Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism is not as much concerned with a metaphysics that transcends daily lives than it is with a new view of the mind that replaces Locke's (blank slate) empiricist, materialistic, and passive model with one emphasizing the role of the mind itself in actively shaping experience.

  • Counters Locke's claim that there is nothing in the mind not first put there through the senses; the Transcendentalists answer with nothing except the mind itself.
  • The Unitarians used Locke both negatively, to undermine the orthodox Calvinist belief in original sin-if the mind is a blank slate at birth it cannot be innately depraved-and positively, to underwrite belief in the special dispensation of Christianity through the evidence of Jesus' miracles, sensory testimony of his spiritual power, the flesh testifying to the word.
  • While Kant emphasized the power of the mind he also stressed its limits, its inability to know reality absolutely.
  • The Transcendentalist vision went beyond Kant in insisting that the mind can apprehend absolute spiritual truths directly:
    • without having to go through the detour of the senses,
    • without the dictates of past authorities and institutions, and
    • without the plodding labor of ratiocination. (reasoning methodically)
    • In this sense particularly, it was the logical--or supralogical--extension of both the Protestant reformation and American democratic individualism.
    • major paradigm shift in epistemology, in conceptualizing how the mind knows the world, the divine, and itself.
    • Belief in an ideal spiritual state that transcends the physical and empirical and is realized only through intuition rather than doctrine of established church/religion.
    • Natural evolution of revelation coming first mediated from the pulpit, next unmediated from scripture, now from nature and the self, wholly unmediated.
    • Gospel of spiritual self-sufficiency and exalted god-like nature of human spirit
    • Man a god walking in the flesh, the deity within the self
    • Each person priest, church and Bible.
    • Response to nationalism and the shift from agrarian to industrial society as well as excesses of Congregationalism
    • reply to the skeptical philosophy of Locke by Kant and Swedenborg among others.

    Other transcendental qualities

    • Reliance on intuition and conscience; a way of knowing
    • Within nature of humans there was something that transcended human experience, an intuitive and personal revelation
    • Every person’s relation to God was established directly by the individual rather than through ritualistic church
    • Human beings divine in their own right
    • Self trust and self reliance to be practiced at all times because to trust the self was to trust a creation of God and his voice through that creation
    • Belief in democracy and individualism
    • Women’s suffrage/First Wave Feminism