Emerson’s philosophy of one man divided into many

Or, How does Emerson make it clear that a man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all?  

Or, Why does Emerson regret for the present spiritual state of mankind? 


. The American Scholar is a famous essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) Here he elaborates his philosophical idea and regrets that the “One Man has been divided into many individuals”. Each individual is performing a particular function in a society. Emerson’s philosophical ideas of one man is divided into many are illustrated in the following way.  

To protect the mankind 

It is as if the One Man has been spilled into drops that cannot be re-gathered into the one whole. As a result, each individual has lost the vitality and originality of One Man and has turned into an automaton. Emerson regrets his spiritual condition of mankind, and thinks it is the duty of the American scholar to bring about a revolution, and restore mankind to the original power and vitality, and genius of One Man. 

More Notes: The American Scholar

Be a versatile genius man  

The basic philosophy of Emerson as propounded in this essay is the idea of One Man. In the world of the soul of man One runs through the many, and the many constitute the One whole. To have an idea of whole man we must take the whole society. He makes the idea of One Man clear with the help of an analogy. The One Man may be thought of as the trunk of a tree, and all the other members of society as its branches or ramifications. 

To change in attitudes 

In the course of time as mankind has been proliferated into many, the branches have lost connection with the trunk. Now, each part of One Man, or an individual member of society is strutting like a walking monster with very limited faculty-a good finger neck, and so on, but not a whole man. One Man has been metamorphosed into think. A farmer in the field has forgotten the dignity of his tank, and sees only his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond. The tradesman is only ridden by the poutine of his craft, his soul is subject to dollar. The priest becomes mere form, the attorney, a statute book and so on. 

Regeneration of vigorous mankind 

Man has been degenerated into a mere thing lifeless, inert matter, as a result of being disconnected with One Man. Emerson has a unique conception of man. All men constitute One Man, and One Man is divided into the multitudes. Each individual is performing his Function as a farmer, an engineer, or a professor, but he combines within himself all the multifarious functions that are being done by other individuals. That is, One Man is divided into many with different individual functions, and all men together constitute One Man. 

Mutual understanding with each-other  

Each individual, to realise his full-self, must sometimes return from his own labour to embrace all the other labourers. But regrettably the original unit-One man, which is the fountain of power to the multitudes, has been distributed among them so minutely that it is distilled into drops. 


To sum up it may say that, Emerson regrets the present state of things of man. As a result of the breaking of One Man into too many, each individual man has been shorn of his vitality, the originality, the liveliness and vigour that, produce new things and make new inventions. Human society has come to a dead stop. Machine-like, a man is performing his functions without having consciousness of the possession of life, vigour, and originality. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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