preview

The Philosophy of Transcendentalism

Better Essays
Transcendentalism was a philosophy that became influential during the 1800's. It was based on the belief that knowledge is not limited to and solely derived from experience and observation but from the truths seem through reason. In the United Sates, transcendentalism became both a philosophy and a literary, religious, and social movement. Emphasis was placed mainly on oneness with nature and God while making the possibility of social change a reality. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading American transcendentalist whose theories were a primary influence in transcendentalist thought and writing. Through the knowledge and direction of Ralph Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau also became leading scholars of their time by means of their influence on early American intellectual history and literature.
“Transcendentalists were influenced by romanticism, particularly in the areas of self-examination, individualism, and the beauties of nature and humankind. Fixed by the Prospect of shaping the literary traditions of a new nation, the American Romantics tended to issue pronouncements about fundamentals, for example, the role of the artist in expressing, even creating, a national identity. Henry David Thoreau advocated American expression supported by Romantic-transcendentalist theories of organicism articulated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne justified an indigenous romance fiction to plumb the depths of the human heart” (Allison, 1). They believed that a direct connection between the universe and the individual soul existed. Intuition, rather than reason, was regarded as the highest human ability. “Transcendental philosophy was based on the premise that truth is innate in all of creation and that the knowledge of it is intuitive rather than rational” (Wilson, 3). Other philosophies include returning to the simpler things of life and that man should love nature and learn from it. “Hawthorne, in his purpose to reveal the truth of the human heart, placed man in nature” (Elder, 49). “It is the true, the beautiful, the spiritual essence in nature and man. This grand and beautiful idea, of which diverse nature seems to be part, is the high reality-invisible, and truer and more real than what we can see with the eyes and touch with the finger” (Elder, 23). Ralph Waldo Emerson's tendency of thought is toward the idealist philosophy in which s...

... middle of paper ...

...ics, worth reading in any period, and in the powerful inspiration that their reform efforts provided to later social movements” (Wilson, 4).
Transcendentalism was one of the most important movements of the nineteenth century that was forever immortalized by innovative authors such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne and their works of literature. The theory embodied ideals that, if taken to heart, had the potential to create a better understanding of the soul. If people could connect their individual soul with the universe, they could fulfill their potential in life. The impact that Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne had on transcendental philosophy and literature brought about a whole new realm of thought and understanding to American intellect and literature. The shape of their philosophies, although altered to reflect the existing modem thought and value, can be seen in the writings of Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, John Burroughs and the teachings of modem day oracles such as Gandhi. The impact, felt by all social institutions, created a new sense of identity and freedom in the American people that can be recognized in the many social movements of the subsequent generations.
Get Access