A Composite Portrait of a True American Philosophy on Magnanimity

In Sophia Vasalou (ed.), The Measure of Greatness: Philosophers on Magnanimity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 235-265 (2019)
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This paper offers a composite portrait of the concept of magnanimity in nineteenth-century America, focusing on Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau. A composite portrait, as a method in the history of philosophy, is designed to bring out characteristic features of a group's philosophizing in order to illuminate characteristic features that may still resonate in today's philosophy. Compared to more standard methods in the historiography of philosophy, the construction of a composite portrait de-privileges the views of individual authors. These philosophers saw the virtue of magnanimity as a remedy for a number of modern ills. American philosophers suggest that the best sort of magnanimity is acquired by adopting the correct relation to the natural world, including new forms of inquiry, or by adopting a life of voluntary poverty. Magnanimous individuals are critics of capitalism and offer themselves as exemplars of a better, experimental life.



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Andrew J. Corsa
Lynn University
Eric Schliesser
University of Amsterdam

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