1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Transcendentalism

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TRANSCENDENTALISM (Lat. trans, across, scandere, climb, whence transcendere, to pass a limit), in philosophy, any system which emphasizes the limited character of that which can be perceived by the senses and is based on the view that true knowledge is intuitive, or supernatural. The term is specially applied to Kant's philosophy and its successors which hold that knowledge of the a priori is possible. It is traceable as far back as the schoolmen of whom Duns Scotus describes as "transcendental" those conceptions which have a higher degree of universality than the Aristotelian categories. Thus ens (being) is more universal than God or the physical universe because it can be predicated of both. Kant distinguishes as "transcendent" the world of things-in-themselves as being without the limits of experience; while "transcendental" is his term for those elements which regulate human experience, though they are themselves beyond experience; such are the categories of space, time, causality.

In general use the term is applied rather promiscuously and frequently by way of criticism to an attitude of mind which is imaginative, aloof from mundane affairs and unmoved by practical considerations. The most famous example of the pseudo-philosophic use of the term is for a movement of thought which was prominent in the New England states from about 1830 to 1850. Its use originated in the Transcendental Club (1836) founded by Emerson, Frederic Henry Hedge (1805-1890), and others. This movement had several aspects: philosophical, theological, social, economic. Its main theme was regeneration, a revolt from the formalism of both Unitarian and Calvinist theology and a widening literary outlook. It took its rise to a large extent in the study of German (and to a less extent French) philosophy and spread widely among the cultured classes. In 1840 the club began to issue an official organ, The Dial, and the settlement of Brook Farm (q.v.) followed in 1841. These enterprises themselves did not receive general support even among the Transcendentalist leaders, and the real significance of the movement was the stimulus which it gave to philanthropy, to the Abolition movement, and to a new ideal of individual character. The chief names associated with it, besides those of Emerson and Hedge, are those of A. B. Alcott (q.v.), Margaret Fuller (q.v.), George Ripley (q.v.), W. E. Channing (q.v.), and H. D. Thoreau (q.v.).