Having completed a lengthy, in-depthy survey of Montaigne, I’ve come to appreciate most of all the French essayist’s persistent skepticism. Montaigne’s call to reserve judgment and to declare “what do I know?” in most situations is refreshing given our know-it-all opinionated culture.
Nietzsche suggests in this fragment that this skepticism might stand in conflict with an amor fati approach to life — that one must own his or her thoughts and beliefs and promote them vigorously:
Everything good, fine, or great they do is first of all an argument against the skeptic inside them. They have to convince or persuade him, and that almost requires genius. These are the great self-dissatisfied people.
I’d like to suggest a compromise between Montaigne and Nietzsche — Montaigne’s view is appropriate for the democratic masses who must learn to absorb and integrate information from a wide variety of actors and voices. Having an open mind as a democratic actor is an appropriate response.
But for the leaders and innovators of a culture, such skepticism is a hindrance. The great have to put this skepticism beside and push heroically into the void, knowing full well that they might be wrong. Convincing yourself that these actions are correct is a form of genius and Nietzsche suggests elsewhere that all forms of philosophy are biography in disguise. To philosophize is to challenge the inner skeptic, to take a stand for reason in a universe where reason rarely prevails.