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Everything is connected

There is a concept within transcendentalism that “everything is connected”, In this article we investigate the sources and influences of this core aspect of transcendental thought

Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism is a philosophical, spiritual, and literary movement that emerged in the late 1820s and 1830s in New England, influenced by Romanticism, German idealism, and Eastern scriptures (Wikipedia, 2023). Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of people and nature, the supremacy of intuition over logic, and the divine presence in the everyday world. They also rejected the rigid doctrines and institutions of established religion and society, and advocated for self-reliance, individualism, and social reform (Britannica, 2023).

Immanuel Kant and German idealism

German idealism is a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, influenced by Kant’s transcendental idealism and the Enlightenment. One of the main themes of German idealism is the idea that everything is connected, or that reality is a unified whole. This idea can be traced back to Kant, who argued that human cognition is shaped by the a priori categories and concepts of the mind, which impose a form and structure on the world of appearances. Kant called this view “transcendental idealism”, which means that the objects of our experience are “empirically real and transcendentally ideal” (Kant, 1781/1998, p. A369).

Kant argued that human knowledge is not derived from sensory experience alone, but also from innate ideas that transcend the empirical realm. He called these ideas “pure concepts of the understanding” or “categories” (Kant, 1781/1998, p. 106). According to Kant, these categories are necessary for us to make sense of the world and to form judgments about it. They are not derived from experience, but rather they shape our experience and make it possible.

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One of the categories that Kant identified is causality, which means that every event has a cause and an effect. Kant claimed that causality is not something that we observe in the world, but rather something that we impose on the world through our reason. He wrote, “we ourselves bring into the appearances that order and regularity which we call nature” (Kant, 1781/1998, p. 110). Without the category of causality, we would not be able to understand the world as a coherent and interconnected system of events.

Another category that Kant identified is community, which means that every substance has a relation to other substances. Kant argued that community is not a property of things in themselves, but rather a way of thinking about things in relation to each other. He wrote, “the concept of community…does not signify any property of an object considered in itself, but only a relation to other objects” (Kant, 1781/1998, p. 113). Without the category of community, we would not be able to conceive of the world as a whole or as a network of interdependent beings.

Therefore, Kant’s theory of knowledge implies that everything is connected, not because of some external reality, but because of our own rational faculties. We construct the world as a unified and meaningful system by applying our innate ideas to our sensory experience. As Kant put it, “the understanding does not derive its laws from nature, but prescribes them to it” (Kant, 1781/1998, p. 109).

Transcendental idealism is the term applied to Kant’s epistemology, which holds that the human self, or transcendental ego, constructs knowledge out of sense impressions and from universal concepts called categories that it imposes upon them (Britannica, 2023). According to Kant, we cannot have direct access to things in themselves, which are the mind-independent realities that exist beyond our experience and cognition. Instead, we can only know appearances, which are the mind-dependent representations of things in themselves (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2023).

Kant’s transcendental philosophy was influenced by his predecessors, such as René Descartes and George Berkeley, who also questioned the nature and limits of human knowledge. However, Kant rejected both the problematic idealism of Descartes, who claimed that the existence of matter can be doubted, and the dogmatic idealism of Berkeley, who flatly denied the existence of matter. Kant believed that ideas, the raw matter of knowledge, must somehow be due to realities existing independently of human minds, but he held that such things-in-themselves must remain forever unknown (Britannica, 2023).

Kant’s transcendental idealism has profound implications for ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics. For example, Kant argued that the three transcendentals: the good, the true, and the beautiful, are not objective properties of things in themselves, but rather subjective judgments that reflect our rational faculties. As he wrote in his Critique of Judgment: “The beautiful is that which pleases universally without a concept” (Kant, 1790/2007, p. 45).

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Similarly, he claimed that moral judgments are based on our innate sense of duty, which he called the categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant, 1785/2005, p. 31). Finally, he maintained that metaphysical questions about God and the soul are beyond the scope of human reason and experience, but they are nevertheless necessary postulates for practical purposes: “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith” (Kant, 1781/1998, p. Bxxx).

However, Kant’s successors, such as Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, radicalized this view and developed what is known as “absolute idealism”, which holds that there is no distinction between appearances and things in themselves, or between subject and object because reality is ultimately a manifestation of the absolute, or the unconditional principle of all being. For these thinkers, everything is connected because everything is derived from the absolute, which is both the source and the goal of all existence. The absolute is not a thing or a person, but a dynamic process of self-determination and self-realization, which unfolds through history, nature, and spirit. As Hegel famously put it: “The true is the whole” (Hegel, 1807/1977, p. 11). They proposed that the noumenal world is accessible through intuition, imagination, and creativity.

