Emerson'S Essay On Plato

The great man does stirring deeds; he (or she) reveals knowledge and wisdom; he shows depths of emotion—and others resolve to emulate him.He accomplishes intellectual feats of memory, of abstract thought, of imaginative flights, and dull minds are brightened by his light.It is through Socrates that we learn much of Plato’s philosophy, and to Emerson the older philosopher is a man of Franklin-like wisdom, a plain old uncle with great ears, an immense talker, a hard-headed humorist, an Aesop of the mob to whom the robed scholar Plato owed a great debt.For Emerson the two principal defects of Plato as a philosopher are, first, that he is intellectual and therefore always literary, and second, that he has no system.He acknowledges the ineffable and yet asserts that things are knowable; a lover of limits, he yet loves the illimitable.For Plato, virtue cannot be taught; it is divinely inspired.

Thus, through the ages the cumulative effect of great individuals is that they prepare the way for greater intellects.Emerson warns that such books as Swedenborg’s treatise on...In his lifetime, Ralph Waldo Emerson became the most widely known man of letters in America, establishing himself as a prolific poet, essayist, popular lecturer, and an advocate of social reforms who was nevertheless suspicious of reform and reformers.Matter and spirit are not opposed but reflect a critical unity of experience.Emerson is often characterized as an idealist philosopher and indeed used the term himself of his philosophy, explaining it simply as a recognition that plan always precedes action.Plato honors the ideal, or laws of the mind, and fate, or the order of nature. He sees unity, or identity, on one hand and variety on the other.In him is found the idea (not original, it is true) of one deity in whom all things are absorbed.Emerson views the representative philosopher Plato as an exhausting generalizer, a symbol of philosophy itself, a thinker whom people of all nations in all times recognize as kin to themselves.He absorbed the learning of his times, but Emerson sees in him a modern style and spirit identifying him with later ages as well.Emerson would have preferred to discuss Jesus as the representative mystic, but to do so would have meant sailing into dangerous waters: The orthodox believers of the time would probably have objected to the inclusion of Jesus as a representative man.Emerson chose Swedenborg instead, but in reading this chapter of the book one gets the notion that Emerson was forcing himself to praise this eighteenth century mystic.

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