Emerson and Spinoza: a comparative study of their metaphysics and ethics and Emerson's position as a monistic thinker
Reese, James Harold
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This study of Emerson's philosophy is divided into two parts, each of which can stand independently of the other. In Part I a comparison is made between the metaphysics and ethics of Emerson and Spinoza. I have not concerned myself with any attempt to convince the student that Spinoza was a direct influence on Emerson; I rest my argument on the philosophy of Emerson and Spinoza itself, to show clearly the affinity between the two thinkers. The philosophy of Spinoza, as Heine implies, and Durant states, has served as a basis for all philosophic thought following (and in light of recent scientific discoveries, one might add that it has served as an instrument for science). The student can go through the whole romantic movement in nineteenth century English literature and find much of the philosophy of Spinoza, particularly in the poetry of Wordsworth and Shelley. His influence on nineteenth century philosophy stands unquestioned. He is less known to the student of literature, perhaps because he has never been popularized as have Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Berkeley; never been held in awe as have Hegel, Kant and other German philosophers; and perhaps because he is the product of no philosophic school of thought and the founder of none. He, like Marx, seems to stand alone but, inspite of this, or perhaps because of it, like Marx, his influence has been great. To my knowledge the philosophy of Spinoza has never been considered as a key to the understanding of Emerson, so perhaps this paper will serve as an introduction to both men. In Part II, I have concerned myself with a clarification ofthe many philosophic terms which often have been attached to Emerson, and have attempted to establish his position as a monistic thinker. There has been in literature, more so than in philosophy, a loose handling of concepts and terms. Such a term as naturalism always has had in philosophy a meaning entirely different than in literature. This is true of similar terms such as idealism, realism, and transcendentalism. Literary critics have fallen into the habit of applying terms without qualification, and have quite infrequently shown that they are not aware of the changing connotations of philosophic concepts throughout the development of human thought. Unfortunately the human language is limited, though man's depth of perception and range of penetration at times seems unlimited. Consequently there has been, and must always be, the application of old concepts to new principles. Thus it is that in many periods of human thought a single philosophic term may have a variety of meanings.
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