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Transcend Symbolists: A Joining Of Two Philosophies

1200 words - 5 pages

Transcend-Symbolists: A Joining of Two PhilosophiesBy the mid nineteenth century, there had arisen two prominent groups of writers with very different philosophies, the Transcendentalists and the Symbolists. The Transcendentalists, among the ranks of which were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, could be considered optimistic in their writing. The two most basic tenets of Transcendentalism (there were five all together) were that the individual is innately good and that nature was the purest place one could go. The Symbolists, which included such writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, on the other hand, were pessimistic, and tended to reject all of the ideas of the Transcendentalists. They believed that man tends toward evil and saw nature as an arbitrary force, neither good nor bad. While the beliefs of the Transcendentalists and Symbolists could be placed at opposite ends of the spectrum, neither group was completely right nor completely wrong, and the truth falls somewhere in the middle.As stated above, the Transcendentalists had five basic beliefs. The are as follows: man is innately good, man is at his best when he refuses to conform to tradition, society was a source of evil, the purest place to which a person could go was nature, and that there existed the need for social reform. Not all of these ideas are inherently optimistic on their own, but as a whole they are. Where they say evil in society, they also saw the potential for reform. They saw a grim present but sought a brighter future. Throughout their writings, they explained their point of view. They told people what they saw was wrong, and told people how they might endeavor to make it right. These view truly were optimistic.Yet they could not see through all this optimism and find the flaws in their reasoning. One of the flaws was saying that man is at his best when he refuses to conform. However, by asking people not to conform, they were basically asking people to conform to non-conformity. More than this, however, they were telling people how to not conform. Thoreau says in Walden "I say, let your affairs be as two or three, not a hundred or a thousand . . . Simplify, simplify"1 and "Cultivate poverty as a garden herb"2 and "Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts."3 Thoreau is merely saying that one should break from tradition and follow no one, as long as it matches his ideas. This is merely conformity hidden behind a different guise.Another flaw can also be found in the reasoning of the Transcendentalists. This group argued that the individual tends to be good, while society as a whole is a source of evil. This does make sense initially, if you take "the individual tends to be good" as meaning that as well as usually being good, the individual is also capable of evil. With all of the small amounts of evil brought together in one large society, this small amount individually becomes a large amount in society. Yet this society should tend to be good,...

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