Every so often throughout history, great doers and thinkers come along that break the mold and set new standards. People like Caesar, Shakespeare, Napoleon and Jesus have been studied and immortalized in volumes of texts. Then there are others who are not as well known. People like Ralph Waldo Emerson. From his life, writings, associates, beliefs and philosophy, this Concord, Massachusetts man has set his place as a hero in American literature and philosophy (Bloom 13).
The first, most important thing to mention about Ralph Waldo Emerson is that he was not a Transcendentalist philosopher (Bloom 1). Ralph Emerson was a poet, critic, essayist, and a believer of morals (Bloom 2). Many people look at what he wrote in his books and essays, and they took his ideas from his speeches and turned them into a way of life. His ideas and beliefs earned him the role as the chief spokesman for American Transcendentalism (Siepmann 300). Emerson was a graduate from Harvard University. After his graduation, he became a minister.
It was while he was a preacher that he began to think new ideas about life. The breakthrough for his new way of thinking came when he resigned from pasturing at the Second Church of Boston because e could not administer the Lord's Supper (Hart 256). The sources of Emerson's writings were from the early colonists, and he acknowledged them in his writings (Bloom 34). His writings were secular, and the readers of the era were sometimes scared by the lack of religious references and biblical texts in his writings. His writings were considered daring for his time, but they were moral (Unger 2).
The tone of his work was focused on self-reliance and the problem of how to live. His writings provoked people to ask how instead of what and not we but I (Unger 1). Emerson's essays spoke to people of the 19 th century that were ready for individuality and a new optimism that liked God, nature, and man (Masterpieces 258). His essays tell the importance of a man that goes on through life like he represents not only himself, but also every other person he sees and meets (Masterpieces 258).
He used his writings to challenge traditional thought (Siepmann 300). Most consider his writings to be the not clearly organized and not easy to follow, but they have moments of brilliancy. His essays were ordered by recurring themes and images (Siepmann 300), while his poetry was harsh and meant to teach (Siepmann 301). His book, Nature, summarized his major ideas (Siepmann 300) and is the original and the best expression of transcendentalist philosophy (Spiller 346).
Nature expresses his philosophy for the love of natural scenes where Emerson spent most of his time (Hart 256). The basic idea Emerson expressed in Nature is that nature is God's ideal made clear to man. Emerson expressed that nature reveals truth, disciplines man, and rewards man when used properly and punishes man for abuse (Masterpieces 258). Through his essays and addresses, Emerson accomplished becoming the leading transcendentalist in America. He also became one of the greatest American philosophers of all time (Masterpieces 258). Emerson had many friends that helped him with his movement.
Most of them were fellow writers, theologians, orators, and artists that were involved with the New England Transcendentalist movement. Emerson felt physically and intellectually closest to Amos Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau (Wood 77). Some of Emerson's other close friends were Ellery Channing and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Snodgrass 515). Emerson and his friends formed a club called the Symposium. The Symposium later became known as the Transcendentalist Club. The club was made up of intellectual men and women that shared Emerson's beliefs (Wood 77).
Emerson did not have great feelings for the club. It was not what he liked or what he had wished for. The club often bored and annoyed him. Emerson preferred the company of friends that had wit and culture (Wood 147). Emerson was sure of his ideas and beliefs and trusted them fully (Masterpieces 258). He believed in the unity of all living things.
He disregarded authority and did not follow traditions. Emerson believed that people should rely only on direct experience (Siepmann 991). Emerson believed in a God, which he called the Over-Soul. The Over-Soul, "explains the many diverse phenomena of life." (Hart 257).
The Over-Soul is the dominant creative force of the universe. It is detectable by the mind and is the perception of the individual (Meyerson 73). Emerson believed in a moral unity between man and objects. He believed in unity that happened between the active and creating powers of inner divinity. He also felt that intuition gives definition to heredity, geography and history (Unger 7).
All of Emerson's preaching's spoke of what he felt were the most important messages of life. He preached about focusing on a higher individualism, the spiritual nature of reality, the importance of self-reliance, following instincts, to stay optimistic and hopeful and the existence of the Over-Soul (Hart 257). Emerson also did not believe in the existence of evil (Spiller 352). Emerson believed that man is the spiritual center of the universe, and the structure of the universe is the equal to the structure of the individual (Spiller 352).
