Philosophy Workshop-Russell Goodman-Experience and The Republic:Emerson, Plato, Heidegger, Cavell

6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

At the center of Emerson’s essay “Experience” stands a scene of instruction in which the writer is “apprised of [his] vicinity to a new and excellent region of life,” a region that is that is at once indescribable and the subject of a series of traditional and invented names:  the “vast flowing vigor” of Mencius, the Nous of Anaxagoras, the fire of Zoroaster, the love of Jesus, “the sunbright Mecca of the desert,” and “this new yet unapproachable America.” This central source appears in many of Emerson’s essays—for example as the “One” in “Self-Reliance” or as the “over-soul” in the essay of that title, and it marks what is widely recognized as a Platonic and Neoplatonic element in Emerson’s thought.  It is not hard to see the “sunbright” scene that Emerson portrays as a variation of the central sun in the myth of the cave, the source of being and knowledge that Plato calls the Good;  and the dark opening of “Experience” as a representation of the interior of the cave, a scene not of insight but of confusion.  Does Emerson embark on a Platonic journey in “Experience” in which the aim is to free oneself from the cave and its obscurities and confusions;  or is it a romantic journey as understood by critics from M. H. Abrams to Stanley Cavell, a quest for the ordinary, the miraculous in the common?  And what is the shape of this journey?   Is it a pathway out of the cave (as Cavell suggests), a circular return (as Heidegger argues), or perhaps a journey in which there is no one direction of progress (as Cavell also claims), in which progress is to be understood not so much as getting somewhere as reorienting or turning the self around?  All of these interpretations have merit, but my reading attends to the many places in the essay in which we both find ourselves outside the cave or nearly so, but at the same time immersed in human life, places for example where we “converse with a profound mind” or “find the journey’s end in every step of the road.”



6 E 16 St Room D 1103

Free; no tickets or reservations required; seating is first-come first-served

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