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Emerson and the Conduct of Life

Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work

Emerson and the Conduct of Life by David M. Robinson
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'I like not the man who is thinking how to be good,' Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, 'but the man thinking how to accomplish his work'. The ethical emphasis on work and activity signals the shift in his thinking that is the subject of Emerson and the Conduct of Life. In this book, David M. Robinson describes Emerson's evolution from mystic to pragmatist and shows the importance of Emerson's undervalued later writing. Emerson's reputation has rested on the addresses and essays of the 1830s and 1840s, in which he propounded a version of transcendental idealism and memorably portrayed moments of mystical insight. But Emerson's later thinking suggests an increasing concern over the elusiveness of mysticism and an increasing emphasis on ethical choice and practical power. Robinson discusses each of Emerson's major later works noting their increasing orientation to a philosophy of the 'conduct of life'. These books represent Emerson's attempt to forge a philosophy based on the centrality of domestic life, vocation and social relations and they reveal Emerson as an ethical philosopher who stressed the spiritual value of human relations, work and social action.
Cambridge University Press; October 1993
248 pages; ISBN 9780511883552
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Title: Emerson and the Conduct of Life
Author: David M. Robinson