Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo


Born May 25, 1803, in Boston; died Apr. 27, 1882, in Concord. American idealist philosopher, poet, and essayist. Head of the Transcendentalist movement.

Emerson’s philosophical views developed under the influence of classical German idealism. His world view was spiritualist and presented the spirit as the only reality. Taking a position close to pantheism, Emerson regarded nature as the embodiment of the spiritual absolute. He viewed the human soul as a microcosm that forms an intermediate link between the macrocosmic oversoul and nature. For Emerson, personal moral perfection consisted in the attainment of harmony with the oversoul.

Emerson’s ethics, which derive from romanticism, are individualist despite their pantheist tendency. Emerson sharply criticized capitalism; he thought that the institution of property in its 19th-century form was unjust and that it had pernicious effects. His social ideal was a utopia based on private property; according to Emerson, each person should live the simple and wise life of a free farmer or craftsman alone with nature.

Emerson won widespread fame for his lectures on social and ethical themes, such as those published in Letters and Social Aims (1876).


Complete Works, vols. 1–12. New York, 1923.
The Letters, vols. 1–6. New York, 1939.
Essays, series 1–2. New York [1961].
The Journals, vols. 1–6. Cambridge, Mass., 1960–66.
In Russian translation:
Soch., vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1902–03.
Nravstvennaia filosofiia, parts 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1868.
O bessmertii dushi. Moscow, 1887.
Vysshaia dusha. Moscow, 1902.
O doverii k sebe, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1904.
Estetika amerikanskogo romantizma, Moscow, 1977. Pages 178–397. (Translated from English.)


Istoriia filosofii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1943. Pages 498–504.
Parrington, V. L. Osnovnye techeniia amerikanskoi mysli, vol. 2. Moscow, 1962. Pages 448–64. (Translated from English.)
Brooks, V. W. Pisatel’ i amerikanskaia zhizn’, vol. 1. Moscow, 1967. (Translated from English.)
Gray, H. D. Emerson. [Palo Alto, Calif.] 1917.
Sakmann, P. R. W. Emerson’s Geisteswelt nach den Werken und Tagebuchern. [Stuttgart, 1927.]
Gonnaud, M. Individu et société dans l’oeuvre de R. W. Emerson. Paris-Brussels, 1964. (Contains bibliography.)
Perry, B. Emerson Today. Hamden, Conn., 1969.
Cooke, G. A Bibliography of R. W. Emerson. [Ann Arbor, Mich., 1962.]


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.