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The American Scholar

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Ralph Waldo Emerson was well known for a speech called the “The American Scholar” that he delivered to the Phi Beta Kappa society in 1837. Emerson was a productive and unique thinker of his time. He originally trained to become a minister of a Christian value that emphasizes freedom and tolerance in religious belief. Writing and public speaking turned into a well-known career for Emerson instead of becoming a minister. Emerson’s main idea for his speech was to argue for a new and direct form of educational learning for the American population. The American culture was still heavily influenced by the past. Emerson’s speech was possibly the first time in the country’s history to provide a visionary idealistic framework for escaping from what he called “under its iron lids” by building a new American cultural identity. Emerson believes that the incoming generations should be influenced by nature, the past, and action.

In “The American Scholar” Emerson gives an ideal of how a true scholar should be educated and what the duties of the scholar should be instead of being a “mere thinker”. Emerson doesn’t like that man is defined by his actions instead of his ideal state. For example, a mechanic is labeled as the machine he works with instead of being the individual that runs the machine, causing him to become a victim of society. Emerson discusses three kinds of influences on the education of the thinking man: nature, books, and action. Emerson’s primary importance is about learning nature. “Nature corresponds to one’s mind, so it should be studied for the enhancement of the understanding of the self.” He argues that a close relationship between the soul and nature is this, “One is seal, and one is print.” Emerson is talking about how one man’s soul should be discovered and learned instead of being like the next man in line. The second influence is the mind of the past, which can be seen in books.

To achieve a higher state of mind, the modern American scholar must reject old ideas and think for himself to
become “Man Thinking”, rather the parrot of other men’s thinking.” The American Scholar” has an obligation to see the world clearly, not severely influenced by traditional/historical views, and to broaden his understanding of the world from fresh eyes. Action is Emerson’s last but not least influence for the new scholar’s revised education. Emerson encourages a scholar to act. Emphasizing on the importance of the actual experience for one’s mental growth but also, and especially, attempts to identify a person of action with a self-reflective mind. To do is to learn and to learn is to live.

Emerson describes the scholar’s duty, which is to guide people to find the universal mind within them-selves and to achieve a balance right along with it. To be qualified for such a work, the scholar would naturally need to be confident and self-trusting: “In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended.” Emerson believes that one should be free and brave to go out and explore without being unsure of himself. If you have confidents and self-trust in yourself you can achieve many things in life. “It is one soul which animates all men,” which I believe Emerson means that god has put us on this earth to achieve and prosper in life. Emerson’s long speech boils down to self-reliance. To think, to act, and to achieve as an individual in life needs to be the American way.

Americans should be independent, courageous, and original; in thinking and acting. The scholar must demonstrate that America is not the timid society it is assumed to be. Emerson’s philosophy in light of American education today is still acted upon by teaching the American students to strive for wholeness, freedom, courage, and awareness to succeed in life. The education system we have in America prepares us to take action, by teaching us, so we can go out and experience it. The experiences we have gotten to do in life gives us awareness and courage, and freedom to become an individual.

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