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What does "Self Reliance" suggest regarding the importance and sovereignty of an...

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jhull1996 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:46 AM via web

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What does "Self Reliance" suggest regarding the importance and sovereignty of an individual?

Ralph Walso Emerson "Self-Reliance"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:07 AM (Answer #1)

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To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,— that is genius.

This observation stands at the heart of Transcendental thought and is the credo of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  For, there is nothing more important and more essential that the original self. Convinced that knowledge emanates from intuition, Emerson believes that the power of the unconscious mind supercedes reasoning.  For, there are spiritual facts that lie behind the appearances of nature that can only be apprehended through an individual's intuition.

This knowledge through intuition can only be acquired if one acts as an individual; "imitation is suicide," for knowledge can only come to the man who thinks on his own. Thus, the acquisition of this knowledge makes the man of "the highest merit," ranking with the great minds of Moses, Plato, and Milton.  If one does not trust and follow his own thoughts, he will become ashamed in his loss of self,

Else to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

Clearly, Emerson holds to the sovereignty of the individual. "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members," he writes.  For, society desires conformity and is the "aversion" of individuality. Those who would be a man" must be individuals; they must preserve and revere the integrity of their own minds. To be an individual is to be a man; to conform to society is anathema to Emerson because in confoming one surrenders his individuality, the "integrity of [his] own mind."

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