Explain how Emerson emphasizes feeling over reason in "Self-Reliance." 

Emerson emphasizes feeling over reason in "Self-Reliance" by focusing on the overriding importance of people following their own instincts instead of adhering to social conventions. Only in this way will they become truly self-reliant.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Self-Reliance," as elsewhere in his work, Emerson privileges instinct and feelings over reason. He does this because he sees such an irrational approach to life as being the one most conducive to achieving the self-reliant, individualist ideal to which he is so deeply wedded.

All too often,...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In "Self-Reliance," as elsewhere in his work, Emerson privileges instinct and feelings over reason. He does this because he sees such an irrational approach to life as being the one most conducive to achieving the self-reliant, individualist ideal to which he is so deeply wedded.

All too often, argues Emerson, people go with the flow, following social conventions and rules without really thinking about why they do so. Against this, one could say that there is indeed a place for reason in Emerson's scheme of self-reliance, though only insofar as it involves individuals reflecting on society's conventions and then rejecting them on the rational grounds that they are not conducive to one's self-reliance.

Once reason has been used in this way, however, it can generally be discarded for a life based on instinct and emotion. Emerson regards the individual will, forged by man's emotions, as our most important guide to life.

In support of this argument, Emerson adduces numerous examples from history of great men, such as the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and the English poet John Milton, who in Emerson's eyes showed just what it means to live life as a true individual.

If one wants to be like Plato and Milton and the other great geniuses of the past, to be a true individual unfettered by the shackles of social convention, then it is imperative to follow one's own will, one's instincts, and one's emotions and ignore the dictates of reason, which are often little more than the dictates of others.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on