He also believed that individual happiness depends on self-realization, and self-realization depends on a person's desire to become one with the world and to remain a unique individual (Spiller 353). Emerson's beliefs on education were different than most others. He believed that there were three important keys in education. They were nature, books and action.
He believed that a scholar must be brave and free. If the scholar achieved this, the rewards for it would be the mind alteration that comes from uncovering hidden truths (Masterpieces 258). Emerson held the belief that illusions were bad for the world. He felt that illusions were any kind of deceptive relationship or any kind of false front. He wanted to live in a world of truth, not in a world that was full of deception (Unger 5). Emerson loved beauty.
He felt that beauty was simple, but it extends and depends man's thinking. He thought that it took man out of everyday life and into the middle of things (Unger 5). Emerson disagreed strongly with the accepted practice of worship. He believed that worship focused too much on man himself. He felt that man treated beliefs like a burden.
He also believed that systemic religious worship was weak and wrong, and that it needed the vigor of nature passed along to it (Unger 4). Emerson believed friendship, which he called considerations, was important. He believed that friends were people that made you achieve, and that they give us courage and make us who we are. He disagreed with false bonds and allegiances (Unger 5). Emerson believed that power is the potential force that lies within man. He believed that power was the strength that came with concentration and the use of abilities (Unger 3).
Emerson viewed fate as an important part of man's life. He believed that it grew more and more strong with personal worship. He believed that fate makes use of limitations, and that man must make use of restrictive circumstances (Unger 2). Once man recognizes that power of his own thought, then his thought will counter and use fate. He believed man must realize that thought and fate work together (Unger 3).
Emerson believed the best way of doing anything was to do it with manners. He felt that manners were a simple set of laws that everyone could and should follow. To him, manners were the basis in self-reliance and in thoughtful choice. He felt that manners were part of human nature and character. He also believed that manners were easier to read than any language (Unger 4). Emerson valued wealth differently than many others.
He felt that no one was as rich as they ought to be. He felt that people must not only pay off their personal debts, but also add to the common wealth. He believed that you will only get back as much as you give (Unger 4). He also believed that the value of a dollar depended on the society it is in. By this he meant that a dollar is only worth what someone will give you for it (Unger 3). Emerson believed that democracy was the best form of government for the United States.
But on the other hand, he cautioned that, "Good men must not obey the laws to well." His independent spirit on the subject suggested heroism and sometimes, like his friend Thoreau, he hinted at civil-disobedience (Masterpieces 258). Emerson's philosophical ideas are considered some of the greatest of all the American philosophers. His ideas had little consideration for logic, empiricism, and linguistic analysis. He believes that he was retelling exactly what nature told him, and since nature spoke directly to God and of God's law, he was speaking for God (Masterpieces 258).
His advice for others was fairly simple. He told people to not take part in selfish behavior. People should use their minds to understand truths and laws and every man's mind is capable of yielding important truths. Emerson advised every man to work and act without being concerned for people's opinions (Masterpieces 258). Emerson encouraged others to think and act independently.
Not let others influence your judgments and beliefs. He advised people to trust only in themselves. He also told people not to give into the world, but let the world give into them (Wood 80). Emerson told others that it was important to rely on intuition because it was the only way to understand reality (Siepmann 300). He told people to refuse the existence of evil. He insured them that all men share in the Over-Soul.
He also said that man possesses the means to all knowledge. But most importantly, he encouraged people to stay optimistic (Siepmann 301). Emerson felt that people should ask questions. Questions like, "Who am I?" , "Where am I?" , "Why am I here?" , and," What should I do as a moral person?" . He used these basic questions of identity in his addresses to give a sense of extensive readings, years of reflections, and careful revision (Meyerson 73). Emerson also asked the question, "How should we live?" He told people that they should live their life with fate, limitations of inheritance, the natural world, power, abilities, affinities, behavior, worship, belief, considerations, beauty and the likenesses of beauty, illusions and self-deception (Unger 2).
He addressed that we can learn to live from what we oppose and from specific documentation, analysis, anecdote and personal experience (Unger 7). Ralph Waldo Emerson was truly an outstanding thinker for his time. Unlike most people, he was disappointed with his current situation, and he did something to change it. He created a a whole new way of thinking and belief structure that was accepted then and can still be easily applied to modern life. Through Emerson's life, writings, friends, beliefs, and philosophy he has achieved his place in history as one of the greatest thinkers in American history (Masterpieces 258). Bibliography Bloom, Harold.
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