What Are The Basic Beliefs Of Transcendentalism?

Transcendentalism is a specific movement in philosophy that started in the United States of America in the early 1830s.
Transcendentalism is a specific movement in philosophy that started in the United States of America in the early 1830s.
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  • From a transcendentalist standpoint, people thrive the most when they are relying only on their own capabilities to reach the truth.
  • Many transcendentalists joined together on the so-called Brook Farm, they tried to organize a specific type of society, but that utopian attempt soon failed.

Transcendentalism is a specific movement in philosophy that started in the United States of America in the early 1830s. How did this movement differentiate from others alike, and what were the theological aspects of this philosophy?

To Where Do We Need To Transcend?

To understand what transcendentalism was all about, let us start from the word itself. This philosophical movement got its name after a Latin word transcendere, which means "to go beyond." Now, the obvious question is above what, and what do we need to climb if we want to follow the philosophy of transcendentalism?

Well, the first obstacle is to overcome the burdens that society and the way it is organized is limiting an individual human being. From a transcendentalism standpoint, people function best when they do not depend on different elements of society and its culture, but when they can rely on themself.

This is, in so many aspects, different from religions like Christianity or Islam, where there is constant accent present that speaks about the need of a higher authority, meaning a truth that is beyond the human experience. The transcendentalists' thought was technically born from such a debate.

The Birth Of Transcendentalism

In the early 1800s, two opposing sides shared their views on religion as such. The "New Light" and the "Old Light" theologians - the first ones believed that religious experience needs to be examined as emotional and personal experience, and the second group thought it was all about how you approach religion. When all these different approaches later combined with thoughts from famous German philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Georg W.F. Hegel,  transcendentalism was born.  

Subjective Experience Over Objective Empiricism

To get just a bit more philosophical on the values of transcendentalism and the critical notion of a self-sufficing human, we need to understand what lies in the core of such a premise. The thing that is highlighted by transcendentalism is subjective intuition and subjective experience.

That has power over something that lies on the other side of the spectrum, which is objective empiricism. To simplify: this means that transcendentalism suggests how people can come up with their own ideas and solutions to the problems they face, without ever reaching into the pool of ideas found in the past. 

There are only two key beliefs in the core of transcendentalist philosophy. The first one says how every person is inherently good. Everyone needs to have a chance to pursue self-fulfillment through thinking about what good they can do. The other belief is very much a logical extension of the first one, putting even more emphasis on subjective intuition.

The truth is something that people come to, and it is not something that comes to them through divine intervention. Through personal experience and the search for goodness, people traverse towards the truth. If you want the essence of transcendentalist philosophy in the shortest possible form, it is this: you have the right to find the truth by yourself, and not by following an epiphany of someone else.


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