"We Are Wiser Than We Know"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As a philosophical idealist, Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that the soul of the individual human being is forever in existence as a part of the Deity, or Over-Soul. Thus it was that he could believe that every human being, insofar as he is a soul, is a part of God. The existence of the soul in the transcendental realm prior to this life is a key to understanding Emerson's transcendentalism, and a key to understanding the quotation. Emerson believed in absolutes, and he believed that every human being could know them because of the soul's continual existence. He believed we can know truth and the other absolutes if we will but trust the intuition of the soul:

The soul is the perceiver and revealer of truth. We know truth when we see it, let sceptic and scoffer say what they choose. Foolish people ask you, when you have spoken what they do not wish to hear, "How do you know it is truth, and not an error of your own?" We know the truth when we see it, from opinion, as we know when we are awake that we are awake. It was a grand sentence of Emanuel Swedenborg, which would alone indicate the greatness of that man's perception–"It is no proof of a man's understanding to be able to confirm whatever he pleases; but to be able to discern that what is true is true, and that what is false is false–this is the mark and character of intelligence." In the book I read, the good thought returns to me, as every truth will, the image of the whole soul. To the bad thought which I find in it, the same soul becomes a discerning, separating sword, and lops it away. We are wiser than we know. If we will not interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see how the thing stands in God, we know the particular thing, and every thing, and every man. For the Maker of all things and all persons stands behind us and casts his dread omniscience through us over things.