“ It was a high counsel that I once heard
given to a young person, always do what
you are afraid to do.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
• There is an ideal spiritual state which
“transcends” the physical and empirical.
• A loose collection of eclectic ideas about
literature, philosophy, religion, social
reform, and the general state of American
• Transcendentalism had different meanings
for each person involved in the movement.
• Relationship between man
and nature. Heightened
awareness of this
relationship would cause a
“reformation” of society
away from materialism and
• A literary movement that established a
clear “American voice”.
• Emerson first expressed his philosophy in
his essay “Nature”.
• A belief in a higher reality than that
achieved by human reasoning.
• Suggests that every individual is capable
of discovering this higher truth through
Where did it come from?
• Ralph Waldo Emerson gave German
philosopher Immanuel Kant credit for
popularizing the term
• It began as a reform movement in the
• It is not a religion—more accurately, it
is a philosophy or form of spirituality.
• It centered around Boston and
Concord, MA. in the mid-1800’s.
What did Transcendentalists
The intuitive faculty, instead of the
rational or sensical, became the
means for a conscious union of the
individual psyche (known in Sanskrit
as Atman) with the world psyche also
known as the Oversoul, life-force,
prime mover and God (known in
Sanskrit as Brahma).
Basic Premise #1
An individual is the spiritual
center of the universe, and
in an individual can be found
the clue to nature, history
and, ultimately, the cosmos
itself. It is not a rejection of
the existence of God, but a
preference to explain an
individual and the world in
terms of an individual.
Basic Premise #2
The structure of the
structure of the
begins with selfknowledge. This is
similar to Aristotle's
dictum "know thyself."
Basic Premise #3
concept of nature as
a living mystery, full
of signs; nature is
Basic Premise #4
The belief that individual virtue and
happiness depend upon self-realization
—this depends upon the reconciliation of
two universal psychological tendencies:
1. The desire to embrace the whole world—
to know and become one with the world.
2. The desire to withdraw, remain unique
and separate—an egotistical existence.
• Believed in living close to
nature/importance of nature. Nature is
the source of truth and inspiration.
• Taught the dignity of manual labor
• Advocated self-trust/ confidence
• Valued individuality/non-conformity/free
• Advocated self-reliance/ simplicity
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Poet and essayist
• Popular lecturer
• Banned from Harvard for
40 years following his
Divinity School address
• Supporter of abolitionism
• “What I must do is all that concerns me,
not what people think…”
• “…to be great is to be misunderstood”
Henry David Thoreau
• Schoolteacher, essayist,
• Most famous for Walden
and Civil Disobedience
• Influenced environmental
• Supporter of abolitionism
• Thoreau began “essential” living
• Built a cabin on land owned to Emerson in
Concord, Mass. near Walden Pond
• Lived alone there
• for two years studying
• nature and seeking
• truth within himself
“I went into the woods
because I wished to live
deliberately, to front only
the essential facts of life
and see if I could not learn
what it has to teach, and
not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not
“Still we live meanly like ants.”
“Our life is frittered away by detail.”
“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. I say, let your
affairs be as two or three and not a hundred or a
• The surface of the earth is soft and impressible
by the feet of men; and so with the paths which
the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then,
must be the highways of the world, how deep
the ruts of tradition and conformity!
• “If a man does not keep pace with his
companions, perhaps it is because he
hears a different drummer. Let him step
to the music he hears, however measured
or far away.”
• Thoreau’s essay urging passive, nonviolent resistance to governmental policies
to which an individual is morally opposed.
• Influenced individuals such a Ghandi, Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez
Amos Bronson Alcott
• Teacher and writer
• Founder of Temple
School and Fruitlands
• Introduced art, music,
P.E., nature study, and
field trips; banished
• Father of novelist Louisa
• Journalist, critic, women’s
• First editor of The Dial, a
• First female journalist to
work on a major
• Taught at Alcott’s Temple
• Poet and especially
close friend of
• Published the first
biography of Thoreau
• American Transcendental Web:
• American Transcendentalism:
• PAL: Chapter Four
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