Self-Reliance "A Foolish Consistency Is The Hobgoblin Of Little Minds"

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"A Foolish Consistency Is The Hobgoblin Of Little Minds"

Context: The basis of this essay is the idea, central to Emerson's philosophy of life, that the individual must be self-sufficient. He felt strongly that men are hampered by reliance on convention, on tradition, on the thoughts of others. "No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature." Just as we can be bound by tradition and by the long-dead thoughts of other men, so can we be bound by our own past. We can have too great a reverence for our past acts: we fear to be thought of as inconsistent. Emerson urges us to "speak what you think now in hard words" and to speak differently to-morrow if need be, for to-morrow will be a new day with different situations. This advice is not telling us to be weather-cocks; the key word "foolish" warns us against the stubborn refusal to change our minds if changed they should be.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do . . .