Actions of an “American Scholar”

On August 31, ¬†1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivers an oration called “The American Scholar” to the elite members of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society of Harvard University. These member consisted of students that were known to have the highest GPAs and the brightest students of the school. Emerson uses the speech to convey a message to express the influences of the nature around themselves in real scholars today, and emphasizes what it truly means to be a scholar.

“Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought can never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not.” (Emerson, 21) Emerson uses the quote to explain the epitome and duties of an American Scholar. In todays society, it is simply not enough to be just smart. Having action, being able to apply yourself into the real world is essential. Putting yourself out there, being able to meet new people, letting your guard down to make connections to experts in the field can help you go further in life unlike someone that is smart in the books but doesn’t apply themselves outside of the world of reading and testing.¬†Where the quote also states that not taking action would be considered as cowardly. The world around us is a reference. Emerson believes that we should use what is provided to use as keys to unlock our greatest potential through action and belief.



One thought on “Actions of an “American Scholar”

  1. I completely agree that Ralph Waldo Emerson believes there is potential in all human beings, and we alone have the key to unlock it. However, I interpret Emerson to be saying that taking action is good, but letting your guard down to meet and experience new things would have no value if done hastily. Further down from the quote that you used says, “Of course, he who has put forth total strength in fit actions, has the riches return of wisdom. I will not shut myself out of this globe of action, and transplant an oak into a flower-pot;…”. I took the most important thing to be “total strength in fit actions”. Thinking without action leads to no progression, but action without valuable thought bears no fruit of wisdom. Or, from what Emerson says, if we act without context, it is like taking steps backward… “transplant an oak into a flower-pot;…”.

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