God In America: People: Ralph Waldo Emerson | PBS
In his lifetime, Ralph Waldo Emerson became the most widely known man of letters in that a fundamental continuity exists between man, nature, and God, or the divine. . In , Emerson also purchased the land on the shore of Walden Pond . Emerson rests his abiding faith in the individual—"Trust thyself”—on the . Feb 19, Human's Place in Universe Relationship between Man and Nature Human Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau was very close. Ainsi du transcendentaliste Ralph Waldo Emerson: nous voulons interroger sa vision du American Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau . and of his personal desire for an unrestricted relationship with God.
Translating this precept into the social realm, Emerson famously declares, "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist"—a point of view developed at length in both the life and work of Thoreau. Equally memorable and influential on Walt Whitman is Emerson's idea that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
Emerson opposes on principle the reliance on social structures civil, religious precisely because through them the individual approaches the divine second hand, mediated by the once original experience of a genius from another age: Three years later in Emerson published his Essays: Second Series, eight essays and one public lecture, the titles indicating the range of his interests: This philosophy of art has its premise in the Transcendental notion that the power of nature operates through all being, that it is being: Emerson's aesthetics stress not the object of art but the force that creates the art object, or as he characterizes this process in relation to poetry: While Emerson does not accept in principle social progress as such, his philosophy emphasizes the progress of spirit, particularly when understood as development.
This process he allies with the process of art: It is also an essay written out of the devastating grief that struck the Emerson household after the death of their five-year-old son, Waldo. He wrote, whether out of conviction or helplessness, "I grieve that grief can teach me nothing.
The early s saw the publication of a number of distinctively American texts: Emerson's Representative Men failed to anticipate this flowering of a uniquely American literature in at least one respect: Each portrait balances the particular feature of the representative man that illustrates the general laws inhabiting humanity along with an assessment of the great man's shortcomings.
Like Nietzsche, Emerson did not believe that great men were ends in themselves but served particular functions, notably for Emerson their capacity to "clear our eyes of egotism, and enable us to see other people in their works. While Plato receives credit for establishing the "cardinal facts. Unity, or Identity; and, 2.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Variety," Emerson concedes that through Plato we have had no success in "explaining existence. But although he approves of the religion Swedenborg urged, a spirituality of each and every moment, Emerson complains the mystic lacks the "liberality of universal wisdom.
The English poet possessed the rare capacity of greatness in that he allowed the spirit of his age to achieve representation through him. Nevertheless the world waits on "a poet-priest" who can see, speak, and act, with equal inspiration.
In The Conduct of Life, Emerson describes "concentration," or bringing to bear all of one's powers on a single object, as the "chief prudence.
Yet, "the lawgiver of art is not an artist," and repeating a call for an original relation to the infinite, foregoing even the venerable authority of Goethe, Emerson concludes, "We too must write Bibles.
English Traits presents an unusually conservative set of perspectives on a rather limited subject, that of a single nation and "race," in place of human civilization and humanity as a whole. English Traits contains an advanced understanding of race, namely, that the differences among the members of a race are greater than the differences between races, but in general introduces few new ideas. The work is highly "occasional," shaped by his travels and visits, and bore evidence of what seemed to be an erosion of energy and originality in his thought.
The Conduct of Lifehowever, proved to be a work of startling vigor and insight and is Emerson's last important work published in his lifetime. Some of Emerson's finest poetry can be found in his essays. In "Fate" he writes: He refines and redefines his conception of history as the interaction between "Nature and thought.
Varying a biblical proverb to his own thought, Emerson argues that what we seek we will find because it is our fate to seek what is our own. On the subject of politics, Emerson consistently posited a faith in balance, the tendencies toward chaos and order, change and conservation always correcting each other.
His late aesthetics reinforce this political stance as he veers in "Beauty" onto the subject of women's suffrage: The Conduct of Life uncovers the same consideration only now understood in terms of work or vocation. Emerson argued with increasing regularity throughout his career that each man is made for some work, and to ally himself with that is to render himself immune from harm: In "Wealth" we find the balanced perspective, one might say contradiction, to be found in all the late work.
Emerson argues that to be a "whole man" one must be able to find a "blameless living," and yet this same essay acknowledges an unsentimental definition of wealth: Man is at the center, and the center will hold: Legacy Emerson remains the major American philosopher of the nineteenth century and in some respects the central figure of American thought since the colonial period.
Perhaps due to his highly quotable style, Emerson wields a celebrity unknown to subsequent American philosophers. The general reading public knows Emerson's work primarily through his aphorisms, which appear throughout popular culture on calendars and poster, on boxes of tea and breath mints, and of course through his individual essays.
Generations of readers continue to encounter the more famous essays under the rubric of "literature" as well as philosophy, and indeed the essays, less so his poetry, stand undiminished as major works in the American literary tradition.
Emerson's emphasis on self-reliance and nonconformity, his championing of an authentic American literature, his insistence on each individual's original relation to God, and finally his relentless optimism, that "life is a boundless privilege," remain his chief legacies.
References and Further Reading Baker, Carlos. Emerson Among the Eccentrics: Library of America, Joel Porte et al. Library of American, University of Missouri Press, The Heart of Emerson's Journals. The Making of a Democratic Intellectual. Rowman and Littlefield, Ralph Waldo Emerson in His Time. Columbia University Press, Porte, Joel and Morris, Saundra. Cambridge University Press, The Mind on Fire.
University of California Press, Author Information. Transcendentalists were idealistic and optimistic because they believed they could find answers to whatever they were seeking. As Emerson says, when they learn to translate, through intuition, the external symbols of nature, they can read the underlying spiritual facts: Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable.
We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man's condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts is as life, before he apprehends it as truth.
In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Transcendentalism declared meaning in everything, and all meaning was good, part of and connected by divine plan. Emerson refuted evil, insisting it was not an entity in itself, but simply the absence of good.
- 301 Moved Permanently
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882)
If good is introduced, evil dissipates. One ray of light penetrates darkness. According to the Transcendentalists, everyone has the power to "transcend" the apparent confusion and chaos of the world and see order in nature's design.
All on earth have the divine "spark" within and thus all are part of the whole. This philosophy led to an optimistic emphasis on individualism and the value of the individual over society. To "transcend" society one must first be able to look past and beyond it.
One must follow intuition and not conform to contrary social decree. Society encourages, even demands conformity and dependence. In the aptly titled " Self-Reliance ," Emerson urges his reader to "trust thyself. The anti-transcendentalists reflected a more pessimistic attitude, focusing on man's uncertainty and limited potential in the universe: Nature is vast and incomprehensible, a reflection of the struggle between good and evil. Humans are innately depraved and must struggle toward goodness.
In fact, goodness is actually attainable only for a few, but evil is a huge morass into which any can slip. Sin is an active force, not merely the absence of good; they do believe, on some level, that the devil exists. Finally, because nature is the creation and possession of God, humans cannot interpret or understand any symbolism it may contain. Intercession between the common man and higher authority is required in heaven and on earth.
Anti-transcendentalists feared that people who desired complete individualism would give in to the worst aspects of man's nature.