Alain de Botton created a six-part video series, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, based on The Consolations of Philosophy, that discusses thinkers who had wise things to say about everyday worries.
In this part, he introduces Michel de Montaigne.
Montaigne certainly didn’t think that all learning was useless. He was simply observing that many people who go to university aren’t any happier or wiser than those who don’t. And from my own experience, I think he may have a point. What Montaigne was essentially telling us is that when you come to a place like this, you will get very good at remembering lots of facts, you will pick up a lot of information, but you won’t necessarily be able to apply it to your life. And I certainly missed out on many lessons of life here. If I was designing my ideal curriculum, I think I would take a leaf from Montaigne’s book and say that actually, many of the most important topics aren’t covered here and should be. I’m thinking of topics like how to live well and happily with other people, how to confront one’s anxieties, how to deal with death, even banal questions or potentially banal questions like how to end a relationship. These are not the kinds of questions that we’re encouraged to ask here, and in a way, perhaps we should be.
If you’re still curious, check out Montaigne’s The Complete Essays.