Points and questions to consider as you read
Emerson: "the infinitude of the private man"General: For
Emerson, Truth (or Spirit) is indwelling in the Universe, expressed
through nature and man and perceived through Reason (or Intuition) rather
than just understanding (reason, logic). All things are potentially
microcosms, containing the germs of all Truth. Likewise, his sentences and
metaphors all explore the same Truth, and so are not to be read as logical
arguments. So don't be surprised if his essays seem rather circular,
presenting similar ideas from many different angles. In the end, he says,
all truth has to do with the "infinitude of the private man."
To read this essay well, you must underline sentences that seem
significant and try to put them in your own words. In particular, note the
sentences which are marked in this on-line marked copy of the essay.
"Self-Reliance"How does (and should) a person define his/her
place in society? (what does Emerson mean by "society" anyhow?)
What are the two major barriers to self-reliance (in your own words)?
Who is the "aboriginal Self," the "Trustee"? How does this concept modify
the egotism of self-reliance?
What are the implications of self-reliance for business? for religion
(prayers, creeds)? for travelling? for art? for property ownership and
Here are some of the key sentences marked in context. How would you put
any of them in your own words?
your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense...."
half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of
everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its
is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think."
foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little
statemens and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has
simply nothing to do."
centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the
only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of
men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of
is a fool's paradise."
Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and
shalt sit thereafter out of fear from her rotations....Nothing can bring
you peace but yourself."
on "Self-Reliance" with Class Discussions