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Transcendentalism was an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of writers in New England who held a philosophy which says that thought and spiritual things are more real than ordinary human experience and material things.[1][2][3]

The movement is closely associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Other well known Transcendentalists include Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman.

The Encyclopedia Britannica refers colorfully to Transcendentalism as a tributary of European Romanticism, in its entry on Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Transcendentalism has its roots in European ideals, specifically those of Germanic origin.[4] Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi stand as the major early figures.


Transcendentalists argue that human nature is comprised of three primary aspects: animal, rational, and spiritual. Emerson explains:

Strictly speaking, then, Transcendentalism is the recognition of this third attribute of humanity, and the inquiry must be into the history of this - the arguments that support it, its effect upon the world, on literature, philosophy, the arts, criticism, religion, and on man in his political social and moral relations.[5]

Transcendentalism also underscores the a priori conditions of knowledge and experience. The unknowable character of ultimate reality, or that emphasizes the transcendent as the fundamental reality.[6] For Immanuel Kant, A priori was knowledge in advance of all experience, that is, knowledge of the content of any of the concepts or principles of thought; and the necessary principles of attaining knowledge are themselves a priori, transcendent of experience.[7]

Rejection of Lockean principles

For Transcendentalists, the principles of John Locke were very problematic.[8][9] Locke's ideals stood for the denial of innate ideas.[10] The terms 'understanding' and 'reason' came to be distinguishing concepts between Lockean and Kantian ideals.[11]

See also


External links