In "Nature," in what ways does Ralph Waldo Emerson show idealism in the work?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Essentially, the Transcendental concept itself is idealistic as it is based upon the premise that all people will be exhilarated by nature's beauty and tranquility and find a relation with themselves and the universe.  In addition, Emerson shared with the German idealists a consideration of the use of nature at a higher level from language and discipline, considering two kinds of cognitive faculties:  reason, which perceives the analogy that unites matter and man, and understanding, which discerns the characteristics of things.

The great influence that nature plays in his thought leads Emerson to a discussion in Chapter Six of Nature. Entitled "Idealism," this chapter contains first Emerson's admission that whether nature exists or is simply a reflection of one's mind.  But, idealistically, he goes on to state that senses tend to make one believe in the absolute existence of nature, whereas the better faculty of reason modifies this belief.  Ending his chapter with the superiority of the soul, Emerson maintains his idealistic view of nature's function of leading people back to the Universal Spirit: 

In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.  Nature says--he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad....The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God....Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.


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