transcendentalism

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transcendentalism

(trăn'sĕndĕn`təlĭzəm) [Lat.,=overpassing], in literature, philosophical and literary movement that flourished in New England from about 1836 to 1860. It originated among a small group of intellectuals who were reacting against the orthodoxy of Calvinism and the rationalism of the Unitarian Church, developing instead their own faith centering on the divinity of humanity and the natural world. Transcendentalism derived some of its basic idealistic concepts from romantic German philosophy, notably that of Immanuel KantKant, Immanuel
, 1724–1804, German metaphysician, one of the greatest figures in philosophy, b. Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia). Early Life and Works
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, and from such English authors as CarlyleCarlyle, Thomas,
1795–1881, English author, b. Scotland. Early Life and Works

Carlyle studied (1809–14) at the Univ. of Edinburgh, intending to enter the ministry, but left when his doubts became too strong.
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, ColeridgeColeridge, Samuel Taylor,
1772–1834, English poet and man of letters, b. Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire; one of the most brilliant, versatile, and influential figures in the English romantic movement.
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, and WordsworthWordsworth, William,
1770–1850, English poet, b. Cockermouth, Cumberland. One of the great English poets, he was a leader of the romantic movement in England. Life and Works

In 1791 he graduated from Cambridge and traveled abroad.
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. Its mystical aspects were partly influenced by Indian and Chinese religious teachings. Although transcendentalism was never a rigorously systematic philosophy, it had some basic tenets that were generally shared by its adherents. The beliefs that God is immanent in each person and in nature and that individual intuition is the highest source of knowledge led to an optimistic emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and rejection of traditional authority.

The ideas of transcendentalism were most eloquently expressed by Ralph Waldo EmersonEmerson, Ralph Waldo
, 1803–82, American poet and essayist, b. Boston. Through his essays, poems, and lectures, the "Sage of Concord" established himself as a leading spokesman of transcendentalism and as a major figure in American literature.
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 in such essays as "Nature" (1836), "Self-Reliance," and "The Over-Soul" (both 1841), and by Henry David ThoreauThoreau, Henry David
, 1817–62, American author, naturalist, social activist, and philosopher, b. Concord, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1837. Thoreau is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature.
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 in his book Walden (1854). The movement began with the occasional meetings of a group of friends in Boston and Concord to discuss philosophy, literature, and religion. Originally calling themselves the Hedge Club (after one of the members), they were later dubbed the Transcendental Club by outsiders because of their discussion of Kant's "transcendental" ideas. Besides Emerson and Thoreau, its most famous members, the club included F. H. HedgeHedge, Frederic Henry,
1805–90, American Unitarian clergyman and author, b. Cambridge, Mass., educated in Germany and at Harvard. He held several New England pastorates. In 1836 he joined Emerson and others in forming the Transcendental Club.
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, George RipleyRipley, George,
1802–80, American literary critic and author, b. Greenfield, Mass. After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in 1826, he entered the Unitarian ministry. He was one of the leaders of the transcendentalists and a contributor to their magazine, the Dial.
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, Bronson AlcottAlcott, Bronson
, 1799–1888, American educational and social reformer, b. near Wolcott, Conn., as Amos Bronson Alcox. His meager formal education was supplemented by omnivorous reading while he gained a living from farming, working in a clock factory, and as a peddler in
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, Margaret FullerFuller, Margaret,
1810–50, American writer, lecturer, and public intellectual, b. Cambridgeport (now part of Cambridge), Mass. She was one of the most influential personalities in the American literary circles of her day.
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, Theodore ParkerParker, Theodore,
1810–60, American theologian and social reformer, b. Lexington, Mass. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1836 and was pastor (1837–46) of the Spring Street Unitarian Church, West Roxbury, Mass.
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, and others. For several years much of their writing was published in The Dial (1840–44), a journal edited by Fuller and Emerson. The cooperative community Brook FarmBrook Farm,
1841–47, an experimental farm at West Roxbury, Mass., based on cooperative living. Founded by George Ripley, a Unitarian minister, the farm was initially financed by a joint-stock company with 24 shares of stock at $500 per share.
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 (1841–47) grew out of their ideas on social reform, which also found expression in their many individual actions against slavery. Primarily a movement seeking a new spiritual and intellectual vitality, transcendentalism had a great impact on American literature, not only on the writings of the group's members, but on such diverse authors as HawthorneHawthorne, Nathaniel,
1804–64, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Salem, Mass., one of the great masters of American fiction. His novels and tales are penetrating explorations of moral and spiritual conflicts.
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, MelvilleMelville, Herman,
1819–91, American author, b. New York City, considered one of the great American writers and a major figure in world literature. Early Life and Works
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, and WhitmanWhitman, Walt
(Walter Whitman), 1819–92, American poet, b. West Hills, N.Y. Considered by many to be the greatest of all American poets, Walt Whitman celebrated the freedom and dignity of the individual and sang the praises of democracy and the brotherhood of man.
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.

