1820–1830s US philosophical movement, holding that society corrupts humans’ inherent goodness, favoring intuition over empiricism

Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820s and 1830s in the eastern United States. A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. Transcendentalism emphasizes subjective intuition over objective empiricism. Adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with little attention and deference to past masters.


  • I recently listened to a talk by a famous biologist. He spoke about... scientific materialism and religious transcendentalism. He said, "...they are incompatible and mutually exclusive." This seems to be a widely accepted view... I do not share it. I do not know what the word "materialism" means. ...I judge matter to be an imprecise and ...old-fashioned concept ...[M]atter is the way particles behave when a large number of them are lumped together. When we examine matter in the finest detail in experiments of particle physics, we see it behaving as an active agent... Its actions are... unpredictable. It makes what appear to be arbitrary choices between alternative possibilities. Between matter... and mind... there seems to be only a difference of degree... We stand... midway between the unpredictability of matter and the unpredictability of God. This view... may not be true, but it is... logically consistent and compatible with... experiments of modern physics. Therefore... scientific materialism and religious transcendentalism are neither incompatible nor mutually exclusive. We have learned that matter... does not limit God's freedom to make it do what he pleases.
  • The Germans who first gained the full transcendental insight were romantic people; they were more or less frankly poets; they were colossal egotists, and wished to make not only their own knowledge but the whole universe centre about themselves. And full as they were of their romantic isolation and romantic liberty, it occurred to them to imagine that all reality might be a transcendental self and a romantic dreamer like themselves; nay, that it might be just their own transcendental self and their own romantic dreams extended indefinitely; Transcendental logic, the method of discovery for the mind, was to become also the method of evolution in nature and history. Transcendental method, so abused, produced transcendental myth. A conscientious critique of knowledge was turned into a sham system of nature. We must therefore distinguish sharply the transcendental grammar of the intellect, which is significant and potentially correct, from the various transcendental systems of the universe, which are chimeras.

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