#48- Emerson’s “The American Scholar”

This week, Scott and Karl discuss Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The America Scholar.” This address was delivered at Cambridge in 1837, before the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

According to Emerson, there’s a fundamental challenge American scholars are faced with— what is it they ought to be doing?

Emerson has a reverence for work and the common man. The scholar must realize the importance of action in the life of the American intellectual or risk becoming a mere thinker. Emerson believes you must do action, and the deeds you do become your vocabulary. If you are in your head all the time, you lose touch. Emerson writes, “Instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm.”

On the surface, this may appear to be a challenge to what we do at Online Great Books.

However, a big part of what we do is achieved in our seminar discussions. As Scott points out, “the seminar is where you take action on what you read. The seminar is where you start to incorporate the book into the self. The seminar is where you dodge the bullet of potentially becoming a bookworm.”

Tune in to this week’s episode and find out why Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. declared this speech to be “the declaration of independence of American intellectual life.”

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