Spirituality and Vegetarianism in Thoreau's Higher Laws
Associate Professor Su-chen Wu

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was a key figure of the transcendental movement in American intellectual history. Walden, or, Life in the Woods, published in 1854, has become one of Thoreau’s most famous pieces. Spirituality relates to a person’s inner spirit, and therefore intensely to their experience of being human, as well as their meaning and purpose in life. “Higher Laws,” a central chapter in Walden, provides the philosophical and religious foundations for the text. This chapter places special insistence on the centrality of spiritual life and serves as an illumination of the Walden experience. In “Higher Laws,” Thoreau claims that human beings have a dual nature, part spiritual and part animal. Human beings are supposed to exercise and nourish the spiritual part, not the animal part. In this chapter, Thoreau argues against meat-eating by discussing its effects on personal spiritual development. Thoreau’s vegetarianism manifests the spiritual aspect more than health concerns or the dislike of meat. His practice of vegetarianism emphasizes nonviolence and reverence for life, which gives his position a spiritual matter. The author argues that Thoreau’s vegetarian practice presents a binding moral imperative and further shows that vegetarianism is an extension of one’s spiritual practices.

Full Text: PDF      DOI: 10.15640/ijll.v5n1a3