Does Emerson's "Self-Reliance" suggest "believe and do anything you want" and "nothing outside yourself matters"?

Quick answer:

In advocating for independent thinking, Emerson does not mean to suggest that people should ignore the wisdom of others or pursue every impulse and desire. He is encouraging people to be true to themselves.

Expert Answers

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Emerson is advocating for self-reliance and independent thinking. He is discouraging what people today might call "group think." He espoused the idea that aligning one's beliefs and values with dogma and creeds created by others was essentially a denial of the self, a sort of figurative suicide.

Emerson does think that people should believe what they want to believe; if those beliefs have merit, the universe will prove them true. In this way, Emerson thinks we should trust our intuitions, for "to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another." Emerson would not support the idea of waiting to take one's cues from others' thoughts.

In saying that nothing outside oneself matters, Emerson suggests "nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.' Despite his religious upbringing and former vocation as a minister, Emerson embraced the idea that every person had a portion of the Divine inside them. All spiritual questions and matters could be resolved by looking within, not studying the writings of others or engaging in empty rituals and traditions.

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The short answer to your question would be yes, Emerson is saying that nothing outside of yourself matters (in his essay "Self-Reliance"). One may have an issue with this based upon rational thought, but this is what Emerson relied upon when making the statement.

Basically, Emerson is saying that people have the right to think for themselves. Based upon this, people should not be concerned if society will approve of the person's actions. That being said, Emerson is not leaving morality out of the equation.

Instead, Emerson bases his ideology upon the education of man and their belief in God. Men, who believe in God, would be sure to only act upon thoughts and decisions which uplifted God. These actions would be made based upon their own individual uniqueness and the fact that they were put on the earth to perform unique acts.

In the end, Emerson is simply stating that people need to trust in themselves.

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