Transcendental Philosophy

Numerous attempts at the definition of "transcendentalism," with varying degrees of success, have been made.  Although philosophers throughout history have used the terms transcendent and transcendental from a number of points of view, their explications typically give priority to intuition over experience, to spirit over matter.
For the Scholastics, the "categories" were the highest class of "things that are and are spoken of."  The "transcendentals" were notions, such as unity, truth, goodness, and being, which were wider than the categories.  Since these went beyond the categories, they were said to transcend them.  In a metaphysical sense, the Scholastics considered the "transcendent" the opposite of the "immanent," and, in this manner, the doctrine of Divine Transcendence was opposed to the doctrine of Divine Immanence (in the pantheistic sense).  Within this context, there is no reference to experience.  The transcendentalism of modern times owes very little to these distinctions, if it owes anything to them.
In a stricter sense, transcendentalism refers to a celebrated distinction first made by the great philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804).  Kant defined as transcendent what lies beyond the limits of experience.  He defined as transcendental the non-empirical or a priori elements in our knowledge which do not come from experience but are, nevertheless, legitimately applied to the data or contents of knowledge furnished by experience.  This distinction is somewhat subtle.  Within the limits of experience we learn the uniform sequence of acorn and oak, heat and expansion, cold and contraction, and so on, and we consider the antecedent to be the cause of the consequent.  If, now, we go beyond the total of our experience and give God as the cause of all things, we are using the category "cause" in a transcendent sense--and that use is not legitimate.  If, however, to the sequential data furnished by experience we apply the a priori form causation, we introduce a transcendental element which elevates our knowledge to the rank of universal and necessary truth: "every effect has its cause."  We may, then, understand transcendent and transcendental to refer to those elements or factors in our knowledge which do not come from experience but are known a priori.  Empirical philosophy is, therefore, a philosophy based on experience alone and adhering to the realm of experience in obedience to David Hume's maxim, "'Tis impossible to go beyond experience."  Transcendental philosophy, on the contrary, goes beyond experience, and considers philosophical speculation to be concerned chiefly, if not solely, with those things which lie beyond experience.
In this way Kant secured for mind priority over nature, yet without endangering the validity of the principles of scientific investigation.  His giving primacy to practical reason placed religion and ethics on a sure footing.  He made it particularly his problem to rescue natural science from the epistemological skepticism of Hume, as well as to rescue religion from nationalism.  In so doing he demolished the rationalistic arguments of Anselm, Descartes, and others, for the existence of God.  Science is valid, Kant insisted, but only when dealing with external phenomena.  The phenomenal world, however, is produced a priori by the activity of consciousness, reacting on external reality--whose eternal nature cannot be known.  The constancy of experience is accounted for by the very fact that the world as we know it is only the sum total of phenomena.  This realization forms the basis of the universal validity of certain principles of explanation.  It was through this line of reasoning that Kant was convinced that the transcendental reality--the thing-in-itself--is unknown and unknowable.  Therefore, he considered the tasks of philosophy to be the examination of knowledge for the purpose of determining the a priori elements, the systematic enumeration of these elements (for forms), and the determination of rules for their legitimate application to the data of experience.  Ultra-empirical reality, he taught, is to be known only by the practical reason.  Thus, his philosophy can be described as that of critical transcendentalism.  He left to his successors the task of bridging the chasm between the theoretical and the practical reason.  This task they accomplished in various ways--growing, transforming, and adapting the transcendent reality outside us, the thing-in-itself--and enriching in this way the language and exegesis of transcendentalism.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte introduced egoistic transcendentalism.  The subject, he taught, or the Ego, has a practical as well as a theoretical side.  To develop its practical side along the line of duty, obligation, and right, he posited the non-Ego.  In this way, the opposition between the subject and the thing-in-itself is eliminated, because the thing-in-itself is a creation of the Ego--and, therefore, all transcendental reality is contained in the Self.  I am I, the original identity of self with itself, became for Fichte the expression of the highest metaphysical truth.
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, addressing himself to the same task, developed transcendental absolutism.  He brought to the problems of philosophy a highly spiritual imagination and a scientific insight which were lacking in Kant, as critic of knowledge, and Fichte, as exponent of romantic personality.  Schelling taught that the transcendental reality is neither subject nor object, but an Absolute which is so indeterminate that it may be said to be neither nature nor spirit.  Yet the Absolute is, in a sense, potentially both the one and the other.  For, from it, by gravity, light, and organization, is derived spirit, which slumbers in nature, but reaches consciousness of self in the highest natural organization, the human being.  There is here a hint of development which was brought out explicitly by Hegel.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel advocated idealistic transcendentalism.  He felt that reality is not an unknowable thing-in-itself, nor the subject merely, nor an absolute of indifference, but an absolute Idea, Spirit, or Concept (Begriff).  The essence of this reality is ongoing development (das Werden), as it becomes in succession object and subject, nature and spirit, being and essence, soul, law, state, art, science, religion, and philosophy.
All these various meanings achieve unity of thought in the emphasis on exploring the regions beyond experience.  While not condemning experience as untrustworthy, the transcendental philosophers did at least value experience only insofar as it was elevated, sublimated, and transformed by the application of transcendental principles.
In a broad sense, any philosophy or theology which lays stress on the intuitive, the mystical, or the ultra-empirical can be said to be transcendentalism.  Thus, it is common to refer to Amos Bronson Alcott and the New England school of Transcendentalism.  American Transcendentalism was born in the 1830s as a dynamic movement of New England writers and thinkers.  They believed that people are born good, that they possess a power called intuition, and that they can come closer to God through nature.