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Weigh in on an Argument about Emerson ans Society?In Emerson's essay "Nature"...

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spunkyone | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 26, 2008 at 5:34 PM via web

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Weigh in on an Argument about Emerson ans Society?

In Emerson's essay "Nature" what was his attitude towards society and what was his purpose in the essay?  

I believe that he values nature highly and has some contempt for society.  My dad believes that Emerson believes that society always has humanity's best interest at heart.

  I believe that he values nature highly and has some contempt for society.  My dad believes that Emerson believes that society always has humanity's best interest at heart.

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 29, 2008 at 2:19 PM (Answer #2)

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Emerson's purpose in writing his essay on "Nature" was to encourage people to look directly at nature for their inspiration instead of reading someone else's interpretation of it. He writes,"Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes . Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? "
When interpreting Emerson, it's important not to depend on any single essay, but the collection of his works. In "Nature", Emerson makes the point that by watching the beautiful American landscape, one could clear the way for their own original spiritual rebirth and not have to depend on others to interpret God and God's will for them. In order to so that, one has to separate oneself from society long enough to see the beauty and inspiration that nature provides. If one will follow nature, then that will be good for the individual as well as society itself. In his other essays, especially "Self Reliance", Emerson does warn against following others too closely. He pleads for people to think for themselves instead of letting society think for them.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted December 29, 2008 at 2:19 PM (Answer #3)

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I think the most important question Emerson asks in "Nature" is at the very beginning: "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?" This is a central part of all Emerson's writing.  "Let us demand our own works and laws and worship." He believed that men originally interacted with nature face-to-face, but that we now interact with nature through interacting with THEM rather than with Nature.  As a result, we imitate rather than create.  He says in another essay, "Self-Reliance":  "insist on yourself; never imitate."

In the "Language" section of " Nature" he describes how this process might take place:

1. Words are signs of natural facts.

2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts.

3. Nature is the symbol of spirit. 

He (and other Transcendentalists) believe that we can directly intuit the "Truth" (or at least the "spirit") through our interaction with Nature --- we do not have to rely on what those who came before us told us.  They had their relationship to the universe:  we can have our own original relationship to the universe.

This issue is too complicated to fully discuss here, but I would suggest you read two other of Emerson's essays to understand this in more detail:

"Self-Reliance"  and "The American Scholar. I will include links to both below.

This is a great topic ... I hope you enjoy your exploration!

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 26, 2010 at 6:55 PM (Answer #4)

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Emerson said that "imitation is suicide." If an individual let society dictate what he should think and do, then he has "with consistency nothing to do"; he loses himself.  Much like Rousseau, Emerson perceived society as corrupting the soul of man rather than nourishing it.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted December 26, 2010 at 7:16 PM (Answer #5)

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I think the key is in the opening paragraph when he asks, "Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe."    He says this in response to the question that precedes this question:  "The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we through their eyes."   If there is any contempt in this, it is the same contempt he shows for slavish "following"  that runs through all his writing, particularly "Self-Reliance."  We should not live vicariously, through the experience of other generations, but through our experience of God through Nature (intuition).  When he writes "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members," it's not the institution of society, although that plays a part in it, but more the structures that force us to be what we are not ... to imitate and not be the original force that each of us is.

 

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