German idealists also tried to show how their view of everything being connected has implications for logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. They developed systematic philosophies that aimed to integrate all these domains into a coherent whole. For example, Hegel’s logic is not a formal system of rules and symbols, but a dialectical movement of concepts that reveals the inner structure of reality.

Hegel’s metaphysics is not a collection of abstract entities or substances, but a dynamic development of stages of being that correspond to different modes of thought. Hegel’s epistemology is not a theory of knowledge or justification, but a reflection on the conditions of possibility of rationality and freedom.

Hegel’s ethics is not a set of moral rules or values, but a conception of ethical life (Sittlichkeit) that expresses the concrete realization of freedom in social institutions and practices. Hegel’s politics is not a doctrine of rights or duties, but a philosophy of history that traces the progress of freedom in different forms of government and culture. Hegel’s aesthetics is not a theory of beauty or taste, but a philosophy of art that explores how art reveals the truth of spirit in different historical epochs.

In summary, German idealism is a philosophical movement that proposes that everything is connected by virtue of being derived from or related to the absolute, which is the ultimate principle of reality and rationality. German idealists also demonstrate how this idea has implications for various fields of philosophy and human activity.

Other influences of the concept that everything is connected

The early transcendentalist concept that everything is connected was influenced by various sources, such as Platonism, Neoplatonism, Hindu scriptures, and mysticism. These sources provided the transcendentalists with a philosophical framework that emphasized the unity of all creation, the innate goodness of humanity, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience. For example, Emerson (1836) wrote in his essay Nature that “every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact” (p. 20) and that “nature is the symbol of spirit” (p. 21). He also acknowledged the influence of Eastern religions, such as Hinduism, on his transcendentalist views.

Similarly, Thoreau (1854) expressed his admiration for the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu epic that explores the themes of duty, action, and liberation. He claimed that reading it in the morning was like “bathing his intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy” of the ancient text (p. 264). The transcendentalists also drew inspiration from German transcendentalism, especially as it was interpreted by Coleridge and Carlyle, as well as from the writings of mystics such as Swedenborg and Böhme. These sources helped the transcendentalists to develop a religious outlook that rejected external authority and relied on personal intuition and direct experience of the divine in nature.

We can dig deeper into those influential sources: Platonism, Neoplatonism, Hindu scriptures, and mysticism.

Platonism and Neoplatonism

The transcendentalist concept that everything is connected was influenced by Platonism and Neoplatonism, two schools of Greek philosophy that emphasized the existence of a transcendent reality beyond the physical world. Platonism, based on the teachings of Plato, posited that there is a realm of ideal forms or ideas that are the true essences of things, and that the sensible world is only a reflection or imitation of this higher reality. Neoplatonism, developed by Plotinus and his successors, further elaborated on this idea by proposing that there is an ultimate principle, called the One or the Good, that is the source of all being and beyond any description or categorization.

The One emanates a series of levels of being, each derived from and dependent on the higher one, until the lowest level of the physical universe is reached. Each level of being is also an image or expression of the one above it, and each being can return to its source by a process of contemplation and desire. The Neoplatonists also incorporated elements from Aristotle and Stoicism, such as the concepts of substance, causality, logic, and ethics.

The early transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, were influenced by these ideas through their exposure to various sources, such as the works of Plato and Plotinus themselves, the writings of Christian mystics who adopted Neoplatonic views, such as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Meister Eckhart, and the translations and commentaries of European scholars who revived Platonism and Neoplatonism in the Renaissance and the seventeenth century.

The transcendentalists adopted the notion that there is a higher reality that transcends the empirical world and that can be accessed by intuition and imagination. They also believed that everything in nature is connected by a universal soul or spirit, which they sometimes identified with God or the Oversoul. They saw nature as a symbol or manifestation of this spiritual reality, and they sought to express their insights through poetry, essays, and personal experiences.

