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What did Ralph Waldo Emerson mean by the "over-soul"?
Emerson's idea of the soul came to him from reading the Bhagavad Gita and commentaries on it. Nonetheless, his ideas bear a striking similarity to European Neoplatonic thought. Emerson wrote:
The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man's particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart, of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is submission; that overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from his character, and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand, and become wisdom, and virtue, and power, and beauty. We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE.
What were Ralph Waldo Emerson's requirements for a scholar?
Emerson thought that much could be learned from ordinary experience and that spirituality was not separate from what was familiar or "common." He did not have a high opinion of American academic philosophers, dismissing their thought as "derivative," but he did posit necessary conditions for a scholar. These are: closeness to and experience with nature, knowledge of the past, and action as the clearest expression of thought. Emerson wrote that thinking is a "partial act," but living is a "total act."
Was Ralph Waldo Emerson an abolitionist?
Yes, but it took him a while to develop his position. From childhood, he thought that slavery was evil, but he relied on persuasion rather than outright opposition to it until 1837. At that time he was shocked by the murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy, an abolitionist publisher in Illinois. By 1844 he said of the abolitionists: "[W]e are indebted mainly to this movement, and to the continuers of it, for the popular discussion of every point of practical ethics." After that, he was considered a strong voice for abolition; the
What was Ralph Waldo Emerson's infamous "Divinity School Address"?
In 1838 Emerson was invited to give the graduation address at Harvard Divinity School. He said that while Jesus was a great man, he was not God. This enraged the Protestant community, who termed him an atheist and corrupter of young minds. He was not asked back to Harvard for 30 years. However, by the late-nineteenth century, the doctrine that Jesus was not God was routinely accepted by Unitarians. (Unitarians to this day reject the idea of the Trinity, which entails that Jesus was God, although they recognize him as an extraordinary human being, perhaps even supernatural.)
Atlantic magazine—which also published essays by the African American intellectual Frederick Douglass—printed these words by Emerson, referring to the slave-owning and free American states, in 1862:
We have attempted to hold together two states of civilization: a higher state, where labor and the tenure of land and the right of suffrage are democratical; and a lower state, in which the old military tenure of prisoners or slaves, and of power and land in a few hands, makes an oligarchy.... But the rude and early state of society does not work well with the later, nay, works badly, and has poisoned politics, public morals, and social intercourse in the Republic, now for many years.
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