“The American Scholar” is the speech delivered by the well known American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the audience of this speech was Phi Beta Kappa Society of the college. In his address, the philosopher elaborates on his views about the American scholars of that time and their main functions in the society, as well as the main influences they undergo through the course of their life and career.
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The speaker sees and identifies a scholar as “Man Thinking.” The speech consists of four sections. Emerson greets his audience and tells a fable about separate functions of people. Then he discusses the influence of nature on the human mind. After that, he moves on to the influence of books and the past. Finally, Emerson speaks about the importance of action for the scholar as a thinking man and explores the duties of such a man.
Discussing the influence of nature on the scholar, Emerson concludes that an experienced thinker sees it as a whole. He writes, “There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God” (Emerson, par. 8). Emerson finds categorization of nature and separation if from people very ignorant. For his studying nature and trying to know oneself are connected processes.
Speaking about the influence of books on the mind of a scholar, Emerson calls them the “best type of the influence of the past” (Emerson, par. 10). The philosopher sees them as pure knowledge of life transformed into the truth coming from the scholars of ancient times. He states that each generation should write their books, passing their knowledge and wisdom to their successors.
At the same time, the speaker states that rely on the knowledge of the books only is wrong, as no principles described in them should be taken as dogmas. Emerson notes that a person that blindly takes all the written down knowledge for granted a bookworm lacking a personal opinion. Emerson writes that books are “for nothing but to inspire” (par. 15).
Action is viewed by Emerson as an extremely valuable process and teaches the scholar better than books, giving them pure and precious experience. The philosopher sees virtue in physical labor and notes that work is something that is always and everywhere welcome.
Emerson sees thinking as the most important function of the scholar, and this ability gets refined by such resources as nature, books and action or labor. According to Emerson, a proper scholar is the one who combines the knowledge, of self and the observation of nature, the knowledge of others collected in books, and the practical knowledge of experience that can only be gained empirically.
Emerson calls Man Thinking “the world’s heart” and “the world’s eye” (par. 31). By these words the philosopher means that a true scholar is to percept the things around, study them and explore, applying critical thinking. The scholar is the recipient of the world’s knowledge, its carrier, and its communicator. This is why becoming Man Thinking is so crucial for every educated person.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The American Scholar. Web.