Your complimentary articles
You’ve read all of your complimentary articles for this month. To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, please
If you are a subscriber please sign in to your account.
To buy or renew a subscription please visit the Shop.
If you are a print subscriber you can contact us to create an online account.
Martin Jenkins looks at the life of a wry observer of society, cut short by that society’s revolutionary turmoil.
Montaigne invented the essay. Another Frenchman, La Rochefoucauld, invented the maxim: the presentation of profound ideas in short self-standing statements. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche used that form extensively; but most practitioners seem to have been French. The French call them moralistes, which, like its English equivalent, implies commentators on the moeurs, or customs, of society.
What is the attraction of expressing ideas as aphorisms, usually without argument, inviting the reader to accept them as ‘self-evident truths’? One suggestion is:
“Maxims, axioms, are, like summaries, the work of people of spirit [or of ‘wit’], who, it seems, have laboured for the benefit of mediocre or lazy minds.