TRANSCENDENTALISM A MODERN PHILOSOPHY
Mankind has lost its place at the center of Gods universe. Now, when you watch the
weather, or plants growing, or someone suddenly die, what you feel is obnoxious
bafflement. In the past, you might have said God was responsible or the devil… Definitions
of the universe based on speculation or on scriptural faith are no longer automatically
accepted… You would have looked out on this vast and undefined universe in wouldve
thought, as did the thinkers of that day, that we needed a method of conscious-building.
(James Redfield Celestine Prophecy 25).
It is exactly this type of thinking that led to the Transcendental philosophy of the 1800s. This philosophy forever change peoples lives, but today we really only know about Transcendentalism from our history books. Today everybody live in a modern world. A world that has largely forgotten this and many other philosophies. In no other country is this more apparent than in America. That is why I believe the Transcendental philosophy that puts thought and higher thinking over superficial wants and needs is exactly what the world and especially America, needs to believe in and follow. Paul Ruben put it ,that Americans have lost sight of the American Dream and the principles this country was built on (Paul Ruben Chapter 4: Early Nineteenth Century American Transcendentalism: A Brief Introduction 1).
Yet, if everyone has forgotten what Transcendentalism is, then first everybody needs a clear definition of what Transcendentalism is. The truth is a clear definition can not be found, but Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary tenth Edition defines Transcendentalism as 1: A philosophy that emphasizes the a prior conditions of knowledge and experience or the unknowable character of ultimate reality that emphasizes the transcendent as the fundamental reality. 2: A philosophy that asserts the privacy of the spiritual and transcendent over the material and empirical (Marriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary tenth Edition Transcendentalism 265). Perhaps a little clearer is Encartas Definition, which states that Transcendentalism as a Philosophy and literature belief in a higher reality than that achieved by human reason (Encarta Transcendentalism 1). The definition is so vague because every transcendentalist (especially the founders) had his or her own specific definition, that was hard them selves to describe let alone to others . One of the primary founders of Transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau, actually stated, I should have told them at once that I was a Transcendentalist. That would have been the shortest way of telling them that they wouldnt understand my explanations (Paul Ruben Thoreau, Journal , v:41). In my own words from what I have read I would say Transcendentalism makes one look past material and reality and on to higher thought to obtain spirituality or enhanced spirituality.
Now that everyone can at best conjure up a brief idea of what Transcendentalism is, everyone needs to know the deeper meaning behind the philosophy. Emerson spoke that two opposing forces exist, Idealists and Materialists, and that both of them look at God but in different ways (Emerson Transcendentalist 1). Emerson, in his speech goes on to say that in the life of a materialist, everything in his or her life will crumble, and only Idea will stay standing (Emerson 10). Also Emerson states, Transcendentalism is a rightly conceived intellectual aesthetic, a spiritual ferment, not a solid doctrine (Emerson 4). To start off we have a person that trys to forget his or her own worth in society, tries to stay far away from idealism, and joins part in a ever changing and evolving thought process, but not a reason to attain a higher state of consciousness. For as Encarta puts it, this Intuition, rather that reason, was regarded as the highest human faculty (Encarta 1).
This meaning of transcendentalism then evolves into a …direct intercourse between Soul and God (Ruben 1). In the end one leads their life by direction and in search of Institution to gain a direct link to their God. Now everyone should understand what it was like to be a Transcendentalist.
Since what a transcendentalist should be a little clearer, one may wonder how and why it came into being. That is what will be describe now. Tomas A. Dailey and David M. Kennedy in their textbook The American Pageant stated that around 1810 started the second but not last spiritual evolution called the Enlightenment. This was a final blow against old Puritanism ideals, and it built one of the final walls between Church and State (Tomas Bailey and David Kennedy, The American Pageant 164). Enlightenment is the period that gave rise to another important period called the Romantic Period, which popped up in England as well as here in America around 1750. During the Romantic Period,which was still influenced by Enlightenment, came the people who gave rise to Transcendentalism. What exactly was the Romantic Period? As described by Steve K., this was a period of upheaval, a rage against the machine of balance and order. Romanticism as it is also called focused on the individual and not the majority. The period had almost completely opposite views from the Enlightenment, which was a rebellion against the rationality. People of the Romantic period believed in a great respect and appreciation of nature… . People also would consider emotional instincts before they would consider reason and intellect… (Steve K. The Romantic Period 1). By this description, it is easy to see how Transcendentalism came into being, but why did it when the Romantic period mainly affected art, literature and music? The answer is most of the people who started the Transcendental Club in Boston, Massachusetts in 1836 ,and continued it while keeping interest high. These were some of Americas greatest Romantic authors and essayists. Dr. Leon Jackson stated in a brief essay called American Romanticism: Sublime Thoughts and Penny Wisdom. The Phrases sublime thoughts and penny wisdom belong to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Throeau, two of the leading Romantic or Transcendentalist authors… (Dr. Leon Jackson American Romanticism: Sublime Thoughts and Penny Wisdom 1). Finally, this is all tied into how Transcendentalism evolved from the feeling of the Romantic period, and why it is, is because of the main founders of Transcendentalism who were also Primary American Romantic authors.