Some quotes and examples to illustrate these points are:

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.” (Emerson, Nature)

“The ancient precept ‘Know thyself,’ and the modern precept ‘Study nature,’ become at last one maxim.” (Thoreau, Walden)

“All things are double, one against another. Good is set against evil, and life against death: so also is the sinner against a just man.” (Plato, Phaedo)

“All things are derived from the One by means of a process of radiation or emanation; but this derivation does not imply any diminution in it; for it does not emit them as if it had extension in space but remains undiminished while it produces them.” (Plotinus, Enneads)

“We must ascend to God not by stepping up from one creature to another, but by turning in upon ourselves.” (Pseudo-Dionysius, The Mystical Theology)

“The eye with which I see God is exactly the same eye with which God sees me.” (Meister Eckhart, Sermons)

Hindu scriptures

“Brahma is the author of all things; he is present in all things; he is identical with all things.” (Upanishads, translated by Max Müller, 1879)

The idea that everything is connected in early transcendentalism was influenced by Hindu scripture, especially the Upanishads, which are part of the Vedas, the oldest and most sacred texts of Hinduism. The Upanishads teach that there is a universal spirit called Brahman, which is the source and essence of everything, and that the individual soul, called Atman, is identical to Brahman. By realizing this identity, one can achieve liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

The transcendentalists were fascinated by this concept of unity and spirituality, and they found in Hindu scripture a source of inspiration and wisdom. For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the leaders of the movement, wrote in his essay “The Over-soul” that “We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime, within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE.” (Emerson, 1841). He also quoted several verses from the Upanishads in his essays and poems, such as “That which is One sages call by many names” (Rig Veda 1.164.46) and “He who knows that supreme Brahman becomes Brahman indeed” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9).

Another transcendentalist who was influenced by Hindu scripture was Henry David Thoreau, who lived in a cabin near Walden Pond for two years and wrote about his experience in his book “Walden”. Thoreau read the Bhagavad Gita, another Hindu sacred text that is part of the Mahabharata epic, and he admired its teachings on duty, action, and detachment. He wrote in his journal that “The Gita seems to me wilder than all other books I have ever read” (Thoreau, 1849). He also referred to the Gita in his book “Walden”, where he said “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gītā” (Thoreau, 1854).

Therefore, it is clear that the early transcendentalist concept that everything is connected was influenced by Hindu scripture, which provided them with a vision of a universal spirit that transcends the material world and unites all beings. The transcendentalists used quotes and examples from Hindu texts to illustrate their points and to express their admiration for this ancient wisdom.

The Transcendentalists were influenced by Hindu scriptures in several other ways. First, they embraced the idea of non-dualism or monism, which asserts that there is no distinction between the subject and the object, the self and the world, or God and creation. They saw nature as a manifestation of Brahman and a symbol of spiritual reality. They also rejected the dualistic doctrines of orthodox Christianity, such as original sin, predestination, and eternal damnation.

Furthermore, they affirmed the inherent goodness and divinity of human nature and the possibility of salvation for all. As Thoreau wrote in his journal (1851), “There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dullness… I need only suggest what kind of sermons are still listened to in the most enlightened countries…one would say that even the prophets and redeemers had rather consoled the fears than confirmed the hopes of man” (Thoreau, 1851/1906, p. 444). Thoreau was influenced by the Upanishadic teaching that “All this is Brahman” (Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1), which implies that everything is sacred and worthy of reverence.

Secondly, they experimented with various practices of Hindu spirituality, such as meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, and non-violence. They sought to cultivate a direct experience of Brahman in themselves and in nature. They also advocated for social reform based on the principles of justice, compassion, and harmony. As Whitman wrote in his poem “Song of Myself” (1855), “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, /And what I assume you shall assume, /For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you… I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea./There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, /and in the contact and odour of them, that pleases the soul well, /All things please the soul, /but these please the soul well” (Whitman, 1855/2005, pp. 27-28). Whitman was influenced by the Upanishadic teaching that “The Self is all this” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.6), which implies that one should love all beings as oneself.

Hindu scriptures were an important source of Transcendentalism, as they provided a philosophical framework and a practical guidance for achieving spiritual enlightenment and social transformation. The Transcendentalists were among the first Americans to appreciate and appropriate Hindu wisdom for their own purposes.

mysticism

Another source of Transcendentalism was mysticism, which is a term that encompasses various religious traditions that emphasize direct and personal experience of God or the divine. Some of the mystics that influenced the Transcendentalists were Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist and theologian who claimed to have visions of heaven and hell; Jakob Böhme, a German shoemaker and mystic who wrote about the nature of God and creation; and Rumi, a Persian poet and Sufi master who expressed his love for God in ecstatic verses. The Transcendentalists were inspired by these mystics’ testimonies of encountering God in their inner lives and expressing their insights in poetic language.

