This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 dissenters. This belief is as well embodied as anywhere, perhaps, in Emerson's little treatise Nature, a work which, appearing the same year the Club was formed, may be fittingly considered the philosophical “constitution” of transcendentalism, all the more so since the same author's better known Phi Beta Kappa Oration, The American scholar (1837), and his profoundly influential Divinity School address (1838) are merely applications of the doctrine of Nature to the realms of letters and theology. Into any detailed discussion of what that doctrine was, into any minute exposition, in other words, of the transcendental philosophy, it is impossible here to enter. A glance, however, may be taken at a few of its central and controlling features. The word “transcendental” in its philosophic sense goes back to Kant and the Critique of pure reason, though in New England, as elsewhere, the term lost its narrowly technical application and borrowed at the same time a new shade of meaning from the Critique of practical reason. Kant had taught that time and space are not external realities but ways in which the mind “constitutes” its world of sense. The same is true, he had contended, of cause and effect and the other categories of the mind. Furthermore, as he brought out in his second Critique, the ideas of God, of freedom, and of immortality are inevitable intuitions of the practical nature of man, and these intuitions, since man is essentially a practical and moral being, have therefore not a merely sentimental but a real validity. From these and other Kantian conceptions a broad generalization was made, and the word “transcendental” came to be applied, in New England, to whatever in man's mental and spiritual nature is conceived of as above experience and independent of it. Whatever transcends the experience of the senses is transcendental. Innate, original, universal, a priori, intuitive-these are words all of which convey a part of the thought swept under the larger meaning of the term. To the transcendentalists the name John Locke stood for the denial of innate ideas. “Sensationalism” was the prevalent description of the doctrine of his Essay. Transcendentalism, on the other hand, reaffirmed the soul's inherent power to grasp the truth, and upon this basis went on to erect
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.