What Is the Difference Between Transcendentalism and Existentialism?


Jane Flores

Transcendentalism and existentialism are two philosophical movements that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively. While both movements share the common goal of understanding the human experience, they differ in their approach to achieving this goal.

Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that originated in the United States in the early 19th century. It was a reaction against the dominant intellectual and cultural trends of the time, which emphasized reason and materialism over spirituality and intuition.

At its core, transcendentalism is a belief in the inherent goodness of both people and nature. Transcendentalists believe that individuals have within them an innate sense of truth and morality that can be accessed through contemplation and introspection.

One of the key figures of transcendentalism was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who believed that individuals should strive to achieve a state of self-reliance and independence. He believed that true wisdom could only be attained by looking inward rather than relying on external sources such as religion or society.

Elements of Transcendentalism:

  • Belief in individual intuition
  • Emphasis on spirituality over materialism
  • Importance of self-reliance
  • Belief in inherent goodness of people and nature
  • Contemplation and introspection as means to access truth

Existentialism emerged as a philosophical movement in Europe during the mid-20th century. It was a response to World War II, which had shattered many people’s beliefs about humanity’s progress towards enlightenment.

Existentialists believe that individuals must create their own meaning in life because there is no inherent meaning or purpose to existence. They reject traditional beliefs about morality, religion, and societal norms, seeing them as oppressive and limiting.

Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the key figures of existentialism. He believed that individuals must make choices in a world that is fundamentally absurd and meaningless. According to Sartre, individuals are condemned to freedom – they must take responsibility for their own choices and actions, even if this means confronting difficult truths about themselves.

Elements of Existentialism:

  • Belief in individual responsibility
  • Rejection of traditional beliefs about morality and societal norms
  • Emphasis on individual freedom
  • Recognition of the absurdity and meaninglessness of existence
  • Importance of personal choice and action in creating meaning

Differences between Transcendentalism and Existentialism

While both movements share a focus on individual experience, they differ in their approach to understanding that experience. Transcendentalists believe that individuals have an inherent connection to something greater than themselves (whether it be nature, God, or some other force), while existentialists reject any external sources of meaning or purpose.

Another key difference between the two movements is their approach to morality. Transcendentalists believe in an inherent goodness within people and nature; they see morality as something that can be accessed through contemplation and intuition. In contrast, existentialists reject traditional moral beliefs as oppressive and limiting; they believe that individuals must create their own moral code based on personal choice and responsibility.

Finally, transcendentalists emphasize self-reliance as a means of achieving truth and wisdom, while existentialists stress individual freedom as the basis for creating meaning in life.

In conclusion,

Transcendentalism and existentialism are two philosophical movements that emerged at different times but share a common goal: understanding the human experience. While they differ in their approaches to achieving this goal, both movements offer important insights into what it means to be human and how we can create meaning in a complex and often confusing world. Whether you find inspiration in the natural world or embrace the freedom of individual choice, both transcendentalism and existentialism offer valuable perspectives on the human condition.