[ tran-sen-den-tl-iz-uhm, -suhn- ]

  1. transcendental character, thought, or language.

  2. Also called transcendental philosophy. any philosophy based upon the doctrine that the principles of reality are to be discovered by the study of the processes of thought, or a philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical: in the U.S., associated with Emerson.

Origin of transcendentalism

From the German word Transcendentalismus, dating back to 1795–1805. See transcendental, -ism

Other words from transcendentalism

  • tran·scen·den·tal·ist, noun, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use transcendentalism in a sentence

  • As an old story goes: The New England transcendentalist Margaret Fuller was given to exclaiming, “I accept the universe!”

    Tantrum on the Court | David Frum | July 2, 2012 | THE DAILY BEAST
  • Carlyle is described as a 'transcendentalist'—a kind of qualified equivalent to intuitionist.

  • Proof seems to him, as it did to the contemporary Transcendentalist philosophers, an impertinence.

    The American Mind | Bliss Perry
  • He was then an incipient Transcendentalist, and he did not fail to discover in me the seeds of the same plant.

    Memoirs | Charles Godfrey Leland
  • The transcendentalist believes his ideas to be self-transcendent only because he finds that in fact they do bear fruits.

    The Meaning of Truth | William James

British Dictionary definitions for transcendentalism


/ (ˌtrænsɛnˈdɛntəˌlɪzəm) /

    • any system of philosophy, esp that of Kant, holding that the key to knowledge of the nature of reality lies in the critical examination of the processes of reason on which depends the nature of experience

    • any system of philosophy, esp that of Emerson, that emphasizes intuition as a means to knowledge or the importance of the search for the divine

  1. vague philosophical speculation

  1. the state of being transcendental

  2. something, such as thought or language, that is transcendental

Derived forms of transcendentalism

  • transcendentalist, noun, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for transcendentalism


A movement in nineteenth-century American literature and thought. It called on people to view the objects in the world as small versions of the whole universe and to trust their individual intuitions. The two most noted American transcendentalists were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.