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Transcendental Philosophy

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TRANSCENDENTAL PHILOSOPHY, that type of philosophy which holds understand ing to be the creative activity in the real world. To understand the use of the term transcen dental during the past century, we must refer back to Kant and his distinction between transcendental and transcendent. Kant ap plied the term transcendent to such ideas as he believed were beyond the range of any possible experience. On the other hand, he designated as transcendental those ele ments which were necessary constituents of experience, but which could not come from sense-perception. These transcendental elements are the organizing principles or con cepts which are the inherent property of the mind as an active understanding. Such organ izing principles could never be furnished by sen sation; for it is only by their agency that the material of sensation is built up into a compre hensible experience. Thus Kant maintained that the world of actual experience as far as its form is concerned is the result of the logically neces sary structure of our minds, and consequently that this world is formed according to the laws of thought. Just because it is such a thought construction Kant did not believe that the world of our experience had true reality. This true reality, he affirmed, exists beyond the world of experience and we can know nothing of it ex cept its existence. Thus for Kant the tran scendental represented that activity of under standing which is instrumental in the construc tion of human experience, but not in produc tion of reality. Kant's successors of the Ideal istic School (Fichte, Schelling and Hegel) rejected his theory of an ultimate reality beyond experience, and held that the true and only reality was given within the unity of experience. Since the world of experience is formed accord ing to the active principles of understanding, these transcendental principles become, in this case, active not only in the construction of experience, but also in the construction of reality. Thus in the first half of the last cen

tury, transcendental acquired a broad and im portant meaning, signifying in general, a spir s itual interpretation of the universe, and more s strictly, that philosophy which affirms the ac tivity of reason or understanding in the nature and development of reality. Chiefly through the writings of Coleridge and Carlyle, the ideas of Kant and his successors were made known in England. Through the same medium the transcendental philosophy became known to America and inspired a definite movement in New England. This movement, called New England Transcendentalism, was a reaction from the prosaic orthodoxy and utilitarianism of the time toward a deeper and more ideal inter pretation of reality. W. E. Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson (qq.v.) were prominent in the inauguration of this movement ; and there became associated in it a remarkable coterie of congenial spirits. The Transcendental Club, founded in 1836, and Brook Farm (q.v.), a social community organized in 1841, were imme diate results of the movement. The first literary organ of the school was the Dial, founded in 1840. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, founded in 1871, and the Concord School of Philosophy (1879) were later expressions of the same. The philosophy of this school was not systematically set forth, nor was it derived wholly from German sources. It was an ideal ism, rather vague, and often incoherent, which owed almost as much to the philosophy of Plato and the Neo-Platonic mysteries as to modern thought. Abolitionism and philanthropy owe much to the New England Transcendentalists. See Atccrrr, A. B. ; HEDGE, F. H.; OSSOLI,