational decisions are prevented if authorities are in that individual's mind superior to reason. ...read more.


out the capacity for each person...he must use what he can get, take what a man has to sell and see that nothing goes wasted: even other people's stupidity and weakness serve to instruct him" (49). Montaigne echoes his thoughts about the importance of allowing only those who are qualified to truly be considered authorities by asserting the importance for men to "leave all that to those who make it their express profession" (63). Without set guidelines for discerning who is an authority and who is not, society becomes chaotic without any guide. While both Rabelais and Montaigne realize that it is only natural for men to look up to other men for assistance help, they encourage the importance of rationality in allowing those authorities to make judgments. Throughout the sixteenth century, the place of authority in the average man's life was troubling. Because of the convenience, men were less inclined to learn and think for themselves; instead, they let others think for them. Montaigne and Rableais were particularly interested in revitalizing the minds of western Europe. This would eventually pave the way to the Enlightenment period and modern thinking, even as we know it today. Without writers like Montaigne and Rabelais, there is a good chance that society would still for the most part be in a western dogmatic daze. Without Montaigne and Rabelais questioning authority, knowledge would be minimized to mere recitation more than anything else. When intellect and scholasticism begins to be trivialized, this is when society falls to those who act upon petty emotion and irrationality. Tran 3 ...read more.

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