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In this chapter Emerson focuses on how we perceive objects around us. Emerson speaks of the landscape in which he walks and how he, as a poet, can best combine all that he sees. What is most important in this chapter is the similar ways we look at the certain objects such as, stars, the landscape, and the poet. Emerson states that we take stars for granted because they are always present in our lives, no matter where we live and where we go the stars are there.
However, although they are accessible because we can see them, they are also inaccessible. Their distance from us makes them more elusive than we might imagine.
For Emerson, the word “commodity” means a physical necessity. By using this definition of commodity, he briefly explains how nature supports our earthly existence. The different elements, such as metals, plants, and animals to the basic elements of earth, air, fire, and water, nourish earth’s people.
The wind, the sun, the rain, the plants, and the animals, also all work together to better the earth and mankind. And by describing the art made by humans as being reproductions of nature, Emerson suggests that by creating art, humanity fits itself into this pattern of integration. This chapter introduces the idea that beauty is a part of nature that serves our needs.
Following the chapter on commodity, this discussion makes clear the notion that beauty is a higher want of humanity than commodity, which everyone must have to survive.
Beauty is not necessary for physical survival, but it is useful. Emerson uses the image of a circle as being the most perfect and, therefore, the most beautiful. An artist integrates natural objects into a “well colored and shaded globe” and creates a “round and symmetrical” landscape. Comparing a landscape to a circle’s perfect shape, Emerson finds that the landscape has perfect order; this order creates a unity composed of the eye beholding a scene and the natural light highlighting the scene’s inherent beauty.
In chapter 4, Emerson discusses the relationship between nature and language. He discusses how words represent objects in nature. These individual objects indicate spiritual facts; and nature symbolizes spirituality. To explain how words represent natural objects, Emerson uses etymology, the origin and development of words to show that abstract terms are obtained from words for physical things. According to this view, which has been dishonored by modern linguists, language is a series of metaphors, symbols representing other things.
By claiming that people can come to know nature “by degrees,” Emerson now differentiates which faculty’s people use in this process. He names these faculties Understanding and Reason, and he attempts to show the relationship between them. Everything in nature offers lessons that we can learn. Understanding requires our perceiving how natural objects differ from — and resemble — each other. Included as natural objects are Debt and Property, which today would be distinguished as social or economic issues.
In chapter 6 Emerson now takes on the difficult question of subjective truth and the impossibility of verifying the truth of external reality. It is not possible to prove absolutely that what our senses perceive is real. The average person Emerson uses the carpenter as one example of such a person doesn’t want to know that what he thinks is real might be an illusion. However, whether or not nature exists as something distinct from ourselves remains definitively unanswerable.
In chapter 7 Emerson is Attempting to understand the mystery of nature’s vital unity, Emerson’s language and concepts concerning a universal spirituality suggest mystical truths beyond the reach of ordinary understanding. Whenever we try to define what this spirit is that fill nature, our comprehension fails us, but we still feel that nature has spiritual properties.
Although our critical understanding of nature’s spirit can only be insufficient or superficial, this ignorance does not diminish the importance or the recognition of the mystery. Emerson addresses three questions: First, what is the matter out of which nature is made? In answering this question, he finds that according to the philosophy of idealism, matter is a phenomenon and not a substance. Nature is something experienced, something distinctly different from us.
The final chapter opens with reflections on how to study nature. According to Emerson, intuition is more preferable in trying to understand nature than are the calculated measurements of science and geology. Empirical science, based on detailed observation, studies individual objects, but it fails to place them back into their natural surroundings. In other words, empirical science views an object only in its singularity rather than as a piece of a larger whole.
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