Henry David Thoreau () was an American writer and leading In , when he was 27 years old, Thoreau went to live at Walden. Examine the life, times, and work of Henry David Thoreau through detailed Biography. (History of the World: The 19th Century). print Print; document PDF. Henry David Thoreau. Courtesy The Thoreau Society Collection at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods. Portrait of Henry David Thoreau by Benjamin D.
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This thesis concerns a study of Henry David Thoreau's life and works. It has been divided into five chapters. The first chapter is about his biography, his friends. Sauntering the Year with Henry David Thoreau, Donna Marie Przybojewski .. Bio:Megan Marshall's biography Margaret Fuller: A New American Life was. with co-members Elizabeth Peabody, Henry David Thoreau, and others. In , Emerson His parents were John Thoreau and Cynthia Dunbar and he had three siblings. Nathaniel "Biography of David Thoreau.".
We can easily fail to perceive the value of being if we do not approach the world with the appropriate kind of emotional comportment. He observes that scientific terminology can provide the means of apprehending something that we had utterly missed until we had a name for it see Walls , Yet he also gives voice to the fear that by weighing and measuring things and collecting quantitative data he may actually be narrowing his vision.
Overall, his position is not that a mystical or imaginative awareness of the world is incompatible with knowledge of measurable facts, but that an exclusive focus on the latter would blind us to whatever aspects of reality fall outside the scope of our measurement.
By acknowledging the limits of what we can know with certainty, we open ourselves up to a wider horizon of experience. Truth is radically perspective-dependent, which means that insofar as we are different people we can only be expected to perceive different worlds Walls , It is an admirable goal, and one that remains quite relevant in the philosophical climate of the present day. Hence, we need to cherish and nurture our capability to discern the difference between the idea and the reality, between what is and what ought to be.
It is when we experience dissatisfaction with ourselves or with external circumstances that we are stimulated to act in the interest of making things better. It follows that the greatest compliment we can pay to another person is to say that he or she enhances our life by inciting us to realize our highest aspirations.
In his ethical writings, the notion of wishing good on behalf of another person is often taken to a severe extreme, as if he does not think it possible to ask too much of love and friendship.
It is, for example, his understanding of wild nature that informs his sociopolitical ideas. As was noted above, nature is a point of reference outside the polis which can provide valuable moral guidance, reminding us that society is not the measure of all things.
Withdrawing into the natural world allows us to view the state in a broader context and to conceive of ways in which social values and political structures could be improved radically.
This includes unjust laws that ought to be reformed, about which more will be said in a moment, as well as the unwritten rules embodied in prevailing expectations about how one ought to live and what matters. In denouncing a specific pernicious attitude that is widespread among his contemporaries, Thoreau also seeks to identify and analyze the general tendency it exemplifies to defer to public opinion: for this reason, his project of social critique is not only relevant to his parochial context but has universal implications.
He is acutely conscious of the threat that shared modes of discourse can pose to authentic intersubjectivity. Not only is it true that a degree of solitude and distance from our neighbors may actually improve our relations with them, but by moving away from the center of town we liberate ourselves from a slavish adherence to prevailing attitudes.
It is outrageous that he is often stereotyped as a lifelong recluse and hermit. Above all, the political issue that aroused his indignation more than any other was slavery. Because Thoreau understood philosophy as a way of life, it is only fitting that philosophical ideals would lead him into political action. He was an activist involved in the abolitionist movement on many fronts: he participated in the Underground Railroad, protested against the Fugitive Slave Law, and gave support to John Brown and his party.
Most importantly perhaps, he provides a justification for principled revolt and a method of nonviolent resistance, both of which would have a considerable influence on revolutionary movements in the twentieth century.
Political institutions as such are regarded by him with distrust, and although he arguably overestimates the extent to which it is possible to disassociate oneself from them, he convincingly insists that social consensus is not a guarantee of rectitude or truth.
Passively and quietly allowing an unjust practice to continue is tantamount to collaborating with evil, he claims, articulating a principle of noncompliance that would inspire the philosophically informed nonviolent resistance of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, among others.
His essay in this respect has a more general pertinence to debates about the individual moral reformer in relation to community norms. It also raises the issue of whether political violence can be justified as the lesser of evils, or in cases where it may be the only available way of ending injustice.
Although at times it sounds as though Thoreau is advocating anarchy, what he demands is a better government, and what he refuses to acknowledge is the authority of one that has become so morally corrupt as to lose the consent of those governed.
