Existentialism and transcendentalism are two humanistic philosophies that have been around for a long time. Though they have similarities, they also have some key differences. This article will explore these concepts in depth and see how they differ from each other.
Existentialism is the attempt to confront and deal with meaninglessness and anxiety that results from the human condition. Existentialism is a response to the disconnect that people feel in the modern world. It is a way of looking at life that emphasizes individuals’ freedom and responsibility. Existentialists believe that humans must create their own meaning in life as there is no inherent meaning in the universe.
Transcendentalism is derived from the Latin word ‘transcend,’ which means to climb over or beyond. Founders of this movement intended to ‘climb over’ traditional empirical thinking, favoring a person’s intuition and natural spirituality instead [Source].
Transcendentalism is explained as “the transcending or going beyond, empiricism, and ascertaining a priori the fundamental principles of human knowledge” [Source]. It is a philosophy that prioritizes reasoning as the key to understanding reality. Transcendentalism is also inclined to intuition and spirituality. It involves three principles: individualism, idealism, and the divinity of nature [Source].
What is the Main Theme of Existentialism?
The main theme of existentialism is life has no meaning or purpose, so the onus to find meaning and purpose lies within an individual. People have free will to do whatever they desire to define their meaning.
Similarities and Differences between Existentialism and Transcendentalism
Existentialism and transcendentalism focus on the individual. The individual is critical in determining how their life will develop. Another similarity is that these philosophies are humanistic. They also emphasize human capabilities of making relevant life decisions that will shape their future.
The difference between existentialism and transcendentalism is “that existentialism is (philosophy|not countable) a twentieth-century philosophical movement emphasizing the uniqueness of each human existence in freely making its self-defining choices,” while transcendentalism is the “transcending, or going beyond, empiricism, and ascertaining a priori the fundamental principles of human knowledge.” Also, transcendentalists believe in the existence of a divine spirit, but existentialists are divided on the aspect of divine concepts. Transcendentalists believe in God, while atheistic existentialists do not believe in deities.
Transcendentalism puts values on individualism and self-reliance. It states that people can reunite with God through individualism and self-reliance. Also, transcendentalists believe in the existence of a divine spirit in nature and every living soul [Source]. Under this philosophy, the individual is placed at the center of the universe. More so, human capabilities are celebrated by transcendentalists. It has three principles: individualism, idealism,, and the divinity of nature [Source].
What is American Transcendentalism?
American transcendentalism is “essentially a kind of practice by which the world of facts and the categories of common sense are temporarily exchanged for the world of ideas and the categories of imagination. This exchange aims to make life better by lifting us above the conflicts and struggles that weigh on our souls” [Source]. It focuses on seeking individual truth and growing to become more self-reliant.
Transcendentalism is a philosophical and social movement that emphasizes the inherent goodness of all nature and humanity and the belief that people can find truth through intuition and imagination. People are at their best when they are most self-reliant and independent” [Source]. Christian transcendentalism tends to use the core tenets of transcendentalism as a humanistic philosophy, and some of these tenets are described as biblical. For instance, Christian transcendentalists believe in a personal relationship with God. They also have respect for nature which is defined as God’s creation. These transcendentalists argue that God placed man as stewards over creation, as revealed in Genesis 1 verse 28. Other characteristics of Christian transcendentalism are gender equality, fair treatment of women, the welfare of the poor,, and seeking justice.
Transcendentalism in Literature
Transcendentalism in literature was a movement by writers in the 19th century. These writers penned their works related to the essential unity of creation, the innate goodness of humanity,, and “the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths” [Source]. Notable writers are Ralph Waldo Emerson and Elizabeth Gilbert [Source].
Criticism of Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism is criticized for advocating for a personal relationship with God; thus, it dismisses the significance of atheists. Also, it tends to over-praise imagination over other aspects that aid people in understanding reality. Since it is a humanistic philosophy, transcendentalism gives the individual too much power to have control over his life. It respects nature, while other philosophies see the state of nature as an accident or coincidence with no purpose or meaning.