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Ralph Waldo Emerson had just resigned from his position as a Unitarian Minister before giving the address, and was to a degree reflecting in it on his own role as lecturer, writer, and public intellectual. In the address, he considers what students must do to become his ideal of the American scholar. He divides the path of formation of character and intellect into three parts, nature, the mind of the Past (i.e. books), and action. As a Unitarian, he saw God as immanent within nature, and thus believed that by `reading`the natural world we could learn about God and morality. Books enable us to learn and build on the great thinkers of the past. Finally, we can only genuinely know moral truths by acting morally. Emerson rejects the mechanical and dehumanized world of industrial society along with a purely abstract conception of knowledge.
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