There are simply more sacred laws to obey than the laws of society, and a just government—should there ever be such a thing, he adds—would not be in conflict with the conscience of the ethically upright individual. Locating Thoreau Thoreau has somewhat misleadingly been classified as a New England transcendentalist, and—even though he never rejected this label—it does not fit in many ways.
Some of his major differences from Emerson have already been discussed, and further differences appear when Thoreau is compared to such figures as Orestes Brownson, Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott.
A history of transcendentalism in New England which appeared in the late nineteenth century mentions Thoreau only once, in passing Frothingham , It was suggested above that a better way of situating Thoreau within the Western philosophical tradition is to consider him a kind of transcendental idealist, in the spirit of Kant. For reasons that ought to be obvious by now, he should be of interest to students of Kant, Fichte, and Schelling—all of whom he studied at first or second hand—and possibly Schopenhauer.
Thoreau was a capable and enthusiastic classicist, whose study of ancient Greek and Roman authors convinced him that philosophy ought to be a lived practice: for this reason, he can profitably be grouped with other nineteenth-century thinkers, such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who were critics of philosophy in the early modern period.
Yet he also has the distinction of being among the first Western philosophers to be significantly influenced by ancient Chinese and Indian thought. He anticipates Bergson and Merleau-Ponty in his attention to the dynamics of the embodied mind, and shares with Peirce and James a concern for problems of knowledge as they arise within practical experience.
Contemporary philosophers are increasingly discovering how much Thoreau has to teach—especially, in the areas of knowledge and perception, and in ethical debates about the value of land and life. His affinities with the pragmatic and phenomenological traditions, and the enormous resources he offers for environmental philosophy, have also started to receive more attention—and Walden itself continues to be encountered by readers as a remarkable provocation to philosophical thought.
Then again, as Thoreau himself notes, it is never too late to give up our prejudices.
Others have observed see Slicer , — that, based on the amount of prominent work on Thoreau as a philosopher which has recently appeared, his profile seems to be ever so gradually rising on the American philosophical landscape. Originally published in The Journal of Henry D.
Thoreau, 14 volumes, ed. Torrey and F.
Allen, New York: Dover, Parenthetical citations give the date of each entry. The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Citations give the date of the letter quoted. Perry Miller, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Citations give the date of each entry. Richard Fleck, Albuquerque: Hummingbird Press, Early Essays and Miscellanies, ed. Joseph Moldenhauer et al. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, ed. Hovde et al. Cape Cod, ed.
Moldenhauer, Princeton: Princeton University Press, In Thoreau also began lecturing, which he continued intermittently, often emphasizing his strong opposition to slavery, but his message was not always well received. He helped Emerson edit the Transcendentalist magazine The Dial. He took a canoe trip with his brother John during the first two weeks of September , which experience he transformed into a volume of poems and essays entitled A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers While he published copies himself, only about sold.
On July 4, Thoreau moved into a cabin on the shores of Walden Pond, on land belong- ing to Emerson, about two miles from Concord, and lived there alone for over two years. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly.
Looking farther, I was sur- prised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, but a bellum,1 a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons2 covered all the hills and vales in my woodyard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging; internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand, the black imperialists on the other.
On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely.
I watched a couple that were fast 1 not a duellum. Myrmes is the Greek word for ant. They fought with more pertinacity than bulldogs. Neither manifested the least disposition to retreat. I should not have won- dered by this time to find that they had their respective musical bands stationed on some eminent chip, and playing their national airs the while, to excite the slow and cheer the dying combatants. I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had been men.
The more you think of it, the less the difference. For numbers and for carnage it was an Austerlitz or Dresden. I have no doubt that it was a principle they fought for, as much as our ancestors, and not to avoid a three-penny tax on their tea; and the results of this bat- tle will be as important and memorable to those whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker Hill, at least.
I took up the chip on which the three I have particularly described were strug- 2 gling, carried it into my house, and placed it under a tumbler on my window-sill, in order to see the issue. Holding a microscope to the first-mentioned red ant, I saw that, though he was assiduously gnawing at the near fore leg of his enemy, having severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was all torn away, exposing what vitals he had 3 To return with his shield.
In that famous fight, Major John Buttrick and his militiamen repelled the British regular army and hired soldiers. Davis and Hosmer were Americans killed, Blanchard an American wounded.
They struggled half an hour longer under the tumbler, and when I looked again the black soldier had severed the heads of his foes from their bodies, and the still living heads were hanging on either side of him like ghastly trophies at his saddle-bow, still apparently as firmly fastened as ever, and he was endeavoring with feeble struggles, being without feelers and with only the remnant of a leg, and I know not how many other wounds, to divest himself of them; which at length, after half an hour more, he accomplished.