Emerson’s Unifying Philosophy

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Throughout human existence, scholars have earnestly pursued knowledge and the attainment of truth. Historical figures such as Plato, Descartes, and Emerson sought answers to daunting questions of: ‘What is truth?’; ‘What is reality?’; ‘How is wisdom acquired?’ Many scholars believe these philosophers presented conflicting viewpoints: Plato encouraging skepticism among all previous historical, cultural, and personal perspectives; Descartes questioning definitions of reality and his very existence; Emerson encouraging self-trust and confidence in one’s ideals, opinions, and convictions. Surprisingly, reconciliation can be reached from these three differing hypotheses. Emerson’s thesis merely expounds from Descartes and Plato’s philosophies. He builds from Descartes’ search for self-identity and reconciles Plato’s skepticism with his views of self-trust and unconformity among scholars.

Throughout “Mediations I and II”, Descartes disputes definitions of reality and identity, establishing a precursor to Emerson’s philosophy. Initially, Descartes questions all notions of being. In “Mediation I”, Descartes begins his argument explaining the senses which perceive reality can be deceptive and “it is wiser not to trust entirely to any thing by which we have once been deceived” (Descartes 59). But, he then continues to reason; “opinions [are] in some measure doubtful…and at the same time highly probable, so that there is much more reason to believe in than to deny them” (Descartes 62). Descartes maintains trust within his established personal beliefs though he may doubt certain physical senses. Additionally, Descartes seeks to establish his identity in “Meditation II”. Even as he questions his very existence, he begins trustin...

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... personal beliefs, and search for identity, consolidate his hypothesis with Emerson’s by providing a foundation for his ‘self-trust’ ideals. Additionally, Emerson’s thesis mirrors Plato’s as accepted social, historical, and scholastic viewpoints need challenged. Emerson’s definitions of ‘self-trust’ and ‘Man Thinking’ effectively reconcile discrepancies between the three philosophers’ ideology, establishing a basis for truth in philosophy.

Works Cited

Descartes, Rene. “Meditation I & Meditation II”. Discourse on the Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. Yale University Press., 1996.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The American Scholar”. American Public Addresses 1740 – 1952. A. Craid Baird. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1956.

Plato. “Allegory of the Cave”. Plato Republic. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1992.

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