Bibliography

See anthologies ed. by G. W. Cooke (1903, repr. 1971) and P. Miller (1950; 1957, repr. 1981); O. B. Frothingham, Transcendentalism in New England (1876, repr. 1972); J. Porte, Emerson and Thoreau (1966); M. Simon and T. H. Parsons, ed., Transcendentalism and Its Legacy (1966); L. Buell, Literary Transcendentalism (1973).


transcendentalism,

in philosophy, term descriptive of systems that hold that there are modes of being and principles of existence beyond the reach of mundane experience and manipulation. The term is now closely associated with Kantian theory, although some conception of transcendent being has been common to most forms of philosophical idealism. Kant argues that perception of sense data depends on a priori intuitions, which include conception of space and time and categories of judgment. For Kant, "transcendental" refers to conditions necessary for the possibility of experience, while "transcendent" refers to a noumenonnoumenon
, in the philosophical system of Immanuel Kant, a "thing-in-itself"; it is opposed to phenomenon, the thing that appears to us. Noumena are the basic realities behind all sensory experience.
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, something unknowable and beyond the realm of possible experience.

transcendentalism

1. 
a. any system of philosophy, esp that of Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher (1724--1804), holding that the key to knowledge of the nature of reality lies in the critical examination of the processes of reason on which depends the nature of experience
b. any system of philosophy, esp that of Emerson, that emphasizes intuition as a means to knowledge or the importance of the search for the divine
2. vague philosophical speculation
References in periodicals archive ?
American Transcendentalism, with its constant interest in the internal life of the individual, with its belief that the inner world is the truest expression of the Spirit, made a personal statement a cornerstone of creative work.
As one of the most celebrated followers of American transcendentalism, Thoreau adopted these primary philosophical tenets of transcendentalism.
This book, like Versluis's excellent work on American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions (1993), throws new light on many obscure passages and references in the writings of many American Transcendentalists and many within the American Renaissance.
If all this sounds like a hokey rip-off of the sublime harmonic convergences of American Transcendentalism, that's because it is.
In this tradition, American transcendentalism has its roots in America's own religious past - not in German or English or Scottish philosophy.
Emerson's Nature (1836) was the first significant statement of American transcendentalism.
Doing so, the volume disrupts and extends the male-dominated narrative of American Transcendentalism to map out the ways women responded to the ideals, figures, and texts of Transcendentalism.
AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISM | PHILIP GURA: The 19th-century transcendentalists--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Orestes Brownson, George Ripley, Theodore Parker, and others--influenced wide-ranging thought and social reform in America.
One may compare (though many comparisons could be made) the 'Coleridge" that emerges through the eyes of Hare, Maurice, and Jowett with the "Coleridge" whose writings served as the basis for much of what came to be known as American Transcendentalism.
Walden is of course a key text for the study of American literature in the 1850s (the decade of Matthiessen's American Renaissance), for the study of American Transcendentalism, and for the study of nineteenth-century American literature and culture generally.
In an interesting but problematic attempt to situate Kennedy's work in a 19th-century tradition of American transcendentalism, a 20th-century tradition of the theater of the absurd, and a feminist tradition of black women's autobiographical writings which includes work by Toni Morrison and Paule Marshall, co-editor Paul Bryant-Jackson examines a sampling of female "protagonists" extracted from early works such as The Owl Answers and A Rat's Mass, as well as the recent work She Talks to Beethoven (1987).
This essay investigates a possible relation between primarily European, twenty-first century, science-based Transdisciplinarity and nineteenth century, humanities-based American Transcendentalism through a study of a key term in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Abandonment.

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