Comparison of Immanuel Kant and Ralph Waldo Emerson

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In exploring the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Immanuel Kant, there is a distinct parallelism running through their philosophical theories, the need to break free from immaturity or self-doubt in order to achieve enlightenment or self-reliance. The will to break free is an important function in developing self-trust. Self-consciousness is not simply a special kind of awareness each person possesses. Rather, the authority over the mind must be described as a kind of responsibility taken by the individual. To remain receptive to the intuitive process, an individual must trust in himself. Emerson and Kant warn that conformity and consistency in one’s thinking and acting permits society to dictate an individual’s being; therefore undermining the notion of taking responsibility for one’s own mind. This in turn creates barriers the individual must overcome in order to reach enlightenment. In “Self-Reliance”, Emerson believes that the individual loses a part of himself by not being self sufficient enough to trust ones opinions. “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within…In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty…They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good humored inflexibility…” (Emerson, 164) Emerson stresses not the substance of the ‘‘rejected thoughts’’, but their quality of ‘‘majesty’’ or greatness. Their power reflects the freedom of thought and expression that marks the work as genius; the freedom exemplified is the source of its authority. It is this authority that we recognize; we’ve seen it before in the power and authority of our own thoughts. Confronted with genius in the work of another, we face our own failure to trust ourselves. This is what it means to be enlightened, the idea of accepting oneself, and
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