Transcendentalism: The Philosophy of the Mind


Transcendentalism is the view that the basic truth of the universe lies
beyond the knowledge obtained from the senses, a knowledge that
transcendentalists regard as the mere appearance of things (Adventures 162).
Transcendentalists believe the mind is where ideas are formed. The
transcendentalist ideas of God, man, and the universe were not all original, but
were a combination of other philosophies and religions.
One of the major questions of philosophy is "What is the nature of the
universe?" Immanuel Kant was one of the major Transcendentalists of his time.
One of the major questions he asked was, "What is knowledge, and how is it
possible?" Transcendentalists believe that one really only knows personal
experiences, and that one can not know the universe which exists. Kant came to
the conclusion that there are two universes, one of experience, called the
"Phenomenal Universe", and the other the "Noumenal Universe", the one of reason.
The first is scientific and the other practical (Frost 42). Transcendentalists
think there is a dimension of depth in everything that exists. They also think
the spirit is what controls your physical side (Halverson 431). Some
transcendentalists say the world has no beginning in time, everything takes
place according to the laws of nature. The same people think there is not
necessarily an absolute Being who causes the world to be (Frost 42).
Transcendentalists think nature is a product of the mind, and without the mind
nature would not exist (Santayana 42). These ideas come from the Romantic
traditions which originated in England. The Romantics believed in spiritual
unity of all forms of being, with God, humanity, and nature sharing a universal
soul (Adventures 208).
Transcendentalists came to the conclusion that good and evil were things
only man could control. Their belief of man is that man is part of the universe
of objects and things. His knowledge is confined to ideas. He is able to
reason, and he can form ideas of the outer world of God, freedom, and
immortality (Frost 53). Immanuel Kant said, "Always act in such a way that the
maxim determining your conduct might as well become a universal law; act as
though you can will that everybody shall follow the principle of your action."
He called this the "categorical imperative." Kant believed this was a sure
criterion of what is right and what is wrong. Kant also made the point that an
act desired of everyone would be a good act, or if the act is performed with
good intentions it is good no matter if it brings pain. He also said human life
is only possible on this moral basis (Frost 95).
Is there a God? This question has been around for hundreds of years.
Many transcendentalists think they have answered it. Kant said there must be a
God who is wise, good, and powerful to join happiness and goodness. He thought
the idea of God was necessary to serve as a foundation for moral life (Frost
132). The transcendentalists explain that when God made the world, he found it
good, and when the transcendentalists assumed the Creator\'s place, they followed
his example (Santayana 121). Other transcendentalists believe the unseen part
of the universe dwells in God (Halverson 429). Theodore Parker was nicknamed
the Savonarola of transcendentalism, by Emerson, because he denied the necessity
of biblical inspiration and miracles in life (Edwards 479).
Transcendentalists firmly believe that the mind is superior to matter.
According to Kant, there are intuitions of the mind itself not based upon
experience, but through which experience is acquired. Kant called these
"transcendental forms"(Edwards 480). Transcendentalists believe the mind is the
only source of knowledge, but Kant said there is a world other than the mind
(Frost 242). Kant also thought humans are shut up in their minds and must
interpret everything. He believed that space and time are not realities
existing by themselves, but are ways the mind has of receiving and shaping
sensations. Kant stated, "Take away the thinking subject, and the entire
corporeal world will vanish, for it is nothing but the appearance in the
sensibility of our subject." To the thinkers who followed Kant the most logical
solution to the problem of mind and matter was to eliminate matter. The mind
seemed evident but matter had to be interpreted as something other than and
outside of the mind (Frost 243).
Transcendentalists believe many ideas come from the mind itself, not
from experience. They believe that these ideas of the mind are a very important
part of life. An anonymous pamphlet (many believe to be written by Charles Mayo
Ellis), An Essay on Transcendentalism, says,