Tensions between an idea of philosophy and the practice of the essay are explored in relation to the work of Montaigne in the sixteenth century and Hume in the eighteenth. The comparison between the two lays a basis for thinking about the contrast between philosophy as a way of life and its opposite. The changing and equivocal character of the philosophical essay is further explored with reference to Adorno’s “Essay as Form” and Howard Caygill’s recently published collection, Force and Understanding.

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