Self-Reliance Historical Context

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Transcendentalism took root in New England in the mid-1830s in reaction against the rationalism (emphasis on intellectual understanding) of the Unitarian Church. The philosophy centered around the premise that divine truth is present in all created things and that truth is known through intuition, not through the rational mind. From this core proceeded the belief that all of nature, including all humans, is one with God, whom the transcendentalists sometimes called the Over-Soul. In an essay with that title, Emerson defined God as "that great nature in which we rest . . . that Unity within which every man's particular being is contained and made one with all other."

The term transcendental was borrowed from German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804),who wrote in his well-known work Critique of Practical Reason, "I call all knowledge transcendental which is concerned, not with objects, but with our mode of knowing...

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