Thoreau is thinking that reality as truly seen is forever new and more than words can say. So what do you think? Do we need contemplation or something like it in order to better understand who we are? Or should we be satisfied with Zweckrationalist (Weber) and go about setting and achieving measurable objectives in a calculable world?
Henry David Thoreau was many things, philosopher, existentialist, and pioneer of the environmental movement. A constant theme is his many writings is his belief that everyone was responsible for going out into the world, into the natural world, and finding their true identity through this interaction. He believed that no one could be an authentic version of their self until they made this external version of an internal struggle. In the piece "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," Thoreau discusses his venture into the natural world to find a suitable place in which he might built a house that he could live in but instead of devoting himself to this task, he seemed far more interested in the action of exploration, of looking about him for possible places to live and imagining what each home might be like (334). It is as if the dream version of the real world with the possibilities that he might build up were more inviting, more important than anything he could hope to create in their real and concrete versions. This is the concept of reality vs. one's imagination and it seems that the moral is that the two can never be wholly intertwined.
In his writings, Thoreau takes the position that the artist or the poet lives more honestly, more truly than other men. These are the people who truly see reality and understand the world in a way that regular people could never hope to comprehend. He talks about cultivating a garden and allowing seeds to grow, but his flippancy and flittering from place to place without roots makes it hard to believe that he has ever gone to the lengths to physically toil as would be necessary to accomplish anything as a farmer or in nearly any field for that matter. Thoreau writes in a way that is actually very arrogant. Only his way of life is the correct one and only by doing what he has done can one claim to have lived with any focus or any purpose. He writes, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary" (Thoreau 341). Thoreau went out into the woods in order to contemplate them and his place in the world around him. Only in doing so could he believe that he was living a real and purposeful life. Certainly contemplation of one's existence is important but it seems that there are other important aspects of life to be considered as well which Thoreau does not take into account or give value to.
Instead of opening his mind to the powers of observation and the quest for truth, Thoreau has chosen a very specific course for his life which he insists is the only way of achieving this truth. He writes in "Reading," "With a little more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits, all men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike. In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor accident" (Thoreau 351). According to this way of thinking, the only way that one can achieve what he calls immortality is through the obtaining of truth, but this is a very ambiguous thing. There are many questions that such an assertion leaves unanswered, such as what is this truth of which he is so insistent? Thoreau puts this truth in a position of more value than the creation of family or even the founding of a state. Such things are monumental both for the individual and for the larger world around us. How can it be that the experience he feels in the woods is really so much bigger than these accomplishments? It comes off as a kind of bravura. Thoreau himself, at least according to himself, has found this greater, larger truth and thus he is the only person who is living deliberately and with purpose and therefore he is more accomplished than the founding fathers or men who have made vase fortunes through hard work. If all that is important in this world is this ephemeral natural truth, then by extension Thoreau is the most important man.
Contemplation is certainly important and each person should take some time in their lives to think about where it is they are going and what it is they want out of the time they have on this earth. Zweckrationalism states that people should try to set and achieve measurable success in terms of wealth, but this is not quite right either. Every person should strive to live a life which they found to be fulfilling and self-satisfying. Some people can have this by going out into the woods and communing with nature. Still others may achieve their version of a fulfilled life by getting married and having many children. And others may find success in business and the financial world to be the fulfillment of their life's goals. The point is that each person has the right to find his or her own version of fulfillment. No one has the right to tell anyone else how to live or that their life does not have meaning or is not truthful because they abandoned obligations and went to live in the woods.
2. A) What do you make of Miller's notion that religious inspiration can create a culture-saving alternative community? B) Are Americans tempted to oversimplification?
A. Miller's concept of religion as inspiration is an intriguing one. In the world as we presently know it religion is divisive. Many of the problems in the world, such as the current international War on Terror have to do with religious differences at least that are what the terrorist cells claim is the reason for their actions. Historically, religion has always served to separate people. In the time before recorded history, there was religion and whenever two different populations with different religious beliefs come together; there have been instances of serious conflict. When Christianity was the minority religion, the Romans who believed in polytheism wanted to eradicate them from the earth. After Christianity became the predominant world religion, many of its practitioners tried to minimize the importance of those who believed in other religions, even to the point of exile and murder. Even in the modern period where everyone is supposedly so enlightened, there are still populations where religious differences are not tolerated. Yet, in Miller's view of the world, religion can act as a means of bringing people together. This is fantastic and also serious because one cannot imagine its being true in a real world setting. Perhaps the way religion is presented in the novel is what allows it to be as important as a uniting factor in the lives of the people. Isaac Edward Leibowitz, one of the most important characters is the history of the novel's present was born Jewish, converted to Catholicism, and then founded his own monastic order. Therefore, it can be understood that the character has a very close relationship with religion and that the religion is an important part of his life. His sensibility on this topic would have spread to the other members of his monastery and from there to all those who followed in his footsteps. Seeing the world destroyed by disparaging cultures and political agendas must have created a universal psychology of peacefulness and a desire to create a sense of equality rather than to look for division. Only under these circumstances could it be possible for those who differ in religion to become united so thoroughly. In the post-apocalyptic world of the Miller book, human beings are being attacked around all corners of their lives, from the band of simpletons who go about injuring anyone with a brain and there is little knowledge to go around. Times of strive have the ability to either divide people and to create chaos or to unite people against a common enemy. In the world of the story there is a clear delineation between the "us" quotient and the "them," the simpletons vs. The intellectuals. In the real world, there are many religions which are closely…