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Transcendental idealism is the theory of German philosopher Immanuel Kant. In Kant's the Critic of Pure Reason, he states the following premises:
- What human's see is not actually a real thing, but instead it is an appearance.
- Kant also states that space and time are not actual things, but intuitions.
- Kant, who was influenced by Newton, believed there is a real chain of reactions between what is perceived and the perceiver.
- Kant understood that the mind's function was to make sense of the incoming data and process it in a way that makes meaning.
Kant's Idealism Theory
There is not one way of interpreting Kant's transcendental idealism theory. Scholars disagree on its interpretation; however, two main interpretations have emerged.
- The two objects interpretation was the most widely accepted interpretation during Kant's lifetime. This interpretation, sometimes called the two worlds interpretation, states that there are two worlds, the world of appearances and the world of real things. The appearances do not actually exist, but live inside the mind of the perceiver. The real things would exist in the same state even if a person were not around to perceive them.
- The two aspects is the second interpretation, or one world interpretation. According to this interpretation there is only one world but objects have two aspects to them, the seen and the unseen. There continues to be criticism on these two major interpretations.
The Meaning of Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism comes from the Latin, meaning "overpassing." More relevant to the movement, however, is Webster's standard definition - to rise above, to go beyond the limits, to overcome, to outstrip or outdo in some attribute, quality or power - but, especially, "to triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of" At the outset, Transcendentalism had everything to do with triumphing over the negative and restrictive aspects of Unitarianism.
By the 1830s, Unitarianism, then prevalent in Eastern Massachusetts, had reduced what began as a rationalist critique of Calvinist Orthodoxy to what many young ministers came to feel was a "religion of the commercial class." (Frank) Transcendentalists sought to assert the primacy of the spiritual and transcendental, centered around a more intuitive life of the spirit, over that of the material and empirical, epitomized by the Unitarian emphasis on forms and observances and the dry rationalism of John Locke.
This manifested itself in several basic tenets (albeit Myerson's irony) Transcendentalists prized individualism as essential to life itself, rejecting what was "acceptable" or "proper" and encouraging non-conformity. Intuition was favored over reason and realism. Transcendentalists believed form should follow function - not just in design and the arts, but also in life itself. And originality was superior to talent - i.e. original work of perhaps lower quality was superior to a gifted replication of an inspired original. They also believed lives should be spent in continuous self-improvement.
But perhaps the most basic tenet of Transcendentalism is that which confronted economic progress head-on. Henry David Thoreau distilled Transcendentalist economic theory in a single sentence - "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run." (Thoreau) Thoreau and the Transcendentalists foresaw money overtaking individual moral conduct as the standard of personal worth, and idealistically tried to resist the path American society was choosing. This drove such Transcendental communal experiments as Brook Farm and Fruitlands.