A philosophy, based on Immanuel Kant's statement that some notions (such as space/time, morality, and divinity} cannot be directly experienced, yet still add to empirical knowledge. These notions are Transcendental, in that they have a higher order of existence than what we experience directly in the physical world. Kant called these notions noumena (vs. phenomena, physical things and events.)

Transcendentalism was a philosophical and literary movement that flourished in New England as a reaction against 18th century rationalism, the skeptical philosophy of John Locke, and the confining religious orthodoxy of New England Calvinism.

Its beliefs were idealistic, mystical, eclectic and individualistic, shaped by the ideas of Plato, Plotinus, as well as the teachings of Confucious, the sufis, and the writers of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

At its fundamental base was a monism holding to the unity of the world and god, and the immanence of god in the world. Because of this indwelling of divinity, everything in the world is a microcosm containing within itself all the laws and the meaning of existence. Likewise, the soul of each individual is identical with the soul of the world and latently contains all that the world contains.

Man may fulfill his diviine potentialities through rapt mystical states into which the divine is infused into the human, or through coming in contact with the truth, beauty, and goodness embodied in nature and originating in the over-soul.

Thus occurs the correspondence between the tangible world and the human mind and the identity of moral and physical laws through the belief in the divine authority of the soul's intuitions and impulses.

Based on the identification of the individual soul with god, there developed the doctrine of self-reliance and individualism, the disregard of external authority, tradition and logical demonstration and the absolute optimism of the movement.

For more info read:Thoreau, Emerson, A.M. Alcott, Goethe, Richter, Novalis, Coleridge, Carlyle, Wordsworth and Dickinson.

The Character of American Transcendentalism

The individual spirit is instrumental in creating a world power. This feeling of individuality encourages the country’s residents to be content in being a citizen. Since the beginning of America, individuals have made up a society that prides itself on the unique diversity of its people. The transcendentalism movement gave Americans a sense of self, and added to the American tradition of individualism. Although the movement had many varied and intellectual minds expanding it, most of them shared a similar basic philosophy. This philosophy has affected the average American citizen and the whole of American society since, through its ideals of reason, personal spirit and intuition, and a rejection of established institutions.

Transcendentalism finds its predecessors in Europe, not long before the movement began. Romanticism was in the forefront in the early 1800s, as painters, philosophers, and writers began to leave behind the Age of Reason, a time of harsh moral standards, for a more spirited era. In Germany, Immanuel Kant began a new style of philosophy and intuition, defining reason in two parts: theoretical and practical. Practical reason decides what things are as the individual mind perceives them. Theoretical reason went beyond that and called upon the mind to think of things as they should be. John Locke added to Kant’s ideals with his skepticism of the accepted process of reason and thought, which he felt was so clouded by society’s predetermined structure for reason that it became useless. With so many different and extreme perspectives, the single person’s opinion can become lost among a sea of voices, and Locke proclaimed that being influenced by such a cloudy majority of opinion without question is irrational. But transcendentalists also disagreed with certain facets of Locke’s philosophy. Locke believed that every idea must first be witnessed by the senses before being internalized and analyzed by the mind. Kant disagreed, saying that “intuitions of the mind” could bring about thoughts and ideas without using the senses first. Transcendentalists believed that one’s perception of the world was only a reflection of one’s spirit. Taking advantage of expanding communication technology, intellectuals began to read pieces of Eastern thought, such as Indian and Chinese religious scripture. With these diverse influences, a new group of intellectuals emerged emphasizing the individual’s search for truth, all the while rejecting society’s current social codes.

