In the second paragraph of "Self-Reliance", what is meant by 'that divine idea which each of us represents'? How does that philosophical assumption influence the entire essay?
Emerson here is referring to his belief that the individual has a God-like importance and wisdom and should not be hindered in following out his or her own unique path in life. This cult of individualism informs the entire essay. Emerson believes that the individual should be entirely self-dependent, rather than looking to society. This is Emerson's core philosophy: that each individual human being has a validity of his or her own which is quite independent of society. Indeed, the enlightened individual often ends up in conflict with society, and for Emerson this is as it should be. He takes the opportunity in this essay to criticise many features of society,such as materialism. The individual, Emerson argues, should disdain such things.
The need for every man and woman to fulfil his or her own individual potential, without dependence on external factors, is a matter of fundamental importance to Emerson:
Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own minds.
This quote from the essay may be taken as a summary of Emerson's philosophy. To some, it appears altogether too optimistic, too naively trusting of the individual's strengths, but this essay is cogently and eloquently argued and continues to be widely read to this day.