" 'And yet there seems no need to fear that we should grow too wise. The path of truth has obstacles enough of its own. We dwell on the surface of nature. We dwell amidst surfaces; and surface laps so closely on surface, that we cannot easily pierce to see the interior organism. Then the subtlety of things! Under every cause, another cause. Truth soars too high or dives too deep, for the most resolute inquirer. See of how much we know nothing.'
— RWE, "The Senses and the Soul"
"Emerson taught throughout that the path to the formation of character is steep and narrow, but nonetheless is our essential business. As he said in a journal entry for 1845, 'I am here to be worked upon.' Few seem inclined to undertake the climb, and yet in these times, it appears more necessary and vital than ever because the ground beneath our feet trembles and the water is rising. How are we seriously to cope, to find a firm place to stand unless we undertake the one serious path to the ground of being? In addition to the term 'self-recovery,' Emerson referred to this work in 'Self-Reliance' as achieving 'the erect position.'
"When the New England Transcendentalists, with Emerson as their undeclared leader, undertook to publish the journal Dial, their organ of communication to a skeptical world, Emerson wrote for the 1842 edition a compassionate essay entitled 'The Senses and the Soul.' The passage above was followed by this reservation on the merits of the examined life:
" 'Our ignorance is great enough, and yet the fact most surprising is not our ignorance, but the aversation [aversion] of men from knowledge. That which, one would say, would unite all minds and join all hands, the ambition to push as far as fate would permit, the planted garden of man on every hand into the kingdom of Night, really fires the heart of few and solitary men. Tell men to study themselves, and for the most part, they find nothing less interesting.'
"There are at least two reasons why we don't make more progress in understanding the world through understanding ourselves: Things are too subtle and we find introspection too circular. It feels much more productive to move along a straight line, to follow a path on the surface of things, where we can experience and measure success. The trouble with surface-dwelling, however, is that one day we find ourselves nearing the end of life and, looking back, we find everything an indistinct blur. 'What happened to my life?' we ask and with good reason. As that persistent gad-fly Socrates told us, the unexamined life is not worth having. Deep down we know that to be true because the experience of surfaces confirms it. As Emerson put it, we live in deep prisons of our own making and when we seek to break free, we haven't the tools to force the prison door.
"Like Jung in the next century, Emerson saw self-recovery as the process of soul-making, and it involved awakening to the full potential of human life, and again, he called it 'the infinitude of the private man.' Those in his circle, especially Alcott, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, were equally devoted to the examined life and to ways in which this awakening might actually take place. How to do so was an earnest debate among them."