Who Started It? Based on ancient and modern European philosophy (particularly the works of Kant and Goethe) Developed in England by the likes of Carlyle, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats Sponsored in America chiefly by Emerson and Thoreau Gained impetus from meetings of a group of people who converged to discuss the “new thought” of the time. While holding many divergent opinions, all concurred that the human nature contained an element which transcended, or went beyond, human experience— intuitive and personal revelation
Ralph Waldo Emerson Plato Neoplatonist line extending through Plotinus, Proclus, Iamblichus, and the Cambridge Platonists Writers in the Kantian and Romantic traditions (which Emerson probably learned most about from Coleridge's Biographia Literaria). Emerson read avidly in Indian, especially Hindu, philosophy, and in Confucianism.
History Emerson’s publication of Nature=beginning “So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, — What is truth? and of the affections, — What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will.... Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”
Principles Importance of living close to nature Dignity of manual labor Strong need for intellectual companionship Importance of spiritual living Every person’s relationship to God a personal matter to be established directly by the individual (Unitarianism) rather than through the intermediation of the ritualistic church
But wait—there’s more! Human beings divine in their own right (opposed to the Calvinistic doctrines of the Puritans Essential divinity of human beings and one great brotherhood Self-trust and self-reliance to be practiced at all times Trusting the self was really trusting the voice of God speaking intuitively within us
And that’s not all! Called to resist the “vulgar prosperity of the barbarian” Believed firmly in democracy Insisted on intense individualist Extremist characteristic: a system of dietetics ruling out coffee, wine, and tobacco on the basis that the body was the temple of the soup and that, for the tenant’s sake, the dwelling must be undefiled Most were, by nature, reformers
Reforms? It is each person’s responsibility to be a “brave and upright man, who must find or cut a straight path to everything excellent in the earth, and not only go honorably himself, but make it easier for all who follow him to go in honor and with benefit.” Most reforms attempted to awaken and regenerate the human spirit rather than to prescribe particular and concrete philosophical movements
And something even more shocking… Transcendentalists were among the first to favor the enfranchisement of women GIRL POWER!
Major Themes Education Process Morality Christianity Power Unity and moods
Education The scholar learns from nature, books, and action Of these, Nature is most important Nature’s variety conceals underlying laws that are at the same time laws of the human mind Books offer the influence of the past, yet much of what passes for education is mere idolization of books
More about Books The proper relation to book is not that of the “bookworm” or “bibliomaniac,” but that of the creative reader who uses books as a stimulus to attain his own “sight of principles.” Great books merely record inspiration, and their value derives only from their role in inspiring or recording such states of the soul.
Action Without action, thought never “ripens into truth.” Action is the process whereby what is not fully formed passes into expressive consciousness. Action is also the scholar's “dictionary,” the source for what she has to say. The true scholar speaks from experience, not in imitation of others. The scholar's education in original experience and self-expression is appropriate for everyone. Its goal is the creation of a democratic nation.
Process The universe is fundamentally in flux and “permanence is but a word of degrees” Being is not as a stable “wall” but as a series of “interminable oceans” There is no final explanation of any fact; each law will be incorporated in “some more general law presently to disclose itself” no virtues are final or eternal, all being “initial”
History…respek. History is a servant to the present: “The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary”
Morality Life has the goal of passing into “higher forms” Virtues initiate historically developing forms of life Emerson does have a sense of morality as developing historically, but our virtues often must be abandoned rather than developed.
Vices Conformity is the chief Emersonian vice, the opposite or “aversion” of the virtue of “self-reliance.” We conform when we pay unearned respect to clothing and other symbols of status, when we show “the foolish face of praise” or the “forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us.”
Founding and Grounding Rooted in the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant (German Idealism) Grounded their religion and philosophy in principles deriving from the inner, spiritual, or mental essence of the human
Critics of the Movement Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance satirized the movement Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil on Your Head” attacks the movement as well – He also calls Transcendentalists “Frogpondians”
Linked Closely to Romanticism Believers in the power of the individual/divine Influenced the growing movement of “Mental Sciences” (New Thought)
Remember This! You are not allowed, under any circumstances, to completely forget about what you have just learned.