Self-Reliance and Other Essays
One of America's pre-eminent philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson was born into a long line of ministers and preachers. He attended Harvard at the ... Show synopsis One of America's pre-eminent philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson was born into a long line of ministers and preachers. He attended Harvard at the tender age of 14, where he studied to fulfill his destiny and become a minister. Emerson eventually dropped out of this line of work, embarking on a career as a public speaker and serving as the intellectual center of a group called the Transcendentalist Club. This book contains some of Emerson's best-known essays, specifically "Self-Reliance," as well as his address to the Harvard Divinity School. Emerson's philosophy, although sometimes painfully explicated upon in his own writings, is best summed up by the word "individualism." To Emerson, it is the individual that should be the fulcrum point in all aspects of life. Emerson then took this philosophy and applied it to a myriad of subjects. "Self-Reliance," Emerson's masterwork, attempts to explain how man should retain his individualism in the face of society. It is society that stifles the individual, and the trick is to be true to yourself and your conscience. Law should not be, and is not, above the individual. Again, conscience should rule the day. Every man must follow his conscience even if doing so endangers his role in society. This tension between the individual and society Emerson enumerates continues to reverberate to this day. In his address to the Harvard Divinity School (which got Emerson banned from the school for years), he addresses individualism in the context of religion. Emerson, himself a trained minister who eventually resigned his pulpit, urges those about to embark on a career in the clergy to reach inside themselves when preaching. Don't rely on the same old tired formulas everyone else relies on, Emerson says, but see what the holy word means to you and then express what you find to your flock in your own way. Several other essays round out the collection, all of them utilizing Emerson's keen sense of the power of the individual. That Emerson is still in print today while some of his contemporaries are not is proof enough of the power and influence of his thought. Whether you agree with his arguments or not, there is no denying that he has been enormously influential to American thinkers of his time and those who have followed.