Thoughts on Self Reliance by Emerson


Pick up any book of quotes, or one of those ubiquitous quote-a-day calendars and you are sure to stumble upon Ralph Waldo Emerson. He is one of those authors who everyone quotes but few actually read. Even if you are unfamiliar with his body of work you've most likely heard the famous line, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." This comes from his essay, Self Reliance.


I came across an author recently who was extolling the virtues of reading Emerson. He even went so far as to claim he was one of the wisest philosophers he had read. I went through a brief period of being infatuated with the ideas of the Transcendentalists in college but had not given the movement, or its leader, much thought since. So I dug out my college text and reread Self Reliance. Much of it still held appeal, though some of Emerson's thinking seems lacking to me now. Over the next three posts I'll attempt to show where I think he gets it right and where he may be over-reacting to prevailing traditions of his time.
Emerson (1803 – 1882) was an American philosopher, essayist, and poet who is best remembered for championing the Transcendentalist movement. He was a strong proponent of individualism and a critic of the pressures of society. He published dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across America throughout his lifetime.