Transcendentalism Overview Transcendentalism Social/Historical Influences Role of Nature Philosophical Influences Organized Religion Social Reformation Social/Historical Influences Spectacular unrestricted growth characterized nearly every aspect of American life from 1829-1861: – Geographical expansion westward – Fur trade and gold rush – Nations population doubled between 1790 and 1830, and doubled again before 1870 Changing face of America: – Shift from rural, agricultural communities to industrial and urban society – Sudden mass in society barred by poverty or lack of education from any possibility of selfdevelopment Social/Historical Influences Dissatisfaction with the present and optimism about the future – Dynamic progress in science and technology – Introduction of new farm machines, roads, railroads, communication (i.e. telegraph) – Social cost of progress: harsh working conditions; ugly mill towns; skilled craftsmen were replaced by machines, tended by lower paid women and children – Children were working 10-12 hours a day in factories and no longer had freedom to develop to their full potential Social/Historical Influences As basic American values were threatened by industrial forces, reform groups sprang up: – Utopian communities were founded/established – Education was transformed with public schools – Women’s rights movements – Abolition Criticism/Challenging Theology: – Challenge to the dominance of Puritanism – Quakers emphasized the direct relationship between God and the individual without the mediation of minister – Deist affirmed that Nature, not the Bible, was the principle Revelation of God – Unitarianism rejected Calvinistic notions of Original Sin and Determinism in favor of beliefs in the basic goodness and innate free will of the individual Transcendentalism A literary and philosophical movement in America based on a belief that the transcendent – or spiritual – reality, rather than the material world, is the ultimate reality and that knowledge is not solely derived from experience and observation. Once must learn about the world not only through reason, but also intuition – Reason: the independent and intuitive capacity to know what is absolutely true – Intuition: direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; a keen and quick insight Transcendentalism Transcendentalists upheld the essential goodness of humanity, the glories of nature, and the importance of free individual expression. Also known as American Renaissance Emphasized the idea that individuals should act according to their inner most personal beliefs, or spiritual convictions, rather than the dictates of society Closely related to this idea is that of the integrity of the individual – the idea/belief that each person is inherently good, capable of making rational decisions, and worthy of respect from every other human being Role of Nature Transcendentalists believed in living close to nature and taught the dignity of manual labor They emphasized the importance and beauty of the natural world By contemplating objects in nature the individuals can transcend this world and discover union with God and the Ideal Fulfillment of human potential is attainable through mysticism and communion of nature. Free Write How important is nature to you? How often do you spend time in nature? Are you conscious of the nature around you on a regular basis? What role does nature play in your life? What role does nature play in your contemporary, technology driven society? What would the transcendentalists think of your modern world? Philosophical Influences In opposition to the rationalistic tendencies of the age, transcendentalism incorporated elements from many philosophies and religions Transcendentalism is closest to the philosophy of Idealism, which held that material objects do not have a real existence of their own. Rather, these objects are diffused parts of aspect of God, the “over-soul” – a term coined by Emerson -The over-soul is an ultimate spiritual force that encompasses all existence and reconciles all opposing forces in the world - Material objects therefore mirror or reflect an ideal world Philosophical Influences Transcendentalism rose in reaction/opposition to Rationalism - a theory that reason is in itself a source of knowledge superior to and independent of sense perceptions They believed that rationalism, from which modern science had sprung, denied the profound sense of mystery found in nature and humanity Transcendentalism was greatly influenced by Romanticism A movement in art, literature, and music emphasizing passion rather than reason, and imagination and intuition rather than logic – Most Romantic writers favored full expression of the emotions, as well as free, spontaneous action rather than restraint – Other Romantic writers stressed freedom of the individual and rejecting restricting social conventions and unjust political rule Philosophical Influences Deism - a movement advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe Unitarianism - a member of a denomination that stresses individual freedom of belief, the free use of reason in religion, a united world community, and liberal social action Other influences include the philosophies of Greek philosopher Plato, who stated, “Absolute goodness is knowable only through intuition,” and the German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, who stated, “Man can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.” Organized Religion Although the major writers of this period came from Protestant backgrounds, they found themselves at odds with the dominant religions of the time Though they strongly felt the need of intellectual companionship and emphasized spiritual living, they felt that every person’s relation to God was to be established directly by the individual rather than through a ritualistic or organized church They held that human beings were divine in their own right, an opinion opposed by the doctrines of the Puritans Self-trust and reliance were to be practiced at all times, because to trust the self was really to trust the voice of God speaking intuitively within us Organized Religion They felt that current thought had reduced God to a watchmaker who, having once built and wound up the universe, now sat back and observed it detachedly. The individual is this scheme was likewise reduced, as Thoreau put it, “to a cog” or wheel in this cosmic machine. Emerson believed that we could find our spiritual existence reflected in the world of nature and that individualism was a step toward recognition of the divine within the individual Free Write What are you reactions to the transcendental views/philosophies on religion and spirituality? Do you see any flaws in these ideas? How have the transcendentalists influenced our contemporary society in terms of spiritual philosophy? Social Reformation The transcendentalists believe in democracy Most of the transcendentalists were by nature reformers, but these reforms were attempts to regenerate the human spirit rather than to prescribe particular movements Social conformity, materialism, commercialism, and what they believed to be a lack of moral commitment angered and frustrated the transcendentalists Social Reform Transcendentalists are known for their adherence to civil disobedience – The refusal to obey certain governmental laws or demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy, characterized by the employment of such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing, nonpayment of taxes, passive resistance – Thoreau outlined his philosophy in an essay titled, “Civil Disobedience,” in 1848 – The transcendentalists also supported women’s rights and abolition – Principle writers of this period include: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman Free Write What are some examples of civil disobedience in history and contemporary society? How effective of ineffective is civil disobedience?