Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalist Philosophy and Its Influence on Margaret Fuller's Feminist Philosophy

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Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalist Philosophy and Its Influence on Margaret Fuller's Feminist Philosophy

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a leading thinker in the American Transcendentalist movement, who first proposed many of the movement’s most influential ideas regarding the relation between the human mind and the world. He believed each person to possess a “soul,” a power within the self to uniquely perceive and understand the world, and grasp the intricate relationships between all things; Emerson’s universe was infinitely knowable, and his ideal, independent soul should be in a state of constant consideration and reevaluation of the world around him. Emerson’s notion of the chief end of life was the growth and development of one’s soul, and the maintenance of a constant state of learning and changing, of always becoming rather than simply being. He viewed society as a fundamentally oppressive phenomenon, as it imprints itself upon one’s soul and possesses the dictatorial capacity to hinder the soul’s crucial independent thought; to Emerson, society was a “conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members… The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators but names and customs. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist,” (Self-Reliance 1162). “Self-reliance,” the title of Emerson’s 1841 essay, advocates independent thought as a human ideal, above and beyond the confines of traditional, unquestioning society.

Emersonian Transcendentalist thought influenced many other emerging figures, including the feminist thinker Margaret Fuller, who believed society, males and females alike, to be suffering from a lack of gender equality. Fuller took t...

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...of minds, gains the capability of self-reliance.

Emerson depicts his homeostatic society as governed by the tyranny of the fickle majority: “the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause,—disguise no god, but are put on and off as the wind blows, and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the college,” (Self-Reliance 1164). This is paradoxical, in that the American people should ideally be free, but are instead manipulated by the tyrannical masses. If all Americans are governed by an oppressive majority, it seems that nobody is yet free. It would, therefore, follow, that some institutional or governmental reform should be necessary before anybody, man or woman, can be free enough to become self-reliant and, through Emersonian ideals, change society internally.
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