Emanuel Swedenborg and Jakob Böhme

Another source for the concept of everything being connected, was the mystical writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and Jakob Böhme, who claimed to have direct visions of the spiritual world and its correspondence with the natural world. They described a complex system of symbols, correspondences, and influences that linked God, angels, humans, animals, plants, minerals, and planets in a harmonious whole (Miller & Versluis, 2004).

For example, Swedenborg wrote that ‘the whole natural world is a theatre representative of the spiritual world’ (Swedenborg, 1758/2003, p. 13), meaning that every natural object and phenomenon had a spiritual meaning and purpose. Böhme also believed that ‘all things visible and invisible are in a wonderful connection one with another’ (Böhme, 1620/1978, p. 5), and that God manifested himself in nature through various principles and qualities. Both mystics aimed to reveal the hidden connections between the natural and the spiritual realms, and to show how humans could participate in the divine order by living in harmony with nature and God (Miller & Versluis, 2004).

Rumi

Rumi was a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic who believed that love was the astrolabe of God’s mysteries (Rumi, n.d.). He wrote thousands of verses that expressed his spiritual insights and experiences, often using metaphors and imagery from nature. One of his main themes was the transcendental concept that everything is connected to everything else, and that the human soul can reach union with the divine source of all existence.

Rumi’s poetry reflects his understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, both in the physical and spiritual realms. He saw the world as a manifestation of God’s beauty and grace, and he urged his readers to look beyond the superficial appearances of things to discover their inner meanings. He wrote: “Be silent that the Lord who gave thee language may speak, / For as He fashioned a door and lock, He has also made a key” (Rumi, n.d.). He also used paradoxes and contrasts to convey the mystery and complexity of reality, such as: “I saw the Great was Smallest, and saw the Smallest Great; / For God had set His likeness on all the things that were” (Rumi, n.d.).

Rumi’s transcendental concept also influenced his view of religion and humanity. He believed that all religions were essentially one because they all praised the same light of God. He wrote: “In this respect, all religions are only one religion. / Because all praises are directed towards God’s Light, / These various forms and figures are borrowed from it” (Rumi, n.d.). He also embraced diversity and tolerance among people, recognizing that everyone had a spark of divinity within them.

He wrote: “Woman is a ray of God, not a mere mistress, / The Creator’s Self, as it were, not a mere creature!” (Rumi, n.d.). He advocated for compassion and generosity as the highest virtues, saying: “Where will you find one more liberal than God? / He buys the worthless rubbish which is your wealth, / He pays you the Light that illumines your heart” (Rumi, n.d.).

Rumi’s transcendental concept has inspired many people across time and cultures, especially those who seek a deeper connection with themselves, others, and the divine. His poetry offers a glimpse into a state of consciousness that transcends the ordinary limitations of the mind and senses, and reveals the underlying unity of all existence.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau

Emerson (1836) wrote: “The foregoing generations beheld God face to face; we through their eyes” (p. 5).

Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were inspired by these ideas of everything being connected, and sought to apply them to their own lives and writings. They explored the connections between nature, humanity, and divinity in their essays, poems, lectures, and journals.

For example, Emerson wrote in his essay Nature (1836): “Standing on the bare ground, —my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, —all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God” (p. 10).

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” (Thoreau, Walden, 1854)

Thoreau wrote in his journal (1851): “The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving, then. The poet or the artist never yet had so fair and noble a design, but some of his posterity at least could accomplish it” (p. 383).

These are some examples of how transcendentalists expressed their belief in the concept that “everything is connected”. They traced this concept back to its roots in philosophy, mysticism, and religion, and illustrated it with their own experiences and observations. They also challenged their contemporaries to transcend the limits of conventional thinking and to embrace a more holistic and creative vision of reality.

To illustrate their points, the Transcendentalists often quoted from these sources or used examples from their works. For instance, Ralph Waldo Emerson quoted from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in his essay “Nature” to support his claim that nature is a symbol of spirit. He also quoted from Plotinus’s Enneads in his essay “The Over-soul” to explain his concept of the universal soul that connects all beings.

Henry David Thoreau quoted from the Upanishads in his book Walden to express his admiration for Hindu wisdom. He also quoted from Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell in his essay “Civil Disobedience” to criticize the injustice of human laws. Margaret Fuller, a feminist Transcendentalist, quoted from Goethe’s Faust in her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century to argue for women’s intellectual and spiritual emancipation. She also quoted from Rumi’s Masnavi in her essay “The Great Lawsuit” to celebrate the mystical union of love.