After the rigid morals of the Puritans, Quakers, and other devoutly religious institutions, America was prepared for a more spiritual and introspective philosophy. But while the Romantics stressed pure spiritual learning and exploration, the Transcendentalists broke off in a different direction and included independent reason with the spiritual learning and exploration, taking elements from both the Age of Reason and Romanticism. Transcendentalism had a pure American twist to it, thanks in part to Ralph Waldo Emerson. America has always prided itself in the individual’s involvement in one of the first democracies, and stresses the “American Dream”, where a single person can do whatever they wish if they put their mind to it. Emerson emphasized the individual and the great potential of its mind. In his essaySelf-Reliance”, the first paragraph criticizes society’s honor of “genius works”, and claims that genius is believing “…your own thought, [believing] that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men.” Emerson redefines genius as just believing in one’s own convictions and ideas. One’s own thoughts are complex, unique, and unconventional, but must also be communicated to others. If one believes that everyone else agrees with him, and talks to others about his ideas, he will find someone that disagrees, prompting an enlightening exchange of thought. Every person must have a little self-confidence as well, in order to recognize unique thoughts as profound. Emerson also tells us that “a man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre firmament of bards and sages.” A man must identify and expand on his unique ideas, and not dismiss them just for the fact that they are his own. Also, one cannot be influenced greatly by “bards and sages” (society) without questioning it, especially if one wishes to achieve greatness. Emerson realizes that the greatest thinkers, “…Moses, Plato and Milton,…set at naught books and traditions…”. These men ignored the current ideas and beliefs because they either realized that these ideals were not their own or unique, or that the accepted beliefs were incorrect. They decided to think for themselves and find a set of beliefs they could call their own.

A main part of American transcendentalism was questioning or rejecting set beliefs, allowing one to search for their own beliefs without the overwhelming influence of others. As transcendentalism impacted the American individual, spiritual and religious questions began to rise. The current religious churches were corrupt and seemed to be blocking the individual’s connection with God in the transcendentalists eyes, prompting some to join and support the Unitarian church. But many transcendentalists believed that a personal connection with God was all that was necessary, and that the bureaucracy of the church was preventing that. Since the world is God’s creation, and is still unaltered in some parts by human existence, nature became a constant focus of the transcendentalists. Henry David Thoreau lived in the Walden woods for four years while writing and reflecting on various topics. Thoreau “…went to the woods because [he] wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts to life…”. Although not exclusively immersed in nature (Thoreau dined often at Emerson’s local tavern), Thoreau’s many writings coming from his time at Walden pond opened the literary world to nature through new eyes, and gave a different perspective to the understanding of nature.

Henry David Thoreau also stressed the individual’s call to be unified as one with the natural world. Although individualism was a very important part of transcendentalism, unification with nature was a way to get away from the “hurry and waste of life”, as Thoreau put it. The complications of work, connections to materialism, and other trivialities of the consumer driven society did not and does not allow anybody to expand their mind in search for “Absolute Truth”, and distracts the person from using personal intuition to reach the ultimate goal of absolute goodness. In the average, every-day life, Thoreau observed a life “frittered away by detail.” By going to the woods and living simply, details became meaningless, and one is able to reflect introspectively in the simplest form. After four years, Thoreau “left the woods for as good a reason as [he] went there.” He had lived within himself with only nature as a companion for awhile, and had realized many things about himself and society. He was now ready to express his new ideas and expand on them with others, using his writings as reference and a means of expression.

Poetry was a very prominent vehicle for transcendentalism. Walt Whitman, with his unconventional style (no rhyme, sometimes no meter), strayed from the normal poetry of the time. Whitman captured the essence of America in his writings, reflecting it as a jumble of individuals rather than a single, cold, and robotic mind. Whitman “hear[s] America singing, the varied carols [he] hear[s]” are those of workers. The upper-class of the time might never have thought of these blue-collar workers, the carpenter, the mason, the boatman, of having independent thought. Adding to Emerson’s declaration that every man is a genius in his own right, it’s obvious that even the seemingly least important janitor can have a “song”, or unique individuality. Each person sings “what belongs to him or her and to none else, Singing with open mouths their strong and melodious songs.” Whitman sees people expressing their ideas and beliefs. Reading a stunning poem such as “I Hear America Singing” makes others see America’s song as well, all the while encouraging more people to realize their own genius and express it to the world.

