What is Transcendentalism?

Transcendentalism is exactly what it sounds like. It is the idea that humans have knowledge that transcends the natural senses. This knowledge is gained from a person looking inside themselves and reflecting on the world around them (Transcendentalism, An American Philosophy, par. 1). All of the knowledge that a person needs is inside oneself; people just have to dig deep to find it. Sometimes we just need to forget about the rationalizing part of our lives and look into ourselves for the knowledge we desire. We just need to let our imaginations run wild and trust that someone can learn so much more from that than facts and statistics. I believe that these ideas of transcendentalism touch on ethics. They show how transcendentalism has valuable and important life lessons that benefit everyone and make the world a better place. This is why I believe that transcendentalism is an ethical concept.

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Although there is a universal definition of ethics, everyone has their own personal definition that may vary. To me, ethics is the idea that everyone has a duty to do the right thing. Now, what exactly does doing the right thing mean? I believe that it means making the best choice in the situation someone is in for the benefit of oneself and others. It is doing what’s best for oneself, as long as other’s well beings are always in mind, and no one is being harmed or set back because of the action. It does not matter if it is frowned upon by the government or society; it is an American’s job to challenge authority if it is for the benefit of the people. Transcendentalists, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, showed this as they spoke out for women’s rights and challenged the government and laws. Just as these transcendentalists believed speaking out for women’s rights was ethical, they also believed transcendentalism as a whole was ethical.

As a whole, I believe transcendentalism is an ethical concept. One reason I believe it is ethical is because it is beneficial to oneself and others to reflect on the knowledge that they have inside of them and to trust that knowledge. Human brains are so complex and contain much more knowledge and creativity than this world could ever give to us. As humans, we all have intuition inside of us where we just have a gut feeling that something is right or wrong. This is not something that can be learned from a textbook or studied in school. It is an innate gift that everyone is born with, and personally, it is ethical for me to listen and trust to my conscience. It helps me to trust the knowledge that I have inside of me and make the best choice possible. Some might disagree with this theory and argue that it is not ethical because just because a person has this knowledge inside of them, does not mean that they should trust or act on it. Some might say that it is way more logical to trust knowledge that people have gained from science and reason rather than intuition. I disagree with this argument because not everything can be learned from science and reason. Humans have knowledge that transcends beyond what we can see and feel. This is why trusting one’s intuition or conscience is ethical and way more beneficial to a person. This concept of trusting one’s conscience leads to the idea of relying on oneself.

Self Reliance, an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, shows that relying on oneself is ethical. In this essay, Emerson writes, Society is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members (Emerson 422). This quote shows that society is always out for man and that it wants to tear us down. Society tries to do this by trying to make everyone conform to its standards. It wants us to give up our individuality and opinions, so we can be easily controlled.

This is why self reliance is so important and ethical. It is in one’s best interest to be unique and to stay strong in one’s beliefs. Those qualities are what make someone who they are, and it is unethical to try to take that away. It is also an American’s job to challenge society if it is for the benefit of the people. I would say that the ability to have unique qualities and opinions that differ from everyone else’s add to people’s character and is worth putting up a fight. It makes the world a much better place to live. If everyone were the same and had the same beliefs and ideas, there would be no excitement in life. However, some might argue that it is just a way to keep us safe, which is more beneficial to oneself and everyone else. They could say that differing beliefs and opinions create conflicts, and conflicts jeopardize the safety of the American people. I disagree though because the risk of safety is less than the risk of losing who a person truly is. A way to reflect on who one is and move away from the struggles of society, nature is always an open door.

In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Nature, he shows how going into nature is an ethical concept. Humans are complex beings that live lives full of stress and hardships. Sometimes, we just need a release from society and the things that bring us down. Nature is our own personal outlet and allows us to create a fresh start. Even though nature brings us this sort of renewal in our lives, Emerson reminds us, Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both (Emerson 241). This quote is saying that it is not just nature that brings about this change. Nature is constantly going on without us, it is only when we go into nature that we are able to look inside ourselves and truly reflect on our lives. We hold the key to the happiness and peace in nature; we just have to reach deep down to unlock it in ourselves. This idea is ethical because when humans go into nature, they are brought into a better state of mind. They are able to just be and observe the wonderous world all around them without having to worry about anything. Going into nature is truly doing what is best for oneself and allows someone to be a better person to those around them. When people come out of nature, they gain a sort of peace which allows them to speak their opinion without endangering the well being of other people.

Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay known as Civil Disobedience, in which he expresses how civil disobedience is ethical. Civil Disobedience is the act of protesting, something involving the government, in a non-violent way. Thoreau agrees with this concept as he writes, “”That government is best which governs least”” (Thoreau 262). In this quote, Thoreau is saying that the government does not do an acceptable job of governing over its people. It is usually best when the government stays out of things, because they tend to misuse their power upon the will of the people. Our government was enacted long ago to enforce the people’s will, but today it has turned into a competition for power and/or financial gain. Because of this, people should have the right to govern themselves. They have the right to peacefully protest the government’s power and the ability to just listen to themselves. This goes back to the idea that all people have intuition, and they can use their knowledge to govern themselves. One of the reasons why civil disobedience is ethical is because it is in the best interest of someone to try to achieve what is not being provided for them. The government is not upholding the will of the people, so it is an American’s job to protest and challenge them because it is for the best interest of the people. Ethics is also about keeping the good will of others in mind and by governing over oneself, a person would be open to the people around them. People would share ideas with each other and grow closer to one another in order to help each other make decisions. However, some would argue that in order to stay afloat people would need a set government. If people governed themselves, the world would turn to chaos, and the corruption would grow even stronger than it already is. However, I disagree with this because all humans have the knowledge of right and wrong inside of them. People would not need a set government to lead the way for them because they already have the knowledge that they need to govern themselves inside of them. This idea of civil disobedience leads to the conclusion that transcendentalism is an ethical concept.

In more ways that one, transcendentalism has revealed itself to be an ethical concept. My definition of ethics is when presented with a situation, a person would choose the best option for the well-being of oneself and others, without hurting anyone else in the process. Transcendentalism, as a whole, is ethical because one can reflect on the knowledge inside oneself, trust their intuition, and make the best choice possible. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay called Self Reliance, he shows how self reliance is ethical because it is best for people to not conform to society’s standards, but to stay firm in their own qualities and beliefs. In Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, he shows how escaping to nature is ethical because it allows us to slip away from the struggles in our life and truly focus on ourselves and the beautiful world around us. Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau, explains how civil disobedience is ethical by saying that the government is corrupt, and it is in everyone’s best interest to voice their opinions and govern themselves. All of these reasons show how transcendentalism is an ethical concept.

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What is Transcendentalism?. (2019, Jul 01). Retrieved October 4, 2022 , from

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