The problem is that Montaigne was speaking some Occitan brand of French, the one spoken at the time (16th century) in Bordeaux and up the Dordogne Valley since he was from Saint Michel de Montagne, a village that still exists with his castle, an old fortified place slightly modified in his time. It can be visited. So the real quotation is “Que sais-je?” It has become the motto of an academic collection of research books in France. All you say might be true in English but not in his dialect or language especially since this French phrase that insists on the fact that I have no certainty about what I know, if it is real knowledge or just plain ideology. He said somewhere too that what is true on this side of the Pyrenees is false on the other side. So, Que sais-je? But I was saying this phrase is in contrast with “qu’est-ce que je sais?” which would insist on the nature of what I actually know, whereas Montaigne insists on the fact that nothing we know is real knowledge but is the result of circumstantial and existential elements like the religious wars in France and in Bordeaux area where the Calvinists had a strong influence and still have. So between Catholicism and Protestantism, in fact, Lutheranism and Calvinism, Que sais-je? that could be said to be true, real knowledge and not partisan opinion?

Written by

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, PhD in Germanic Linguistics (University Lille III) and ESP Teaching (University Bordeaux II) has been teaching all types of ESP

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store