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CIE-100

Common Intellectual Experience 1


Fall 2009 Instructor: Nathan Rein
Section V: TuTh 10-11:15 (Unity House) Office hours MW 10-12 and always by appointment
Section ZC: TuTh 3-4:15 (Olin 205) Olin 211, x. 2571, nrein at ursinus dot edu

Paper assignment: Montaigne


Montaigne ends his essay, "Of cannibals," with this odd question: "What's the
use? They don't wear breeches." Some readers interpret this as an ironic joke.
Others think that Montaigne, in saying this, is expressing his disgust and thus
giving up on the possibility of ever truly comprehending the Brazilians he's been
writing about. There are good arguments for both interpretations. The essay is
full of these sorts of ambiguities. On the first page of the essay, he writes that we
should "judge things by reason's way, not by popular say." Just two pages later,
however, he remarks that "we have no other test of truth and reason than the
example and pattern of the opinions and customs of the country we live in." (I'll
refer to these three quotations as quotation #1, quotation #2, and quotation #3.)
As you may have noticed, if you read quotation #3 first and then go back to
quotation #2, you might think he was saying that "reason's way" and "popular
say" are basically the same. Very confusing.

In this paper, which should be a minimum of 1200 words long, develop an


answer to this question: in your view, does Montaigne thinks the point he
makes in quotation #3 applies to him, too? (In other words, is his idea of
"truth and reason" also drawn solely from the "opinions and customs" of France,
the way he says everyone else's is?) If you answer "yes," then explain what you
think he means by quotation #2. And if not, then explain why he thinks he is a
special exception to this rule. And in either case, explain how your answer affects
your overall interpretation of the essay. (You don't have to talk specifically about
quotation #1, but if you want to, feel free.)

Some notes:
This paper should be structured like the last one, so I won't repeat all the ground
rules. Make a persuasive argument; include a clear thesis; and make sure your
argument moves logically, paragraph by paragraph, from one point to another.
Check back to your last assignment sheet to review the "thesis types," and try to
develop as clear and precise a thesis as you can, what I called a "Type IV" thesis.

Due date: Nov. 24 at the beginning of class.

Note: I have two special requests. They're odd, but bear with me. First, please
save your paper with a filename like this:
[Your last name] - CIE100 [section] - Montaigne.doc
In other words, if I were in the 10 a.m. section, I would save my paper as
Rein - CIE100V - Montaigne.doc
and if I were in the 3 pm section, I would save it as
Rein - CIE100ZC - Montaigne.doc
-2-

Second, please email your paper to me (rather than handing in a printed


copy) before class begins. Thank you.