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Asher Brown Durand’s 𝘒𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘚𝘱𝘪𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘴 (1849), a classic Transcendentalist painting that puts great emphasis on natural beauty and the meekness of man.

The Right Philosophy for Our Times

How Transcendentalism can revitalize our society’s love for the environment

Walden Cabin by Sophia Thoreau

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Transcendentalism places an emphasis on self-reliance, natural romanticism, and individuality, and I propose a modern reincarnation of this very philosophy can serve as an antidote to nearly all the major maladies of present-day society.

Individualism and Nonconformity

Emerson’s Self Reliance (1841), a seminal Transcendentalist text, preaches the importance of individuality and nonconformity. It is a scathing criticism of how we choose our actions, observing that a majority of what we do is not done with individual intention or purpose.

Emerson at the height of his popularity.

“No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature . . . the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trusting thyself also comes with the realization that consistency does not trump change, in fact, just the opposite. Trusting oneself and how one feels from day to day is ought to create inconsistency, but this is not naïve or childish — if anything, a man or woman who allows herself to be guided by her curiosity, delightfully aware by how much they do not know, becomes more noble, more well-rounded, than one guided by tradition or consistency, who is plagued to conform to what he was raised to think, philosophically anchored to their own history.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Self Reliance

Transcendentalism preaches a philosophy of self reliance, the ability to be completely comfortable in solitude. This covers both physically, but more notably, mentally. One of the most empowering things someone can do is be truly alone with herself, undistracted, viewing a clear, undistorted, view, of herself and all of the flaws that come with their existence.

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

Emerson valued a certain type of intentional solitude. He believed that although friendship could be a joyful commodity, too often did see people use friendship as a way to avoid thinking and improving upon their own shortcomings. That is exactly why Thoreau’s Walden experiment is so significant — it exhibited this exact comfortability with oneself, Thoreau, becoming, for a short period of time, a human incarnation of Emerson’s teachings.

Our Place in Nature

Transcendentalism speaks of the sublime — an emotion so far beyond our reaches and comprehension that it surpasses rationality. The only way to access this sublimity is to see the nature within us, and to realize that we are, in a way, not the players of a game of chess but the pawns; we are not man looking at nature, but nature looking at itself.

“Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”

Sublimity and realizing our place in the world comes with remarkable humility, which Emerson believed was much-needed for many at his time.

The transparent, absorbent, eyeball. Christopher Pearse Cranch

Why We Need Transcendentalism Now

A modern reincarnation of Transcendentalism is much needed in the 21st century.

Ansel Adams (1902–1984) was a photographer who aimed to express the beauty of nature through photography, inspired in part by the same sublimity that Thoreau and Emerson felt.

Self-reliance and Mental Health

I was inspired to add this part in due to a conversation with comment by Gustavo Wiering.

Emerson’s 𝘚𝘦𝘭𝘧-𝘙𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 (1841) gave foundation to the individualist part of the transcendentalist movement.

Modern Transcendentalism and Environmentalism

Simultaneously, we are degrading the environment at such an unsustainable rate that this opportunity to experience the sublime might not just be unrealized, but impossible.

Muir, despite being a liberal conservationist, held archaic and racist views on both African-Americans and Indigenous peoples, especially earlier in his life. It is important to note these whenever we discuss Muir and his work, and take them into account.
Rachel Carson, arguably the most influential environmentalist of the 20th century, lead a movement of scientific environmentalism. Her seminal work Silent Spring exposed the danger pesticides posed to the environment, and lead to protests of millions and a discontinuation on the use of many harmful chemicals. Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images



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adam dhalla

17 y old learning about machine learning, as well as a lifelong naturalist. Climate activist in Vancouver. Writer. Visit me @