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It's called "Self-Reliance." What could it possibly be about?

So we shall come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect (“What is truth?), as well as that of the affections (“What is good?”), by yielding itself passive to the educated Will.

Until humanity begins to act with both understanding/intellect and reason/spirituality towards nature, to repair its relationship with nature and the world, humanity remains disunited with itself and the world lacks unity. To correct this trend, Emerson argues people need to acquire a new, educated way of seeing the world, by which he means the Transcendentalist approach he has laid out in the previous sections.

“Self-Reliance” summary key points:

Emerson essay self reliance summary Essay ii self reliance summary

If you are self-reliant then you don’t need to depend on anyone.

Through Emerson’s declarations of the importance of thinking for one’s self, Emerson puts an emphasis on personal life experiences and not accepting other people’s ideas....

In this last section, Emerson argues it is better approach the world as a naturalist than as a student of empirical science. Compared to the precision and experiments of the scientist, the naturalist employs self-discovery and humility, and thus continues to learn about his relation to the world, and remains open to the secrets of nature. The naturalist will pay attention to the truth and to the real problems to be solved:

The Value of and Barriers to Self-Reliance (paragraph 1-17)

He settles the issue by showing how various aspects of culture - including 1) motion (which affirms the internal reality of the observer due to the feeling of the sublime that arises from the difference felt between the observer/human and the spectacle/nature, as when seeing the shore from a moving ship), 2) poetry (which affirms the reality of the soul by the way in which poets conform nature to their thoughts and "makes them the words of the Reason" or the soul), 3) philosophy (which like poetry, affirms the reality of the soul by the way in which philosophers animate nature with their thoughts and makes them the words of Reason, except in this case for Truth rather than Beauty), 4) intellectual science (which generates insight based on abstract ideas and thus the spirit), and 5) religion and ethics (which degrades nature and suggests its dependence on the spirit) - convince us of the reality of the external world, of nature and spirit, and thus tend to imbue us with a moderate form of idealism:

That is the obvious message that Emerson is trying to convey in his essay "Self-Reliance".

"Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." Emerson, along with the Transcendental Movement, believed in the vitality of self-reliance....

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Self-Reliance and the Individual (paragraph 18-32)


"Self-Reliance" was the first series of essays published in 1841.

Emerson urges the reader to live by his instinct and listen to his intuition, "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." Don’t fear your original thoughts, trust them and live accordingly....

Self-Reliance and Society (paragraph 33-50)

A lot of the most famous ideas and concepts developed by the American Romantics were elaborated in essays, such as Emerson's "Self-Reliance" above. The American Romantics weren't just great at writing fiction and poetry; they were also great at writing essays. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from the Romantics about writing those pesky English papers?

Self-reliance is its aversion" (Emerson, 21).

Whereas Christ alone has traditionally been regarded as the Word made flesh, Emerson regards every human potentially as a reincarnation of the Word. Consequently, regret of the past and prayer for the future as a means to effect private ends are both diseases of human will and should be avoided. Traveling with the hope to see something greater than the self, in Emerson’s view, would simply be senseless. As a result of this moralistic view, society, like nature, may change but never advance. Typical of his conclusions, the end of this essay, which repeats the theme of self-reliance and predicts the subjugation of Chance under human will based on self-reliance, sounds greatly optimistic.

Society acts against the self-reliance of individuals.

Emerson posits the effects of self-reliance: altering religious practices, encouraging Americans to stay at home and develop their own culture, and focusing on individual rather than societal progress.

I must be myself."A 2nd ThemeEmerson, Ralph Waldo.

Emerson encompasses a lot of different ideas in his essay “Self-Reliance.” He writes about a man’s genius, self-expression, conformity, society, virtues, man’s nature, and what it actually is to be self-reliant....

The Importance of Self-Reliance.

Self-Reliance was first published in 1841 in his collection, Essays: First Series. However, scholars argue the underlying philosophy of his essay emerged in a sermon given in September 1830 - a month after his first marriage to Ellen (who died the following year of tuberculosis) - and in lectures on the philosophy of history given at Boston's Masonic Temple from 1836 to 1837.

But what exactly is self-reliance.

The essay, for which Emerson is perhaps the most well known, contains the most thorough statement of Emerson’s emphasis on the need for individuals to avoid conformity and false consistency, and instead follow their own instincts and ideas. The essay illustrates Emerson's finesse for synthesizing and translating classical philosophy (e.g. self-rule in Stoicism, the Bildung of Goethe, and the revolution of Kant) into accessible language, and for demonstrating its relevance to everyday life.

When someone is self-reliant they are completely Independent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson argues in his essay "Self-Reliance" that we should all follow our own minds. Don't let anyone tell you what to do… not even Thoreau.

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