Transcendentalism and idealism are significant philosophical movements that examine human existence and thoughts. Transcendentalism is the idea that there is something beyond the physical world and that we can access it through our minds. On the other hand, idealism believes that our thoughts and perceptions shape reality. Let’s look at these two theories to see how they differ!
What is Transcendentalism?
Transcendentalism is derived from the Latin term “transcende,” which means “to climb over or beyond.” The goal of the movement’s founders was for individuals to “climb above” traditional empirical thinking and embrace their intuition and natural spirituality.[Source].
Transcendentalism is the concept that you can reach beyond what you know to be true. It means that we know some things just by thinking about them without needing to experiment or look at the evidence. Transcendentalism is a philosophy that prioritizes reasoning as the most important way to understand reality. It also values intuition and spirituality. Three principles guide this way of thinking. These are individualism, idealism, and the divinity of nature.
What is Idealism?
Idealism is a type of thinking where you believe that the things you know are somehow related to the thoughts in your mind. [Source]. According to Wikipedia, “In philosophy, idealism identifies and describes metaphysical perspectives that assert that reality is indistinguishable and inseparable from human perception and understanding; that reality is a mental construct closely connected to ideas” [Source].
Idealism is a philosophical theory that states that “ideas are the only reality” [Source]. It was born out of Plato’s suggestion of the Theory of Ideas. It recognizes ideas, feelings, and ideas as more important than material objects. Idealists argue that human development must abide by moral, ethical, and spiritual values so that people can acquire knowledge. They are interested in studying the man because he has higher intellectual powers.
Similarities between Transcendentalism and Idealism
Transcendentalism and idealism are inclined toward humanistic studies. The main focus of these philosophies is to understand how humans ought to live out their lives and how to interpret their reality in relation to religion, the environment, and human thoughts. Another common trait between these two is that they place importance on the individual. Individualism and idealism are core tenets of transcendentalism and idealism as philosophies. Idealists argue that a person’s ideas will eventually form his reality. Transcendentalists encourage people to pursue a personal relationship with God and respect nature to live a meaningful life.
Transcendentalism and idealism believe in the capabilities of humans to take control of their lives and thoughts, which will aid them in defining their reality in this world. Transcendentalists and idealists converge in transcendental idealism or formalistic idealism; a philosophical system attributed to 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant “held that the human self, or transcendental ego, constructs knowledge out of sense impressions and from universal concepts called categories imposed upon them” [Source].
He believed in ideas shaping reality but argued that ideas are the raw material of knowledge. These ideas result from realities existing independently of human minds.
Difference between Transcendentalism and Idealism
The difference between transcendentalism and idealism is that idealism is the “property of a person of having high ideals that are usually unrealizable or at odds with practical life” while transcendentalism is the “transcending, or going beyond, empiricism, and ascertaining a priori the fundamental principles of human knowledge” [Source]. Another difference is that idealism is an aspect of transcendentalism. All transcendentalists are idealists, but not all idealists can be transcendentalists. Idealism pins all hopes of understanding reality on human ideas created through human thoughts. On the other hand, transcendentalism explains reality in relation to religions and is more inclined to religious beliefs. Idealists can either be religious or not, but the emphasis is on what one thinks, and those thoughts will likely materialize into something concrete.