Transcendentalists established the idea of individualism and the individual, also instilling it within American culture. But the transcendentalists also worked on a broader span to touch as many people as possible and create change in a society that was not fully allowing thought to take place. Walt Whitman “sits and looks out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all the oppression and shame” in “I Sit and Look Out.” He sees injustices in the world, and also calls for action by anyone reading his poem. After all his descriptions of “oppression and shame,” he “see[s], hear[s], and [is] silent”. Although the poem is directed at himself (Whitman uses “I” as the subject), one should realize that most people see and hear wrong in the world and do nothing, too caught up in work or the details of their own life. Many poems and essays that would affect the everyday person appeared in Henry David Thoreau’s The Dial, to which most transcendentalists contributed at one time or another. Thoreau also wrote the widely read “Civil Disobedience”, which is still used today by activists. In response to being jailed for not paying a war tax, Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” to express his grievances over the current government and its actions. Thoreau points out many reasons for resisting an unjust government, and believes that “under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.” One who disagrees morally with the immoral government will eventually be jailed for their actions in the name of morality. Thoreau knows that this government is hindering his ability to live as he would wish to, not paying these unjust taxes, and the only way to change the government’s ways is to refuse to follow them. There is no reason to follow laws that you are morally opposed to, because “if a plant cannot live according to its nature; it dies; and so a man.” This outcry for making change reforms society for the sake of preserving the individual.

The transcendentalists brought about a whole new set of ideals in America. Nationally, Americans realized they had the freedom to think for themselves and be individuals. This would also lead to a sense of jingoism in some, and an overall feeling of national pride would lead to the “people’s government” violating the people’s rights. The transcendentalists also ran one of the first experiments in utopian communistic living, Brook Farm. Started by George Ripley, a leader of the Transcendental Club, editor of The Dial, and a former Unitarian minister, Brook Farm combined the minds of the thinker and worker. Mostly intellectuals participated, and the visitors included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, Theodore Parker, and Orestes A. Brownson. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles A. Dana were among the original shareholders. At Brook Farm, these thinkers worked together to form a cooperative living atmosphere, helping each other while expanding one another’s minds as well.

Transcendentalists have inspired many to create reform. The Beat movement of the 1950s, also dominated by literary and poetic intellectuals, expressed their alienation from society and its moral codes through writings and music. The beatniks, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, focused on the release of the human mind and spirit. Their poetry also had much in common with Walt Whitman, as the unconventional style (frequently laced with obscenities) exposed their rejection of the norm.

The beatniks were not active in their political convitctions, and in that instance they differed from the transcendentalists. Also stemming from the transcendentalists through the beatniks were the hippies of the '60s, with their countercultural philosophy of stepping out of the rat race in favor of peace and love. In opposition to the Vietnam war, they staged protests and various other demonstrations, many using strategies of civil disobedience. Many of their grievances with the U.S, involvement can be connected with Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”. Many of his ideals could be applied to their cry for the U.S. to stop intervention in Vietnam, and allow the Vietnamese to live their own lives. “Civil Disobedience”, both the practice and the essay, has been used countless times by many leaders in different countries as a platform for change. Non-violent protest against a violent government exposes to the world injustice, as Mahatma Ghandi used in protest of the British rule of India. The Civil Rights movement involved civil disobedience on many scales: from a national event of marching on Washington D.C., to black students at lunch counters refusing to leave in various towns across the country. Anti-apartheid activists in Africa, led by Nelson Mandela, also called upon civil disobedience for their cause. A widely publicized massacre of Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 protesting communism was an example of civil disobedience and its leverage when used in the media. Civil disobedience is an invaluable tool in creating social change.

The transcendentalists were the first real, full-fledged American movement after the revolutionary war. Their ideas of freeing the individual spirit, using reason to find Absolute Truth, and rejecting a materialistic and corrupted society gave American citizens a sense of self. Transcendentalists affected the world through American’s new sense of pride, but also showed Americans that they were not using their minds to their full extent. Citizens now had a voice, through civil disobedience and the rejection of established institutions. But they were also being advised to think for themselves and not get caught up in a monotone, materialistic society. The American transcendentalist movement created an identity for citizens throughout the nation, giving them the inspiration to live as individuals and use their minds to the fullest extent.


http://www-philosophy.ucdavis.edu/phi151/kant19th.htm. Overview of Kant’s Philosophy.

Brulatour, Meg. What Is American Transcendentalism? http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transweb/tr-def.htm

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance”.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Practical Reason. http://www.knuten.liu.se/~bjoch509/works/kant/cr_pract_reason.txt

Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden”. As an excerpt in textbook “The Language of Literature”.

Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience”. As an excerpt in the textbook “The Language of Literature”.

Whitman, Walt. “I Sit and Look Out”, “I Hear America Singing”. As an execerpt in textbook “The Language of Literature”.

