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Integrity and Intuition as the Heart of an Individual in Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Arriving at Moral Perfection by Benjamin Franklin

Literary Analysis

Self reliance and independence are characteristics in any one person seen as beneficial. In today’s society, non-conformity is rewarded with praise and approval. Throughout the time period displayed in the two passages, the ideas of Romanticism and Transcendentalism became a widely known topic. In these ideas, the importance of individuality and imagination were valued. They supported the emotional approach in human nature, rather than the rational side, and had a very optimistic outlook on life. Basing their writing off these teachings, two authors explained their outlook on individuality and the conforming to society. The two readings Self Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Arriving at Moral Perfection, by Benjamin Franklin address the theme, that the heart and foundation of an individual is to follow integrity and intuition.

Emerson stresses the importance of a free mind in his work Self-Reliance, written in the mid 19th century. The author expands on the idea of trusting one’s self and following the path set for an individual instead of conforming to society’s idea of successful and intellectual. He believes the path set for one is to be divine if needed, or to deliver, if need be. Apart from this, Emerson values forms of truth existing beyond reason and experience and looks down on those with little minds. In his work he states, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”and also that, “a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall” (Emerson). In this quote, Emerson touches on the topic of consistency, and explains that conforming to the same set of ideas and standards is useless. It is clear, through his reading, that his approach on integrity and intuition mean to follow one’s desires, and potential.

Similarly, Franklin explains his position on the idea of set virtues in his work, Arriving at Moral Perfection, written in the 19th century as well. Franklin takes a less open minded and pro-individuality take on this topic. In this selection, the author explains that although they may know they should be virtuous and independent, it does not always happen as planned, so we should not depend on this. Franklin lists a set of virtues he has collected, that he feels are important to the continuance of society. He explains the importance of doing things only to benefit others, and to keep all unneeded thoughts, opinions, and actions to oneself. He quotes to “use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if [one] speaks, speak accordingly” (Franklin). These ideas contrast widely to those of Emerson, in that Franklin thinks more of the functioning of society as a whole, while Emerson thinks about the individual soul and thoughts. Through his writings, readers get a sense of Franklin’s position on integrity and intuition being about following standards and staying in line. He thinks if everyone followed these virtues, society would run smoothly with no conflict of contrasting ideas.

These two selections give a perspective on the ideas discussed throughout this time period. Though the ideas written in these selections differ in opinions of living with a free independent mind, and those of following a set of virtues made for all, both authors stress the importance of intuition and integrity when making decisions. By doing this, the mind is open to making its mark in this universe in the way it deems fit. This contrast can be compared to the approaches used in sociology, macro-level approach, which looks to society as a whole for understanding of its functions, and micro-level approach, which studies individuals and groups to understand why people behave the way they do. Although some sociologists may approach research in different ways and ideas, they are all advancing toward the same goal and ideas, much like Emerson and Franklin on this idea of individuality in romanticism.

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