Review of Metaphysics 44 (4):833-834 (1991)

"The discipline of subjectivity" is Ermanno Bencivenga's term for the "training" an individual must undergo "for there to be a self", a theme he explores through a "dialogue" with Montaigne's Essays. The form of this study is unconventional in that it "has a very short bibliography" ; indeed, the book is devoid of reference to other studies of the Essays, and the bibliography is limited largely to the author's own previous writings. Bencivenga's interpretation of Montaigne's thought is nonetheless conventional in substance, in that he adheres to the commonly accepted view of Montaigne as a steadfast conservative in matters of political practice who paradoxically pursued a radical independence of private thought and judgment. Bencivenga also confronts the paradox that Montaigne, while affirming his own reliance on reason, frequently laments the tendency of human reason to lead us astray. He attempts to resolve these dilemmas by proffering what might be termed a sociobiological explanation of the value of the individual's intellectual freedom to the community: allowing a few individuals to indulge in playful philosophic speculation provides the community with a kind of "insurance" against the possibility that the context within which the community operates may be transformed in unforeseen ways, in which event some of those seemingly idle speculations may prove to be vital guides to the community's reordering. In sum, "we can have our cake and eat it, too" by "encourag[ing] the respect of tradition... and at the same time cultivat[ing] the germs of future different traditions" within an insulated intellectual "greenhouse".
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph199144460
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