I came across this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote and it intrigued me, but I’m wondering what it really means in its context. Can anyone shine some light on it?
What strength belongs to every plant and animal in nature. The tree or the brook has no duplicity, no pretentiousness, no show. It is, with all its might and main, what it is, and makes one and the same impression and effect at all times. All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of a rabbit, rabbits. But a man is broken and dissipated by the giddiness of his will ; he does not throw himself into his judgments; his genius leads him one way but 't is likely his trade or politics in quite another. -
The Natural History of Intellect (1893)[\quote]
Ask Zoe, specifically, since she makes claim to knowing Emerson’s work very well, and I’m curious how well she would do. Or you could e-mail me. No time to answer this right now, anyway, but I’ll look up the context.
Just skimming through the thing, I think that in the passage you quote, he’s expressing the idea that by studying nature, we acquire the discipline necessary to be authentic. That much is mostly apparent from the quoted passage itself. What the context tells me is why he should think we would acquire discipline through that study. Is it just the obvious idea that we’ll imitate the thing we study? Or that we’ll learn something from nature as though nature were a parable? I don’t think so–it looks to me like Emerson is saying that by studying nature we’re really studying ourselves–and it is self-understanding that enables the kind of discipline I mentioned before.
Why are we actually studying ourselves when we study nature? Right now it looks to me like there are two ways in to that idea when it comes to Emerson. For one thing, he’s an idealist, so he thinks the things we study are actually our own concepts. For another thing, he’s a transcendentalist (I remember something from High School! But you can see it in the text as well…) so he thinks the things we study are actually what we ourselves are.
I don’t know. That’s me blathering based on a skimming and a half-remembering of things heard long ago. I’ll see what people with actual expertise have to say…