Henry David Thoreau and the Moral Agency of Knowing

By Alfred I. Tauber | Go to book overview

Epilogue: Mending the World

We can comprehend only a world that we ourselves have made.

Nietzsche [1904] 1967, p. 272

Thoreau, I have argued, moved from an idealist Transcendental tradition of mind contemplating nature to one embracing an empiricist-based selfconsciousness of mind-in-nature. From this latter perspective, he offers extraordinary insights into the dilemmas and paradoxes of selfhood. His efforts to bridge nature and culture, to savor the wild and to translate that primary encounter with acute sensitivity, remain his abiding legacy. Not content to describe or create a mythic way of seeing nature, he enacted it. For us to “read” that myth demands that we appreciate that his “seeing” possessed a unique moral character. Indeed, Thoreau created a particular kind of vision of, and for, himself. This creation became an ethical venture, the imperative of seeing the natural world and his place in it, ever conscious of himself observing himself observing nature. In constructing Thoreau's metaphysics of the self, I have detailed how his epistemology was governed by this composite vision of the world and himself.

The centrality of his personal perspective was both the strength of his character and at the same time its weakness. In order to pursue his private goals, Thoreau often forfeited social intercourse, and even in his political activities he remained steadfastly centered on his own person. Ironically, Thoreau, like Nietzsche after him, attempted to serve as a physician to his culture, but in his famous isolation he remained a solitary figure, glorious in the celebration of his individuality and artistic accomplishment, yet sadly removed from the social world of other human beings. In short, Thoreau's vision, for all its power to articulate himself and celebrate the natural environment he inhabited, remained communally myopic and thereby restricted to a world of his own making. Others were simply not particularly germane for him.

-222-

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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
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