Influence on other writers and movements

The idea that everything is connected has influenced many writers and movements in American literature, such as Walt Whitman and Herman Melville. These writers explored the themes of individualism, nature, spirituality, and freedom in their works, often drawing inspiration from Transcendentalist philosophy.

Walt Whitman

For example, Walt Whitman, who is considered one of the most influential American poets, expressed his Transcendentalist views in his poems, such as “Song of Myself”, where he celebrates the self, nature, and the divine. He writes:

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume, you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” (Whitman, 1855/2005, p. 27)

The quote reflects the transcendentalist view that everything is connected because it expresses the idea that the self is not separate from the world, but rather a part of it. Whitman celebrates himself, but also sings himself as a representative of humanity, and assumes that what he feels and thinks is shared by others.

He also affirms that every atom belonging to him belongs to everyone else, implying a cosmic unity that transcends physical boundaries. Whitman’s poem is an example of how transcendentalists saw divine experience inherent in the everyday, rather than believing in a distant heaven (Britannica, 2023).

Transcendentalists also saw physical and spiritual phenomena as part of dynamic processes rather than discrete entities, and believed in the innate goodness of humanity and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience (Wikipedia, 2023). Whitman’s poem illustrates these beliefs by using free verse, imagery, and symbolism to convey his intuitive and emotional connection with nature and humanity.

Herman Melville

Herman Melville is best known for his novel Moby-Dick, which is considered one of the greatest American novels. Melville was influenced by Transcendentalism, especially by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The American Scholar”, which encouraged American writers to create original and authentic works based on their own experiences and observations. Melville’s novel explores the themes of fate, free will, evil, and the human condition through the symbolic voyage of Captain Ahab and his crew in pursuit of the white whale. Melville writes:

“All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event — in the living act, the undoubted deed — there, some unknown but still, reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?” (Melville, 1851/2003, p. 140)

Melville implies that there is a transcendental reality behind the appearances of things, and that humans have to struggle to reach it. He also questions the role of God and nature in human affairs, and the limits of human knowledge and reason.

“Call me Ishmael.” (Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851)

The opening line of Moby-Dick, “Call me Ishmael”, is one of the most famous in literature. It introduces the narrator, who shares his name with the son of Abraham and Hagar in the Bible. Ishmael, in both the novel and the biblical story, is an outcast who wanders searching for meaning and belonging.

This name also suggests a connection between Ishmael and God, who heard Hagar’s affliction and blessed her son (Genesis 16:11). Ishmael’s quest for meaning leads him to join the crew of the Pequod, a whaling ship commanded by the obsessed Captain Ahab, who seeks revenge on the white whale, Moby Dick.

Ishmael’s role as a narrator is not only to tell the story of Ahab’s doomed voyage, but also to explore various aspects of life, nature, and the universe through his philosophical reflections and digressions. Ishmael’s transcendentalist world-view is influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who believed that everything in nature is connected and that humans can access a higher reality through intuition and imagination.

Ishmael often uses metaphors and symbols to express his transcendental vision, such as when he compares the whale to “a mystical treatise” (Melville, 1851, p. 312) that reveals the secrets of existence. He also shows respect and admiration for different cultures and religions, especially those of the Polynesian harpooners Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo, who represent different aspects of the human soul. Ishmael’s transcendentalism contrasts with Ahab’s monomania, which blinds him to the beauty and diversity of life and leads him to his destruction. Ishmael is the only survivor of the Pequod’s sinking, which symbolizes his spiritual salvation and his ability to transcend the limits of human reason.

Comparison with other philosophical or religious view-points

The transcendentalist view that everything is connected, contrasts with other philosophical or religious views that emphasize the separation or distinction between these realms

Unitarianism

For example, Unitarianism, which was the dominant religion in New England before transcendentalism, rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and affirmed the unity of God as one person. However, Unitarians still believed that God was transcendent and distinct from his creation, and that humans had to rely on reason and revelation to know him.

Transcendentalists, on the other hand, believed that God was immanent and present in every aspect of his creation, and that humans could access him through intuition and personal experience. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the leader of the transcendentalist movement, wrote in his essay Nature (1836):

“Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” (Emerson, 1836, p. 10)

Romanticism

Another view that differs from transcendentalism is Romanticism, which was a literary and artistic movement that originated in Europe and influenced some American writers.

