Thesis (MA)

The Unknown Life of the Philosopher: The Significance of Biography for the Pursuit of the Good Life


The question asked among many philosophers of ethics – How can one pursue the good and well lived life? A life which is fully satisfying, but not forced and restricting. With many theories and philosophical schools being established all trying to create theories which will guide others on how they can pursue a good life. The problem with many of these schools is the dehumanisation of philosophy, which they create through the lack of knowledge of the philosopher themselves. Separating man from philosophy. Michel de Montaigne is one philosopher who presents us with this ‘New Mode' of philosophy, a term used by Ann Hartle. Through the use of his own self reflections and biographical writing to arise at this question, ‘how we can live the good life?’. Montaigne takes his private life and brings it out into the public. He gives his readers the insights into his life, his experiences, his struggles and his sporadic thoughts using his self-reflection. Montaigne humanises philosophy, showing us how he practised philosophy and incorporated it into his everyday life, becoming this ‘accidental philosopher'. This thesis is an investigation into the importance of understanding the life of the philosopher. Michel de Montaigne attempts to offer a way in which humans can attempt to live well through the use of his biographical writing. Throughout this investigation I will be comparing him against the academic philosopher, who’s philosophical writing is completely separate from themselves and the people they are. This thesis shows how understanding the life of the philosopher allows for a sense of trust and gives one a more grounded understanding for how we can incorporate their ideas into our own lives. Montaigne presents us with his new way of doing ethics through the use of his philosophy and walking; how he writes, the catalyst for his Essays and his importance on the theme of friendship. And importantly, recognising the human as a diverse individual. Where a theory on how humans can live a good life can’t be something which is universal. This research concludes with this ‘new mode’, of which Ann Hartle discusses how Montaigne created this way of doing philosophy, is more beneficial and practical for a westernised 21st century society, individually searching for a way to live the good life.

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Buxton, Victoria


Supervisors: Clack, Beverley; Boulter, Stephen

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year: 2022

© Buxton, Victoria
Published by Oxford Brookes University
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  • Owner: Victoria Buxton
  • Collection: eTheses
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