How are Emerson's ideas and theories in "Nature" different from other writers' ideas and theories? What is Emerson's philosophical approach, compared to those of other writers?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One particular reason why Emerson is so different from other writers, especially in the American tradition, lies in his stunning affirmation of self over society.  Prior to Emerson, there was not much of a literary tradition in America that so exalted the role of the individual.  Emerson's theories and writings really praised and glorified the faith in the individual decision and notion of autonomy in exercise over the social hold of the collective idea of the good.  Whereas much in America stressed being a part of the larger good, Emerson broke from this tradition with his idea that true understanding and identity can only be achieved away from others.  This emphatic and emotional praise is one way that Emerson can be differentiated from those who came before him and can serve as a way to examine his impact on those who came afterwards.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Earlier nature writers such as John James Audubon and Charles Darwin had written about (and painted scenes of) nature, but none had looked to nature as the source of spiritual inspiration as Emerson did in "Nature." This essay contains the essence of the philosophies that would go on to comprise the philosophy of Transcendentalism. While Darwin sought to understand nature's mechanisms in a scientific, rational way, Emerson saw nature as a source of inspiration, emotion, and what he referred to as "the sublime." He writes: "One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime." In other words, nature is not a subject to study rationally (as Darwin had) or to reproduce faithfully (as Audubon had) but to draw inspiration from.

Emerson also writes, "The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood." Emerson sees nature as refreshing the spirit and returning people to the wonder they had experienced as children. His philosophy is that one's internal sense should be attuned to the natural world and that the internal self  should be in harmony with nature. He writes: "The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other."

Therefore, he sees nature as affecting humans' spiritual sense and sees a connection between one's internal state and nature. In making this connection between one's internal world and nature, Emerson was different from other writers and philosophers.  

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