Autobiography as Critique in Thoreau’s Walden

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Thoreau’s Walden is often disregarded as a philosophical work in academic circles because of its literary form and paucity of formal argumentation. I demonstrate that Walden is a philosophical work by relating its method to Kant’s in the Critique of Pure Reason, and I show that Walden’s literary genre—autobiography as critique— is a function of the work’s philosophical intent: to produce a philosophical instrument of lifeworldly experience. I ascribe to Thoreau a modified Kantian transcendental method by which he investigates the conditions of the possibility of life as such, making the transition from Kant’s “experience” (Erfahrung) as the spatiotemporal and causal ground of the sciences to Dilthey’s “experience” (Erlebnis) as including the category of life and autobiographical and historical consciousness. I highlight a number of passages where this philosophical substance of Walden becomes clear, and I appeal to the composition history of the work to reinforce the point.


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Recommended Citation

Wilson, J. (2004). Autobiography as Critique in Thoreau. Journal of Philosophical Research, 29, 29–46. https://doi.org/10.5840/jpr_2004_9