Different Perceptions of Beauty in Nature

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Different Perceptions of Beauty in Nature

Ralph Waldo Emerson derived his philosophy of transcendentalism from ideas of Plato. According to Emerson, one has to have a very sensual relationship with beauty and nature in order to reach this transcendence. However, Emerson’s outlook on beauty as written in Nature is very different from what Plato wrote in The Republic. Interestingly, these differences will result in different methods for attaining the same state of transcendence. I believe, however, that Emerson’s method best describes how the soul transcends.

The act of recalling beauty in its true and perfect form, Beauty, will lead to transcendence and the recovery of the soul. To Plato, transcendence comes not from experiencing anything in the material world as Emerson says, but “only the study of unseen reality can draw the soul upward” (223). Ultimate, true Beauty is the soul in its purest, transcended form:

The soul must be seen as it truly is. It must not be distorted as we find it when it is hinged to the body and its miseries. The light of reason must enable us to discover the soul in its pure form, where its beauty is far more radiant (302).

According to Plato, this perfect form of Beauty can be found by examining one’s soul using reason and wisdom. It can only be found by looking within and examining that which is not part of the physical world and cannot be seen.

Emerson on the other hand believes that the way to transcend the soul is to go forth into nature and experience its beauty in all the senses. He believes nature’s beauty will allow man to find wisdom and to be closer to God. He writes, “in the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life—no d...

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...ight in his way of looking at the world and nature. Plato says that transcendence cannot occur by looking at the things in nature because they are merely imitations of the form of Beauty and will not recall the real thing. But Emerson says this recall is possible because God, the Good, has created this beauty. In doing so, Emerson demolishes the world of appearances and extends the divided line, naming the natural, visible world as the world of reality. Hence going out into nature will allow one to know God and true Beauty, resulting in transcendence and contradicting what Plato said in The Republic.

Works Cited

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Brooks Atkinson. New York: Modern Library, 1992.

Plato. The Republic. Trans. Richard W. Sterling and William C. Scott. New York: W.W. Norton, 1985.
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