Henry David Thoreau and the Moral Agency of Knowing

By Alfred I. Tauber | Go to book overview

6
Thoreau's Moral Universe

Our whole life is startlingly moral.

Walden, 1971, p. 218

What is Thoreau's enduring moral appeal? That question generates responses that revolve around many issues: the first, and the most accessible, pertains to his formative effect on modern environmentalism. In many respects he set that agenda. His genre of nature writing became an exploration of the unstable relationship between the wild and the pastoral; of the predicament of defining or constructing nature; of the metaphysical placement of the self in the universe. Thoreau relentlessly pursued these issues with an honesty and poignancy unique and powerfully evocative. To get to know Thoreau is to achieve an enriching dialogue, and to know him well is to engage a worthy confidant to explore these matters. But more than as a premier American naturalist, an admirer and chronicler of natural history, Thoreau was philosophically self-conscious in these pursuits. This introspective cognizance reflects a deeper source of inquiry as he engaged in perplexing and oftentimes agonizing meditations on his personhood and the meaning of his life in the context of nature.

This leads to the darker side of Thoreau's moral vision, one that dates to the birth of the social universe. How does one balance the interests of the individual with that of the community in which he lives? From Antigone to our present day, this question has been at the heart of ethics, and Thoreau's response is noteworthy for the adamant and uncompromising primacy he gives the individual. The moral vision which so guided his life was derived from an inner sense of his own personhood, the preservation of his own autonomy, the sanctity of his self-determined choice. In the end, Thoreau's moral philosophy is dangerously solipsistic; narcissistic to the extreme, Thoreau's morality was built from the precept that the protection of his autonomy was the crucial and abiding parameter of moral action. In striving for that independence, Thoreau erected a universe around himself.

-163-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Henry David Thoreau and the Moral Agency of Knowing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Eternal Now 23
  • 2 - Another Apple Tree 45
  • 3 - Another Apple Tree 75
  • 4 - Thoreau at the Crossroads 104
  • 5 - Thoreau's Personalized Facts 140
  • 6 - Thoreau's Moral Universe 163
  • 7 - The Self-Positing I 195
  • Epilogue: Mending the World 222
  • Notes 231
  • References 285
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 301

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.