Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
In my thesis, I use Michel de Montaigne’s Essays and Plato’s Gorgias (with reference to the Apology and the Republic) to consider why Montaigne seems to make a distinction between Socrates and Plato. Throughout the Essays, Montaigne demonstrates not only that he sees the excessive separation of the body and the soul as a crucial cause of the religious fanaticism of his time, but also that he finds this longing to separate the body and the soul in many expressions of Plato. At the same time, Montaigne often uses rhetoric that portrays Socrates as an example of the moderation that Montaigne calls virtue. By examining Montaigne’s discussion of the relationship between the body and the soul, the religious question, and the philosopher’s role in political life, I develop the argument that Montaigne’s criticism of “Plato” is really his criticism of the potentially harmful effects of Plato’s super-moral rhetoric. Montaigne’s “Socrates,” therefore, is really Montaigne’s representation of what he believes is the true Plato. Through an exploration of how Plato uses rhetoric in the Gorgias—a dialogue I chose because it both depicts Socrates employing rhetoric and involves extensive and explicit discussions of rhetoric—I begin to show that this super-moral rhetoric does not exemplify Plato’s real views, demonstrating that Montaigne’s idea may be correct. At the same time, Montaigne’s description of Socrates is not entirely rhetorical, for it also serves to reveal Montaigne’s fundamental disagreement with Plato: Montaigne does not believe virtue is knowledge, a view that also affects his thoughts on the character of the philosopher and the relationship between philosophy and politics. Rhetoric, therefore, is not simply a covering to be lifted in order to gaze upon the philosophers’ real ideas; it is a crucial expression of those ideas in itself, and, as Montaigne demonstrates, it has its own intense and lasting impact on the philosophy, religion, and politics of future generations.
Davis, Emily Anne, ""See Plato Soaring Upward": How Montaigne's Criticism of Platonic Rhetoric, When Compared to Plato's Use of Rhetoric in the Gorgias, Illuminates Their Political Philosophical Views" (2019). Honors Theses. 218.