“American Transcendentalism”. http://library.thinkquest.org/12160/philosophy/trans.htm

The Transcendentalist Hypothesis of a Fourth Dimension submits that trillions of years ago space was a vacuum containing only light nuclei and the universe was devoid of all matter. Atoms were created from energy through nuclear fusion which is the action of two light nuclei joining into one stable nucleus which is lighter than the total of the two and therefrom emit energy. This nuclear fusion of atomic particles possess vast amounts of energy which is also a fundamental attribute of life and function of the universe. An equivalent quantity of physical energy was expended in creating the atom which was thought to be indivisible but now know can be resolved into component units. This nuclear fusion and physical energy caused a chain reaction, a collision of atoms resulting in the formation of compounds; the beginning of the universe.

Modern atomic theory is generally said to begin with John Dalton, an English chemist and meteorologist who in 1808 published a book on the atmosphere and the behavior of gases that was entitled A New System of Chemical Philosophy. Dalton's theory of atoms rested on four basic ideas: chemical elements were composed of atoms; the atoms of an element were identical in weight; the atoms of different elements had different weights; and atoms combined only in small whole-number ratios, such as 1:1, 1:2, 2:1, 2:3, to form compounds.

In recent years, we have learned that 95% of the Universe is made of a type of matter or energy that we cannot see nor understand. Gravity may ripple across the Universe in waves, and certain cosmic rays, atomic particles moving at near light speed, possess an energy far greater than that which can be explained by modern physics.

In the Theory of Relativity, the intuitive notion of time as an independent entity is replaced by the concept that space and time are intertwined and inseparable aspects of a four-dimensional universe, which is given the name space-time. Einstein sought unsuccessfully for many years to incorporate the theory into a unified field theory valid also for subatomic and electromagnetic phenomena. This is not feasible because any and all of our scientific data is applicable only to this physical third dimension.

Einstein also said “It seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualisation of our understanding of life" Einstein refutes a personal God, which logic and rationality supports. He also said that "God may very well be the energy that is in all matter and energy, that cannot be separated from matter/energy". I submit that what mankind calls God is the pure energy in the fourth dimension, the progressive and accumulative spiritual intelligence of the universe. The existence of a fourth dimension is still being vastly debated. If we represent thought and emotion which is not physical, as existing in space, we must then accept the existence of another, a fourth dimension where these processes thrive. Our [Mind, Thought, Truth, Intuition, Intelligence, Appreciation and Awareness are all aspects of another dimension.

The universe is the encompassment of ALL (matter, energy, space, time) that exists in a physical, material, tangible or intangible, natural or unnatural state in this third dimension. Our subconscious contains the records of our life’s experiences and is composed of consciousness, awareness, thoughts, and emotions. The physical composition is a mass of atoms. Emotion is the energy that drives the physical body. Energy is like electro-magnetic energy, or light. It is carried by photons; it can cross-convert back and forth with solid matter, according to the ratio E=MC^2, and when in the energy form, its propagation speed is limited to C, which is the speed of light, approximately 300,000 km/sec.

With the evolution of life forms in the third dimension we can then deduct that the fourth dimension which is also considered the spiritual dimension, came about through life in the third dimension. All of what we can presently see of the universe, its billions of stars, the galaxies, and other solar systems with its planets only represent less than 2% of the total existence of the universe. Did Life begin on earth? It is naïve of us to assume that throughout the trillions of years past that life has only existed on our small world and therefore the fourth dimension, the spiritual existence came about through mankind.

Tran`scen*den"tal*ism (?), n. [Cf. F. transcendantalisme, G. transcendentalismus.]

1. Kantian Philos.

The transcending, or going beyond, empiricism, and ascertaining a priori the fundamental principles of human knowledge.

⇒ As Schelling and Hegel claim to have discovered the absolute identity of the objective and subjective in human knowledge, or of things and human conceptions of them, the Kantian distinction between transcendent and transcendental ideas can have no place in their philosophy; and hence, with them, transcendentalism claims to have a true knowledge of all things, material and immaterial, human and divine, so far as the mind is capable of knowing them. And in this sense the word transcendentalism is now most used. It is also sometimes used for that which is vague and illusive in philosophy.


Ambitious and imaginative vagueness in thought, imagery, or diction.


© Webster 1913.

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