Give three examples of Transcendentalist philosophy from Emerson's "Self-Reliance".

Expert Answers
amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Transcendentalism is a belief system whose adherents seek knowledge through intuition rather than rationalism. Transcendentalists think of God as a pantheistic presence: present in all things. Therefore, Transcendentalists share some beliefs with Easter philosophies such as Buddhism which express a unity of living and spiritual things. They believed that to be genuinely individualistic is to be in touch with that pantheism, that unity of knowledge and/or consciousness. 

Since Transcendentalists believed in an individual's intuition as the foremost source of pure knowledge, they tended to ignore or criticize social institutions (religious, government, etc.) in favor of the uniqueness of the indivudal's intuition. 

With this celebration of the individual's intuition, a criticism of conformity and social institutions, and a sense of divine unity in nature, Emerson encourages nonconformity. Emerson encourages the individual to be willing to challenge social institutions, even to challenge his/her own past decisions. The genuine, transcendental individual will therefore necessarily listen to his/her inner voice and therefore be more like an active "cause" in the world than a passive person merely reacting to the world. (Notice the words such as "infinite" and a man being a country and an age; notions of transcending space and time, even if they are metaphoric): 

Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his thought;--and posterity seem to follow his steps as a procession. 

Considering the emphasis of self-reliance in the individual and the invidual's connection (unity) with nature, Emerson sees similar aspects of self-reliance in the world: 

I see the same law working in the nature for conservation and growth. The poise of a planet, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every vegetable and animal, are also demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul. 

Intuitive knowledge, individually derived, will be unique (as the individual must be) so to anyone achieving, creating, or apprehending transcendental thought, it will seem new: 

When good is near you, when you have life in yourself,--it is not by any known or appointed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;--the way, the thought, the good shall be wholly strange and new. 

The strange and new experience, being different from traditional and common experience, is therefore, by definition "other than common experience" and therefore it has transcended common experience. 

Read the study guide:

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question