A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.--'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.'--Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
Emerson was concerned with the tendency to conformity to old ways of thinking (and doing)--the fear of and resistance to change. He was challenging his readers not to be part of the "I've/we've never done it that way before" and the "What will people think?" crowds. While not reckless, doubtless Emerson's "great souls" would reject cheap appeals to pragmatism and conventional thought or so-called common sense.
Labels: critical thinking, freedom, Ralph Waldo Emerson