The Over-Soul

"The Over-Soul" is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, first published in 1841. With the human soul as its overriding subject, several general themes are treated: (1) the existence and nature of the human soul; (2) the relationship between the soul and the personal ego; (3) the relationship of one human soul to another; and (4) the relationship of the human soul to God. Influence of Eastern religions, including Vedantism, is plainly evident, but the essay also develops ideas long present in the Western tradition, e.g., in the works of Plato, Plutarch, and Neoplatonists like Plotinus and Proclus – all of whose writings Emerson read extensively throughout his career[1][2] – and Emanuel Swedenborg.

The essay attempts no systematic doctrine, but rather serves as a work of art, something like poetry. Its virtue is in personal insights of the author and the lofty manner of their presentation. Emerson wishes to exhort and direct the reader to an awakening of similar thoughts or sentiments.

With respect to the four themes listed above, the essay presents the following views: (1) the human soul is immortal, and immensely vast and beautiful; (2) our conscious ego is slight and limited in comparison to the soul, despite the fact that we habitually mistake our ego for our true self; (3) at some level, the souls of all people are connected, though the precise manner and degree of this connection is not spelled out; and (4) the essay does not seem to explicitly contradict the traditional Western idea that the soul is created by and has an existence that is similar to God, or rather God exists within us.

The Over-Soul is now considered one of Emerson's greatest writings.[citation needed]


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