Higher Laws Notes from Walden

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Walden Higher Laws

Sometimes, when he is walking through the weeds, Thoreau describes feeling like a hound who is chasing after a hunk of meat in the woods. He recognizes two impulses in people: savage and spiritual, and decides that both are of equal value and worthy of equal reverence. This is partially because he learned about the wilderness initially through hunting. He states that if there is no other way for boys to learn about Nature when they are young, let that be it. Thoreau pitied the birds he used to shoot, but not the worms and fish. A boy who has never fired a gun has not been well educated. Then, if he has matured well, he will begin to leave the gun behind.

Topic Tracking: Awakening for Reform 3

"The governor and his council faintly remember the pond, for they went a-fishing here when they were boys; but now they are too old and dignified to go a-fishing, and so they know it no more forever. Yet even they expect to go to heaven at last. If the legislature regards it, it is chiefly to regulate the number of hooks to be used there; but they know nothing of the hook of hooks with which to angle for the pond itself, impaling the legislature for bait. Thus, even in civilized communities, the embryo man passes through the hunter stage of development." Higher Laws, pg. 184

Even though he says above that he did not feel for the fish he used to catch, his self-respect is lowered when he fishes now. It is partly because he recognizes the uncleanliness of having meat in one's diet: this is where housework comes from. People are always trying to rid their body and house of the unsavory smells of meat. Eating meat is disagreeable to Thoreau's imagination, and his distaste of it is instinctual. It is important, though hard, to eat without offending the imagination, so both can be fed when you sit down at the table. Part of the continuing improvement of the human race is to stop eating meat, even if it means we are slightly less hardy physically.

Topic Tracking: Water 7

Water is the only suitable drink for people. Even music is dangerous. Get drunk on the air instead of on wine.

It is important to know the true taste of your food, to know whether or not it is for the animal need (which is more important), or the gluttonous desire for more that we often fall prey to.

Sounds, even bad ones, from far off, when they are carried on the wind, sound sweet, and can be satirical because they are oddly sweet in comparison to our ordinary-ness.

Chastity, which is a higher law, is something that no one can define, so much so that you don't know even if you possess it. Along the lines of chastity, overcoming one's nature is the only way to be pure. You have to work honestly and fully. A Christian is no better than a heathen if your actions contain no more pure intention. By saying this, Thoreau feels that he betrays his impurity.

"We are so degraded that we cannot speak simply of the necessary functions of human nature." Higher Laws, pg. 189

These inner qualities make everyone a sculptor of his or her own body. One's inner qualities are made manifest in a person's outer appearance and nature.

Topic Tracking: Intellectual Space 5

After Thoreau gives his thoughts on these higher laws and standards of being, he tells the story of John Farmer, who heard a flute one evening as he had sat down to think. The flute awakened a different part of himself than his work, about which he was struggling not to think. The flute brought him away from that sphere entirely, and he began to think about universal truths, which had the effect of "redeem[ing] his body."

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