Ralph Waldo Emerson – Nature and Other Things | Philosophize This! with Stephen West #165 - Deepstash
Ralph Waldo Emerson – Nature and Other Things | Philosophize This! with Stephen West #165


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Ralph Waldo Emerson – Nature and Other Things | Philosophize This! with Stephen West #165

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Choosing Your Ideas

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the most beloved poets and writers in American history. 

In his 1836 essay "Nature", he formulated and expressed the philosophy of transcendentalism.  Emerson explains that people should rely less on second-hand information, inherited and institutionalized knowledge, and instead choose a personal understanding of the universe.


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Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been at war with each other:   a battle of ideas or an actual physical invasion of a country. We seem to never run out of ways to argue with each other.

Ralph Waldo Emerson would say we can't quit because we've been using the wrong strategy. Instead of relying on the theories and narratives of other people to make sense of the world, we should emphasize coming up with new ideas ourselves.


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How To Become Self-Reliant

Emerson stated that we can become self-reliant by an intense individual intentional relationship with nature (anything that is not"I" - such as art, language, our physical bodies, etc.)

Two mistakes:

  • Not paying attention but allowing distractions. 
  • Seeing ourselves in relation to how we already think about nature. 

 To truly connect with nature, we need our own experiences and interpretations.


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Emerson believes that part of coming up with new ideas means coming up with new answers to old questions.

Seeing nature in a new light in the absence of old narratives can potentially change how we see everything in our society. Emerson thinks we will then notice many things we would otherwise take for granted.


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The Purpose Of Nature

Emerson views nature as:

  • A provider (food and water, raw material)
  • A role model. Even when nature seems chaotic and inconsistent from one perspective, but different when viewed from a distance.
  • Providing exercise (hiking, swimming)
  • Giving medicinal ingredients.
  • A holistic process. When studying the macrocosm of nature, we can understand the microcosm of ourselves.


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Everything that we consider to be a vital part of human life is derived from the process of nature. Yet, we want to believe that we have conquered nature, and we use these narratives to prove our case to ourselves, adding on top to the narratives of the past. 

Emerson is saying we should not let the interpretation of others get in the way of creating our own. We should have respect for other people's thoughts and take inspiration, but never start worshipping at their altar.

Individuals need to make an effort to reconnect with the natural world.


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Two Different Ways of Studying Nature

  1. Science can provide a certain type of understanding of the natural world, but there are other things science can't do. Science can't measure the personal connection we create with nature through intuition. 
  2. Action. Emerson believes that people prioritise the science derived from nature while ignoring the moral and spiritual experience they get through an actual experience in nature.


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A structuralist thinks we can never escape society's influence. Society gives us narratives we use to navigate the world.

Even if every thought is ultimately given to us by society, we can still value being self-aware of the origins of our thinking. An individual can still choose what ideas they want to inspire them.


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