Romanticism also celebrated nature and individualism, but it tended to emphasize the emotions and imagination over reason and intuition. Romantic writers often portrayed nature as a source of inspiration, beauty, and sublime feelings, but not necessarily as a manifestation of the divine. They also explored the dark and irrational aspects of human nature, such as passion, madness, and evil.

Transcendentalists, in contrast, focused on the positive and rational aspects of human nature, such as goodness, wisdom, and virtue. They believed that humans could overcome their lower impulses by aligning themselves with the higher law of nature and spirit. As Henry David Thoreau, another prominent transcendentalist, wrote in his essay Walden (1854):

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the licence of a higher order of beings.” (Thoreau, 1854, p. 323)

Deism

A third view that can be compared with transcendentalism is Deism, which was a rationalistic religion that emerged in the Enlightenment era.

Deists believed that God created the universe according to natural laws, but did not intervene or reveal himself in human affairs. Deists rejected supernatural events, miracles, prophecies, and scriptures as sources of religious authority. They also denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of original sin. Deists relied on reason and natural religion to discover the existence and attributes of God.

Transcendentalists shared some aspects of Deism, such as rejecting orthodox Christianity and affirming natural religion. However, they differed from Deists in their view of God’s relation to his creation. Transcendentalists did not see God as a distant or indifferent creator who left his work to run by itself. Rather, they saw God as an active and personal presence who communicated with his creatures through nature and intuition. As Margaret Fuller, a feminist writer and transcendentalist editor, wrote in her essay Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845):

“There is no need for this being to prove his existence by miracles or arguments; he is felt within us; we are conscious of him; we are conscious that he is our Father; we are conscious that we are his children.” (Fuller, 1845, p. 75)

In conclusion, transcendentalism offers a unique perspective on the connection between everything in existence. It differs from other philosophical or religious views that either separate or subordinate humans, nature, and the divine. Transcendentalism asserts that all these realms are equally sacred and interrelated parts of one universal spirit.

How transcendentalism relates to contemporary issues

One of Transcendentalisms core beliefs is that everything is connected, meaning that humans, nature, and the divine are all part of a unified whole. This belief has implications for contemporary issues, such as environmentalism, social justice, or spirituality.

Environmentalism is a movement that seeks to protect and preserve the natural world from human exploitation and degradation. Transcendentalists saw nature as a source of inspiration, beauty, and wisdom, and believed that humans should live in harmony with it. They also saw nature as a manifestation of the divine, and argued that by observing and experiencing nature, one could gain insight into the spiritual realm.

For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most influential transcendentalists, wrote in his essay Nature (1836): “Nature is the symbol of spirit” (p. 10). He also claimed that “in the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature” (p. 9). Therefore, transcendentalists would support environmentalism as a way of respecting and honouring nature and its divine essence.

Social justice is a movement that seeks to promote equality and fairness among different groups of people in society. Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness and dignity of humanity, and opposed any form of oppression or discrimination based on race, gender, class, or religion.

They also advocated for individualism and self-reliance, meaning that each person should follow their own conscience and intuition, rather than conforming to social norms or expectations.

For example, Henry David Thoreau, another prominent transcendentalist, wrote in his essay Civil Disobedience (1849): “I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward” (p. 4). He also stated that “it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right” (p. 3). Therefore, transcendentalists would support social justice as a way of empowering and liberating people from unjust systems and institutions.

spirituality is a broad term that refers to various ways of relating to the sacred or transcendent aspect of reality. Transcendentalists saw spirituality as an individual and personal matter, rather than a dogmatic or institutional one.

They rejected the authority of organized religion and traditional theology, and instead sought direct experience and revelation of the divine through intuition, imagination, and creativity. They also drew inspiration from various sources of wisdom, such as ancient scriptures, mysticism, and Eastern philosophy.

For example, Margaret Fuller wrote in her essay Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845): “The soul knows no persons… It invites every man to expand to the full circle of the universe” (p. 70). She also expressed her interest in Hinduism and Buddhism in her book Summer on the Lakes (1844). Therefore, transcendentalists would support spirituality as a way of exploring and expressing one’s innermost self and connection to the divine.

In conclusion, transcendentalism is a movement that views everything as connected, and has relevance for contemporary issues such as environmentalism, social justice, or spirituality. By applying transcendentalist principles and values to these issues, one can seek to achieve a more harmonious, ethical, and meaningful life.

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