What Does It Mean to be Human, and Not Animal? Examining Montaigne’s Literary Persuasiveness in “Man is No Better Than the Animals”

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Michel de Montaigne famously argued in “Man is No Better Than the Animals” that humans and non-human animals cannot be dichotomized based on language or reasoning abilities, among other characteristics. This article examines a selection of writing features at play in the text and discusses how successfully they convey Montaigne’s claims. Throughout, I argue that Montaigne presents a superficially convincing case for doubting a categorical distinction between humans and animals on linguistic and rational grounds through the use of rhetorical questions, listing, appeals to authority, point of view, imagery, and narrative anecdotes. However, Montaigne’s rejection of a human/animal distinction appears self-refuting since the form and content of his text both suggest that humans typically possess some degree of unique language and reasoning capacities.
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Archival date: 2020-04-23
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