Chapter

Roughly Thoreau

Maurice S. Lee

in Uncertain Chances

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199797578
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932412 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199797578.003.0005
Roughly Thoreau

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This chapter focuses on the radical empiricism of Walden, Thoreau’s journals, and his later scientific writings. As an artist, philosopher, surveyor, fisherman, and naturalist, Thoreau comes to accept the uncertainty of chance and its imperatives for the conduct of life, even as—like John Ruskin, Charles Darwin, and William James—he engages in the probabilistic management of nature. Thoreau learns over the course of his career that natural science is not strictly a positivist enterprise but, rather, a probabilistic pursuit in which to measure under conditions of chance is not precisely to know. Thoreau’s disciplined commitments to the handling of chance distance him from the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and help him bridge the worrisome divide between his science and art.

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Walden; surveying; natural science; fishing; transcendentalism; Charles Darwin

Chapter.  19444 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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