Ralph Waldo Emerson contradicted himself when he wrote, “nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” Philosophy, current events, and literature show that an overriding moral principle fails because it’s not circumstantial and all people determine their own standards. Because morality is defined by the individual, Emerson’s first claim stands true, that only people can bring themselves peace.
Deontology is a philosophy that weighs the means as more important than the ends. To elaborate, it doesn’t matter where you get to as long as you followed strict moral code to get there. Deontology implies that there is an altruistic set of morals, or “principles,” as Emerson called them. A criticism of deontology is that if pressed to give a murderer the location of a brother/sister/friend, one must do so. If not, that would be considered lying. Deontology advocates for the “triumph of principles” without looking to the circumstances of each situation. Because of this, a “triumph of principles” will not always bring one peace.
No two people are exactly alike. No two people have the same ideas about what’s right or wrong. Because of human diversity, a “triumph of principles” cannot bring peace to everyone at the same time. Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda believed that it was their jihad, or religious purpose in life, to kill Americans. They felt peace when doing so. Contrastingly, Americans felt peace when the announcement of Osama’s death was made. However, the triumph of our principles will seemingly not bring us peace with Al-Qaeda.
Another example of people having their own moral code comes from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Black Cat.” The twisted main character felt proud and peaceful when he was able to conceal his wife’s body after killing her. According to his standards, that brought him peace. So much so that he felt confident in allowing a police force to search his basement. Because philosophy, real life examples, and literature prove that a blanket form of morals do not work for everyone, the second half of Emerson’s quote does not stand.
The first part, “nothing can bring you peace but yourself,” is a legitimate argument for the same reason the other one is not. Because no one is the same, it is up to people themselves to feel peace. Whether that means they transcend beyond their circumstances or learn to change their thoughts, a person can feel peace only through themselves. It really is based on attitude. In the “Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne was an outcast of society. Instead of letting that bring her down, she became more than just an Adulterer; she became Able. Hester devoted her life to raising her precious daughter Pearl and involving herself in charity work. She felt peace because of her own efforts and her own attitude.
Religious leaders and scholars will always seek to find a universal moral code. However, it can clearly be seen that “nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”