Platonism in practice: The American transcendental rhetorics of Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott



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American Transcendentalism has often been noted for sharing characteristics with Platonism. While there has been a substantial amount of research done on the influence of Platonism, I take a different approach by exploring the Platonic nature of the American Transcendentalist beliefs of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Amos Bronson Alcott through the lens of Lloyd Gerson’s argument he coins as “Ur-Platonism (UP),” which he details in his book titled, From Plato to Platonism. Instead of supporting major shifts in Platonic thought, such as Middle Platonism or Neoplatonism, Gerson argues the framework of Platonism has remained the same. He describes the framework as the UP Pillars of Platonism, with the five antis of Antimaterialism, Antimechanism, Antinominalism, Antirelativism, Antiskepticism representing the pillars. In my research, I situate American Transcendentalism alongside Gerson’s UP in order to present an alternate guiding idea in the Platonic tradition.



Platonism, American transcendentalism, Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott