Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Writer, lecturer, and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is

  • regarded as one of the primary founders of American literature

  • and can be credited with inspiring many prolific writers,

  • writing styles, cultural perspectives, and philosophical

  • movements. Emerson was born in 1803 in Boston Massachusetts

  • to Ruth Haskins and William Emerson, his father being

  • a Christian minister descending from a lineage of previous

  • ministers. During his adolescence, Emerson studied at Harvard

  • University, and following graduation, he would go on to teach

  • at his brother's school for young women. After several years

  • of teaching, he would then enroll into Divinity School at

  • Harvard to train to become a pastor. In 1829, he was ordained

  • into Boston's Second Church, and would spend the following 3 years

  • or so as a pastor. During this time, however, Emerson would find

  • an increasing sense of detachment and disagreement with

  • traditional religious practices and ways of thinking. Specifically,

  • he found that contemporary Christianity countered and sedated

  • the very essence of human spirituality that it was supposed

  • to inspire. Around three years after becoming a pastor, and after

  • about 1 year following his first wife's young death of

  • tuberculosis, Emerson resigned from the church. "I have sometimes

  • thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary

  • to leave the ministry.” Emerson wrote in his journal.

  • Following his stint as a pastor, Emerson spent the next

  • years writing and publishing his first major essays while

  • developing a career as a public lecturer. Emerson would make his

  • first significant mark on the public with his controversial

  • lectures that suggested the value of separating from commonly

  • withheld religious ideas and traditions, and in place, argued

  • for infusing new independent, forward thinking that relied on

  • the self for divine experience and understanding. During the following decades, Emerson continued

  • giving lectures and producing several major, influential works of literature. He would

  • soon become recognized as one of the mid- 19th century leading writers and thinkers,

  • inspiring individuals like Henry David Thoreau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson,

  • and innumerable others, as well as being the key figure in helping give way to new cultural

  • perspectives and philosophical movements, especially the philosophy known as transcendentalism,

  • which Emerson is regarded as the father of. Emerson's philosophy can perhaps be best

  • explained in two of his most famous essays; Nature published

  • in 1836 and Self- Reliance published in 1841. Between these

  • two works, Emerson primarily discusses man and nature being a

  • unified, singular whole, the value of trusting one's own intuition

  • and sense of

  • reality, and the realization and forthright expressions of one's

  • unique greatness and truth. More specifically, Emerson posed

  • that all of nature is an expression and permeation of one

  • metaphysical essence of the universe, or god, and that we are

  • all both the expressions and expressors of this singular

  • oneness. “Nature in its ministry to man,” Emerson wrote, “is not

  • only the material but is also the process and the result.” In

  • this, there is no separation between humanity and nature, where

  • humanity wills itself onto nature nor nature onto humanity, but

  • rather, everything is essentially nature interacting with

  • nature. “Standing on the bare ground,” Emerson wrote, “my head

  • bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, all

  • mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am

  • nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being

  • circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

  • For Emerson, the distinction between the trees, the bugs,

  • the dirt, and the stars is all but a phenomenal distinction. Not

  • necessarily a real one. Rather, he believed that god is one

  • thing found in everything and through everything. Every object,

  • every individual and every particle of existence in the eternal

  • now. As such, for Emerson, the transcendent spiritual experience

  • is not found in any outward, previous, or future source, but

  • within the individual in any given moment. Moments where one's

  • own mind illuminates the common features of their surroundings

  • with potency, beauty, and interconnectedness. Alongside this, Emerson also asserted that

  • nature is in a constant state of flux, and that we must live

  • in coordination with its process, trusting our own intuition

  • and flowing with the changing self. In order to do this, we

  • must not hold ourselves to ideas, beliefs, or traditions

  • of the past, including our own. Rather, Emerson suggested

  • that our state is subject to change, and consequently, we might

  • feel or think one way today and the opposing way tomorrow. Instead

  • of fighting this, however, Emerson argued that we must

  • lean into it. “No man,” he wrote, “can antedate his experience

  • or guess what faculty or feeling a new object shall unlock,

  • any more than he can draw today the face of a person whom he

  • shall see tomorrow for the first time.” In other words, no

  • one can know what life might be like tomorrow, nor what such life

  • may cause one to think or feel. However, one must move with

  • it, and live according to the present now.

