Photo: Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau
was an American philosopher, environmentalist, poet, and essayist by OUP Philosophy Team
Photo: Noah Silliman via Unsplash
He is best known for Walden
, an account of a simpler life lived in natural surroundings, first published in 1854, and his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience
which presents a rebuttal of unjust government influence over the individual. An avid, and widely-read, student of philosophy from the classical to the contemporary, Thoreau pursued philosophy as a way of life and not solely a lens for thought and discourse.
Born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau was raised in a modest household by his parents John Thoreau, a pencil maker, and Cynthia Dunbar. He was to spend almost all of his life in Concord, save for his time at Harvard from 1833 to 1837 where he studied classics, philosophy, science, and maths. After graduating and returning to his hometown, Thoreau with his brother John opened the Concord Academy, which alongside a traditional program also promoted new concepts such as taking walks in nature and paying visits to local businesses.
An early friendship and influence came in the form of the essayist and Transcendentalism
founder, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson a champion of Thoreau, encouraged him to keep a journal which became a life-long habit and from which his first written piece for journal The Dial
or Life in the Woods
Thoreau records his spiritual and philosophical two year, two month, and two day sojourn ensconced in a “tightly shingled and plastered” cottage deep in the New England forests. It focuses on themes of simplicity, self-sufficiency, solitude, and spirituality, with the woodland dweller recording intricate details of his economies; the sounds, geography, environmental changes of his habitat; and his thoughts on everything from vegetarianism to teetotalism to chastity. Walden
defies categorization and many have questioned whether the book is a true work of philosophy. It does not question so much as it describes, yet the very nature of the text encourages us to explore some fundamental philosophical concepts.Read more...