How Do Transcendentalists Define Truth?

Transcendentalists define truth as an ultimate reality that goes beyond, or transcends, what people can know by means of the five senses. In the transcendentalist view, people gain knowledge of the ultimate reality through intuition rather than through mental training or education.

The Transcendental view emphasizes the inherent goodness of human beings and states that goodness is corrupted by the flawed institutions, such as governments, schools and organized religions, that humans create. People are closest to a state of goodness and purity when they become totally self-reliant and independent. As individuals, Transcendentalists believe that they are able to perceive the “Divine Soul” or “Over-Soul” which comes from a higher being and which inspires their goodness.

Transcendentalism became a major philosophical and religious movement in the 1820s and 1830s, centered in New England in the United States. It began as a protest against the spirituality of New England at that time, in particular against Unitarianism, which had arisen as the doctrine of Harvard University’s Divinity School. Transcendentalists desired a more intense and personal spiritual experience, which they felt could only grow outside the bounds of organized religion. Some notable Transcendentalist figures include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Margaret Fuller and Amos Bronson Alcott.