Transcendentalism The Philosophy Of The Mind Essay

Transcendentalism: The Philosophy Of The Mind Essay, Research Paper

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


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, “Transcendentalism maintains that man has

ideas that come not through the five senses, or the power of

reasoning; but are either the result of direct revelation from God, his

immediate inspiration, or his immanent presence in the spiritual

world.” The transcendentalists called the spiritual body within the

physical body the oversoul, the conscience, or the inner light

(Encyclopedia 3). Kant says the mind is like a bowl with many

crevices and depressions in it’s contour. When one pours water into

the bowl, it takes the shape of the bowl, filling all the crevices. In the

same way the environment pours impressions into the mind and they

are received by the mind and shaped according to the nature of this

mind (Frost 257). Some transcendentalists think all minds are alike.

They say all minds have certain categories such as totality, unity,

plurality, and reality. Transcendentalists believe knowledge is limited

to the combined role of sensibility and understanding, both of which

are concerned with sense and experience, though in different ways

(Hakim 98). They also think knowledge is universal (Frost 258).

Some transcendentalists think the ideas are of the mind and cannot

be applied to a world outside of the mind. They believe ideas are a

result of the kind of thinking organ which people have, and are

determined by it’s nature.

Transcendentalism is a combination of beliefs, some of which

are from other religions and other people and their philosophies. It is

a belief that there is another way knowledge is obtained, not only from

the senses, but also from the mind.


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