Montaigne, then, is not a "skeptic" in the sense of a shoulder-shrugging philosopher who looks at the world with tolerant amusement; he is skeptical in the sense of the reader who does not believe without evidence and the scholar who does not take any particular truth as final. This outlook in no way prevents having rooted convictions. To name only one, Montaigne is sure that people ought not to be burnt alive for their beliefs.
Montaigne lived in an age full of people who knew that they, and they alone, had the truth, direct from God---and these truth-bearers all disagreed. Reflecting on a far wider set of facts and with greater self-knowledge, Montaigne was at pains to make the point that Cromwell later phrased so superbly: "By the bowels of Christ, bethink ye that ye may be mistaken."
Tags: Jacque Barzun, Barzun's Read more!