"Self-Reliance" is widely considered Emerson' s definitive statement of his philosophy of individualism. This philosophy esteems individuals above all—societies, nations, religions, and other institutions and systems of thought.
Emerson repeatedly calls on individuals to value their own thoughts, opinions, and experiences above those presented to them by other individuals, society, and religion. This radical individualism springs from Emerson's belief that each individual is not just unique but divinely unique; i.e., each individual is a unique expression of God's creativity and will. Further, since Emerson's God is purposeful, He molded each individual to serve a particular purpose, to do a certain work that only he or she is equipped to carry out.
This direct link between divinity and the individual provides assurance that the individual will, when rightly exercised, can never produce evil. Individual will, in Emerson's philosophy, is not selfish but divine.
In this context, an individual who fails to be self-reliant—who does not attend to and act upon his or her own thoughts and ideas—is out of step with God's purpose. Such a person, in Emerson's view, cannot be productive, fulfilled, or happy.
On the other hand, a person who is self-reliant can be assured that he or she is carrying out the divine purpose of life. This is true even of those who flout the rules and conventions of...
(The entire section is 815 words.)
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