As stated in the last paragraph, many American Romantic authors started the Transcendental Philosophy. Such authors were before mentioned, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Throeau. There were also such authors as Bronson Amos Alkcott and Matgaret Fuller, who were also documented Transcendentalists. These four people were the push behind transcendentalism. This paper will next describe a little background of each of these people and hope to show the enormous contributions each had on spreading this philosophy. Encylopedia.com gives a good description of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The copy reads that he was a very influential author and thinker. He was also a Unitarian Minister, however he left his church. He traveled around Europe and met some of the popular British Romantic writers, such a Mary Shelly and Walt Witman. His journey influenced his kind of philosophy greatly. In 1836 he met Margaret Fuller and Thoreau and made a center of Transcendentalism. Emerson was a noted lecturer and writer, which he continued until his death in 1882. (Encylopedia.com Emerson, Ralph Waldo 1). Emersons right hand man was Henry David Thoreau ,who must have a place here. He to was one of the most influential men of his day. He followed Transcendentalism and was a close friend of Emerson. He was an editor for the Transcendental magazine, The Dial. Thoreau is probably best remembered for his work, Walden. He was a powerful naturalist and social critic.His essay, Civil disobedience reached leaders of the twentieth century. Among these great leaders were Muhatmu Gandhi and Martin Luther King (Encylopedia.com Thoreau Henery,David.1) Bronson Amos Alcott is another Transcendentalist that deserves some background. He was an American educational and social reformer. He a quite an inadequate star quote formal education, but he became a teacherand he founded Temple school in Boston.he also started a cooperative vegetarian community. He also did major reform in the Concorde school system. Poverty plagued him throughout his life, but his also famous social reformer daughter Louisa May Alcott drug him out of it near the end of his life. (Encyclopedia.com Alcott, Bronson Amos.1). Last but certainly not least is Margaret Fullerwho was perhaps most influential woman of her day. She was a writer and lecturer .she was a hearty Transcendental is an a strong feminist. In 1847 she visited Rome and met her husband Marchese Ossoli, who was believed in Mazzini.with him she took part in the revolution of 1848-49. when she was coming home to the states in 1850 she, her husband, and their baby were drowned in a ship wreck. A said ending to a truly great person. The entire history of Transcendentalism in every aspect should be completely clear to everyone, so that we can see the help Transcendentalism will bring today.
Now let everyone look into the past of Transcendentalism. It is rooted in the past. It owes its perseverance morality and doctrine of divine light to Quaker and Puritanism. Through utilitarianism the deity was reduced to a kind of eminent principal in every person….To Romantics it owed most of its existence to the concept of nature as a living mystery and not a clock work universe… (Ruben 2). These of course are things in the past, but if one was to apply them today one could literally watch a transformation begin. Transcendentalism would first ease Americas frantic materialism. Secondly it would bring back some good old morals and ethics with some great spirituality . Third people would be encouraged to survive on the own intuition and wits, and not what everyone elses. Fourth it would bring back more respect to mother nature, and we could expect also a better balance in our economy. Overall this evaluates into a better society and a better country as a whole. One could also expect that probably the most profound changes would be unimaginable good.
In the end though this is still only my opinion, and as I searched I was still unable to find any modern Transcendentalist. Even with this fact I still believe strongly that Transcendentalism is a philosophy that America and the world should believe in and followed today. Throughout my research I think it is clear what Transcendentalism is defined as, what it meant, how and why he came into being, and who was responsible for it beginning. So perhaps the sun has set on Transcendentalism for now, but I think it is beginning to rise again, and soon all of us will be quite Transcendental.