  • Out of this emerges what is perhaps Emerson's most popular

  • concept known as self-reliance. Emerson argued that we often neglect to ever

  • realize the unique perspective and greatness that comes

  • from our particular culmination of experiences and states. Not

  • because we don't have access to such greatness, but because we are

  • often held back and

  • pulled away from it by others and systems of convention. For

  • Emerson, great artists, thinkers, writers and so on aren't

  • necessarily great merely because they possess access to any

  • higher, exclusive source of information or being, but because

  • they are willing to address and express candidly what they feel

  • in any given moment of life, despite how it might reflect on the

  • standard norm. And in doing so, they reveal, not only their

  • unique take on the world, but also the thoughts and sensations

  • hidden within a great many others who feel the same. Arguably,

  • great artists and writers aren't popular because they say

  • something no one has thought of or experienced before, but

  • because they say something that most of us have but weren't sure

  • if we were right to do so. Emerson believed that for the sake of one's

  • work and sense of self, the individual must rely on themselves

  • alone and recognize that what they feel and think is

  • real and legitimate. In a very Cartesian idea, if we can know anything

  • at all it is merely that we exist. And if we can suppose

  • anything at all, it is merely our own experience. This does not

  • disparage our sympathy for others, others' ideas, nor

  • our connection with the natural world, but rather, it serves to prevent

  • the disparagement of our self amidst it all. It

  • serves to promote trust in our own unique interpretations and

  • experiences and encourages us to express their individual

  • merit.

  • In slight contrast to Emerson, it appears reasonable to

  • also argue that perhaps there are variations in the resources

  • and conditions of each individual, and thus, one's ability to

  • trust and/or express themselves is not always equal. If nature

  • and human is a unified whole carried out through a process of

  • self-fulfilling change, is it not also possible that one's own

  • ability to defend and tap into themselves is part of a natural

  • order and fluctuation beyond one's will? Of course, this simply

  • serves to beg the question that if we are all transparent

  • eyeballs; nothings seeing everything, how much say do we have in

  • how much vision we have? Perhaps Emerson's concept of self-reliance

  • can still exist in harmony with this question. Perhaps so

  • long as one authentically stands in their own position

  • of confusion and limitation, they have still remained in accordance

  • with their own relative truth and greatness, and the

  • notion of self- reliance holds steady.

  • Of course, like all philosophies and philosophers, Emerson's ideas in general aren't without

  • flaws or counter arguments. “But it is the fault of our rhetoric

  • that we cannot strongly state one fact without seeming to

  • belie some other. I hold our actual knowledge very cheap.” Emerson

  • wrote. With this, Emerson himself suggested that he never spoke

  • with any objective certainty or final truth regarding what he

  • thought.

  • For this and other reasons unmentioned, self-reliance and

  • individuality is not easy. It does not simply come from agreeing

  • with poetic prose. To know and trust one's self in the face of

  • consistent change, confusion, and a world that works to

  • consolidate everyone, is perhaps one of the hardest things

  • anyone can do. And furthermore, not always, but certainly some

  • of the time, it comes with the risk of some amount of separation

  • from the common populous and conventional norms. However,

  • perhaps the question one must ask here is, if all we can know

  • and experience is our self, how can any life be lived fully if

  • one denies themselves before even trying? If we hide or hinder

  • ourselves out of the fear of rejection from others, are we not,

  • in essence, rejecting our own self first; the only person we

  • truly and inescapably have to live with? Emerson's work is a reinforcement and reminder

  • of the importance of combating this. To attempt to

  • live in the spirit of individuality, self-honesty, and authenticity

  • in each moment and each context of life. To raise the sail

  • of one's own ship, using the unknowable force of the wind while

  • steering as best we can, always moving forward, finding beauty

  • in the vastness that surrounds us, and creating our self anew.

Writer, lecturer, and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 US emerson nature reliance pastor greatness individual

The Art of Trusting One's Self - The Philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • 6 0
    JessieW posted on 2020/05/18
Video vocabulary