Student Work for Philosophy 3387

American Philosophy

Notes on Emerson on "Circles"

Ki Hun Kim

Phil 3387

for: C. Freeland

There are two themes that run throughout Emersons Circles: 1) that there are no fixed points, and 2) that the key to every man is his thoughts. I have a problem with the first account, and agree with his second.

On page 25 of Circles, Emerson states that there are no fixtures in life, and that the universe is fluid and volatile. But is this true? Are there really no fixtures in life? Surely, one would be able to agree with me on this point that this cannot be altogether true. After all, a house can only be built if there is a foundation in which to build upon, can it not? However, foundations by themselves are no points of fixtures because they can be damaged, moved, destroyed, and rebuilt, yes? So in this sense, a foundation may not be a fixture, and we are still left with the question of whether there really are fixtures.

The problem seems (at least to me) to be that there is a question about what he means by fixtures. Does he mean that there is nothing of permanance that exists? He gives as his examples the dying of the old to make room for the new, and the loss of Greek and Latin to the world of English and French. But, I must wonder if it is the dying of Greek and Latin actually occurring, or the transformation and alteration of the Greek and Latin into something more suited for mans contemporary needs? Isnt that how everything works in life? You make one creation, which gives birth to another, and that to another, and so on, so that after many years, you realize the change that has occurred. But I cannot agree with Emerson when he states that it is the dying of the old to make room for the new, for what is new is based on the old, and what we consider old is the inherent part of the new that we have failed to recognize exists. Take for example the history of medicine. There may be false ideas our forefathers may have held, but it is only upon those that the new ideas can be formulated and modeled. Perhaps this is what he means when he talks about life being a circle. In a circle, nothing is destroyed. The old is used to create the new, which then becomes old, which is used again to create the new; and this process repeats itself to no end.

To Emerson, man is much like a circle, in that parents give knowledge to children, who take it and incorporate into their own thoughts and beliefs, and pass those on to their children. It is in this process that man is self-evolving. He says that the key to every man is his thoughts, which is the force that will determine to what degree mans circle will expand from its current state. There is a reason why Emerson states that the key to a man is his thoughts, because it is his thoughts that formulate beliefs, and it is beliefs which leads man to take action. You may disagree with me on this point, but if you think about it, you will see (if you are honest with yourself) that there is not an act that we do without having some basis of belief in which the act is based on.

For instance, based on the first philosophy course I took, that experience led me to believe that philosophy was THE subject I wanted to major in. How did I know that this was so? I dont know - all I know is that I KNEW that what I felt was the truth, and you will agree with me that when we are honest with our feelings, when we feel that something is so, it then becomes a belief of ours. Its like the first time a child tastes ice cream for the very first time. He has no conception of what it is like, but after tasting it, he will either like it or hate it, or have no opinion of it. No matter what the childs reaction may be, that reaction will become a belief of his. The child that likes ice cream will continue to eat it in the future because he believes that he likes it. The child that doesnt like it, wont eat it because he believes he doesnt like it. The same will also be true of the child who has no opinion on ice cream. Why is a rapist a rapist? Because he believes himself to be one. Change his belief, and he will no longer be a rapist. How can an atheist become a Christian, and vice-versa? Its because of belief. An atheist may believe the reasons for Christianity to be more compelling, and based on that belief live his life as a Christian. So, it is in this sense that thoughts are the key to every man.

But how can a mans circle increase and expand, you ask? Does something add on to the existing circle and expand that way, or does it merge with another circle? Personally, I think that the circle every person is born with has no bound. You might say that it is like having a checking account that never runs out of money. The circle will expand to the extent that we want it to expand, and the more a person believes this to be true, the more he will take action to make it so; and this will result in his circle becoming bigger and bigger.

Hence, for Emerson to say the new arts destroy the old is a bit misleading on his part, for in a circle, everything is used for everything else, and it is mans thoughts that is the force behind the expansion of his circle

© Copyright 1996 Ki Hun Kim

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