Part Three – Exercise 3.1: Emerson / Searle

Can you see a connection between Emerson’s remarks and the view expressed by Searle in chapter one? Where do their views overlap and where do they differ? You could address this in three columns – one for each author either side of a column of similarities. The differences will be those points that are not similarities.

“No truth can be more self evident than that the highest state of mind, physical, intellectual, and moral, can only coexist with a perfect Theory of Animated Nature.” – R.W. Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) to the Boston Natural History Society in 1834
(comment: the year mentioned in the reference ‘1934’ is not correct)

‘If our restless curiosity lead us to unearth the buried cities and dig up the mummy pits and spell out the abraded characters on Egyptian stones, shall we see a less venerable antiquity in the clouds and the grass? An everlasting Now reigns in Nature that produces on our bushes the selfsame Rose which charmed the Roman and the Chaldaean. The grain and the vine, the ant and the moth are as long-descended. The slender violet hath preserved in the face of the sun and moon the humility of his line and the oldest work of man is an upstart by the side of the shells of the sea.’ (Emerson, 1959, 71)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Harvard graduate, was pastor from 1829-1832. He was Unitarian and during a visit to UK he Thomas Carlyle 1832 what was a significant encounter in his life. After his return to the USA he went through a period of ‘introspection and reading’ between 1832 and 1836.

The period 1836-1844 played a key role in Emerson’s life and the creation of the movement of Transcendentalism. It was based on the concept of ‘viewing Nature as the divine teacher of man’. Further they argued for organism on art, a perspective considering the universe and its parts as a organic entity. The movement was influenced by the ideas of Carlyle, Goethe and Kant and the transcendental arguments that ‘people had an innate ability to perceive that their existence transcended mere sensory experience’. They understood Christianity the Unitarian way of relying on the spirit rather than the deeds of Christ. That period was Emerson most fruitful and successful time. One of his ideas was the poet as ‘liberating god or truth-speaker.’ (Myerson, 2003). A key book for Emerson and the movement was ‘Nature’ (1836) . In 1849 Emerson issues a second book ‘Nature’ with further and some re-visited earlier pamphets.

By the mid 1860s, Emerson was an accepted authority across reformers and conservatives as well as other social groups. He became an US icon and his many apothegms became famous.  (Myerson, 2003)

This exercise was asking to compare the remarks by Emerson with remarks by Searle from part 1. I found it difficult or at least not satisfying to look only at these small extracts. Thus, I read the complete lecture by Emerson (1834) and compared with the key notes taken from my earlier reading of Searle’s book (1996). My found points are therefore wider in scope. However, I checked at the end with the printed remarks in the course material and found it coherent.


Similarities and Differences (R.W.Emerson, 1834 vs. J.R.Searle, 1995)

“The world exists independently of our representations of it. Every representation has an aspectual shape. Ontologically objective reality does not have a point of view.” – J.R. Searle

Stefan513593 - 3.1 - Similarities and Differences-log2

Fig. 1: Stefan513593 – 3.1 – Similarities and Differences-log2

From my rough notes, stuck in my paper log – after various shuffling around to find a covincing ‘constellation’ of my notes. I marked ideas by Searle and by Emerson in different colors and could see better where ideas are crossing or not.

My final sheet of similarities and differences:

Stefan513593 - 3.1 - Similarities and Differences Emerson-Searle

Fig. 2: Stefan513593 – 3.1 – Similarities and Differences Emerson-Searle



“Man is the only object of interest to Man.” – R.W.Emerson

After reading the text by Emerson I felt several times reminded of arguments by Greenberg and de Thierry on Modernist Art. One aspect that beauty of nature is the truth and kind of aim to seek for. Relates for me to Greenberg’s notion (approprioting Kant) that aesthetic judgement of art is an end in itself. Kant expressed it as ‘purposiveness without a purpose’.

Emerson’s argument that science goes from ‘arbitary to natural classes’ and to ‘causa causans’ (Emerson, 1834) reminds my of de Thierry’s argumentation of the evolvement of specific art i.e. painting towards generic art with the appearance of Minimalist and Conceptual Art.

One main difference in the overall argumentation between Emerson and Searle is for me the stronger foundation of Emerson on a divine truth that one can ‘touch’ through observation of the beauty of Nature that ‘lead back to Truth’ because ‘there is no false logic in Nature’ (ebid). Whereas, Searle leaves it open how the external reality might look like, even a non-physical external reality is imaginable. 

In summary, I can see that some aspects of reality could be argued with from a subjective and de-constructive perspective: objectivity, facts, truth. From a common sense perspective one could argue that things that do exist, are objectively facts and thus it must be truth. Can something subjectively believed still be a fact and truth? Or can can the truth not be an objective fact? Possibly all kinds permutations could be done, with language as a construction tool, kind of linguistic LEGO. Nevertheless, both authors do agree with that Man is the subject matter, seeking for meaning in all endevors. And hopefully in a way, that social interactions, i.e. verbal, with others are possible.

At the end, a question stays open for me, whether language as a constructed mean can transcend experience? Language, either as speech act based on institutional facts, or as tool to represent reality, as it based on and restricted by experience. According to Plato the pure idea in space and time as non-matter is a reflection of reality. And Emerson would possibly confirm this as one way to overcome imitation. However, it might be nearly impossible for language to be able to express it, to transcend its own limitations.




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