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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.
..... Click the link for more information. , something unknowable and beyond the realm of possible experience.
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
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. (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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. .
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).