The Divinity School Address

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Where does Emerson, in his "Divinity School Address," believe the source of knowledge about God and morality is?

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Emerson's address is quite radical in its assertion that the source of God and morality is not a structure outside of the individual.  Unlike the Unitarian belief of the time, Emerson did not see the divine and morality as extrinsic to the individual.  Rather, Emerson was advocating the idea that human beings, nature, and the understanding of God and morality are all linked to one another.  The human being is a part of this, a larger configuration where God and morality and nature all converge.  The source of morality and the divine exists in this "sentiment of virtue" that exists in both the individual and the natural world in which the individual is placed.  When Emerson suggests that "all things proceed from the same spirit," it is a statement that such a "spirit" is the location of the divine, morality, and what human beings should do.  When the individual accepts this, they become part of this spirit.  For Emerson, the location of this source of morality and the divine is not outside of the individual.  Emerson believes that it is within the individual and when one recognizes, true understanding emerges.

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