Transcendence (philosophy)

Last updated

In philosophy, transcendence conveys the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning (from Latin), of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages. It includes philosophies, systems, and approaches that describe the fundamental structures of being, not as an ontology (theory of being), but as the framework of emergence and validation of knowledge of being. "Transcendental" is a word derived from the scholastic, designating the extra-categorical attributes of beings. [1] [2]

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Ontology study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations

Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.


Religious definition

In religion, transcendence refers to the aspect of a god's nature and power which is wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all physical laws. This is contrasted with immanence, where a god is said to be fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways. In religious experience transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and by some definitions has also become independent of it. This is typically manifested in prayer, séance, meditation, psychedelics and paranormal "visions".

Religion is a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

The doctrine or theory of immanence holds that the divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world. It is held by some philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence. Immanence is usually applied in monotheistic, pantheistic, pandeistic, or panentheistic faiths to suggest that the spiritual world permeates the mundane. It is often contrasted with theories of transcendence, in which the divine is seen to be outside the material world.

A religious experience is a subjective experience which is interpreted within a religious framework. The concept originated in the 19th century, as a defense against the growing rationalism of Western society. William James popularised the concept.

It is affirmed in various religious traditions' concept of the divine, which contrasts with the notion of a god (or, the Absolute) that exists exclusively in the physical order (immanentism), or indistinguishable from it (pantheism). Transcendence can be attributed to the divine not only in its being, but also in its knowledge. Thus, a god may transcend both the universe and knowledge (is beyond the grasp of the human mind).

Divinity divine mythological character

In religion, divinity or Godhead is the state of things that are believed to come from a supernatural power or deity, such as God, the supreme being, creator deity, or spirits, and are therefore regarded as sacred and holy. Such things are regarded as divine due to their transcendental origins or because their attributes or qualities are superior or supreme relative to things of the Earth. Divine things are regarded as eternal and based in truth, while material things are regarded as ephemeral and based in illusion. Such things that may qualify as divine are apparitions, visions, prophecies, miracles, and in some views also the soul, or more general things like resurrection, immortality, grace, and salvation. Otherwise what is or is not divine may be loosely defined, as it is used by different belief systems.

God Divine entity, supreme being and principal object of faith

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. The conceptions of God, as described by theologians, commonly include the attributes of omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-present), and as having an eternal and necessary existence. Depending on one's kind of theism, these attributes are used either in way of analogy, or in a literal sense as distinct properties. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence". Psychoanalyst Carl Jung equated religious ideas of God with transcendental aspects of consciousness in his interpretation.

In philosophy, the concept of The Absolute, also known as The (Unconditioned) Ultimate, The Wholly Other, The Supreme Being, The Absolute/Ultimate Reality, and other names, is the thing, being, entity, power, force, reality, presence, law, principle, etc. that possesses maximal ontological status, existential ranking, existential greatness, or existentiality. In layman's terms, this is the one that is, in one way or another, the greatest, truest, or most real being.

Although transcendence is defined as the opposite of immanence, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some theologians and metaphysicians of various religious traditions affirm that a god is both within and beyond the universe (panentheism); in it, but not of it; simultaneously pervading it and surpassing it.

Theology Study of the nature of deities and religious belief

Theology is the critical study of the nature of the divine. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries.

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between possibility and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

Panentheism is the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond time and space. The term was coined by the German philosopher Karl Krause in 1828 to distinguish the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) about the relation of God and the universe from the supposed pantheism of Baruch Spinoza. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical, panentheism maintains an ontological distinction between the divine and the non-divine and the significance of both.

Modern philosophy

In modern philosophy, Immanuel Kant introduced a new term — transcendental, thus instituting a new, third meaning. In his theory of knowledge, this concept is concerned with the condition of possibility of knowledge itself. He also opposed the term transcendental to the term transcendent, the latter meaning "that which goes beyond" (transcends) any possible knowledge of a human being. [3] [4] For him transcendental meant knowledge about our cognitive faculty with regard to how objects are possible a priori . "I call all knowledge transcendental if it is occupied, not with objects, but with the way that we can possibly know objects even before we experience them." [5] Therefore, metaphysics, as a fundamental and universal theory, turns out to be an epistemology. Transcendental philosophy, consequently, is not considered a traditional ontological form of metaphysics.

Modern philosophy

Modern philosophy is philosophy developed in the modern era and associated with modernity. It is not a specific doctrine or school, although there are certain assumptions common to much of it, which helps to distinguish it from earlier philosophy.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Kant also equated transcendental with that which is " respect of the subject's faculty of cognition." [6] Something is transcendental if it plays a role in the way in which the mind "constitutes" objects and makes it possible for us to experience them as objects in the first place. Ordinary knowledge is knowledge of objects; transcendental knowledge is knowledge of how it is possible for us to experience those objects as objects. This is based on Kant's acceptance of David Hume's argument that certain general features of objects (e.g. persistence, causal relationships) cannot be derived from the sense impressions we have of them. Kant argues that the mind must contribute those features and make it possible for us to experience objects as objects. In the central part of his Critique of Pure Reason , the "Transcendental Deduction of the Categories", Kant argues for a deep interconnection between the ability to have consciousness of self and the ability to experience a world of objects. Through a process of synthesis, the mind generates both the structure of objects and its own unity.

David Hume Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian

David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, scepticism, and naturalism. Hume's empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is founded solely in experience.

<i>Critique of Pure Reason</i> 1781 book by Immanuel Kant

The Critique of Pure Reason is a 1781 book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in which the author seeks to determine the limits and scope of metaphysics. A heavily-revised second edition was published in 1787. Also referred to as Kant's "First Critique", it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgment (1790). In the preface to the first edition, Kant explains that by a "critique of pure reason" he means not "a critique of books and systems, but of the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience" and that he aims to reach a decision about "the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics". The First Critique is often viewed as culminating several centuries of early-modern philosophy, and inaugurating modern philosophy.

A metaphilosophical question discussed by many Kantian scholars is how transcendental reflection is itself possible. Stephen Palmquist interprets Kant's appeal to faith as his most effective solution to this problem. [7]

For Kant, the "transcendent", as opposed to the "transcendental", is that which lies beyond what our faculty of knowledge can legitimately know. Hegel's counter-argument to Kant was that to know a boundary is also to be aware of what it bounds and as such what lies beyond it in other words, to have already transcended it.

Contemporary philosophy

In phenomenology, the "transcendent" is that which transcends our own consciousness: that which is objective rather than only a phenomenon of consciousness. Noema is employed in phenomenology to refer to the terminus of an intention as given for consciousness. [ citation needed ]

Jean-Paul Sartre also speaks of transcendence in his works. In Being and Nothingness , Sartre uses transcendence to describe the relation of the self to the object oriented world, as well as our concrete relations with others. For Sartre, the for-itself is sometimes called a transcendence. Additionally if the other is viewed strictly as an object, much like any other object, then the other is, for the for-itself, a transcendence-transcended. When the for-itself grasps the other in the others world, and grasps the subjectivity that the other has, it is referred to as transcending-transcendence. Thus, Sartre defines relations with others in terms of transcendence. [8]

Contemporary transcendental philosophy is developed by German philosopher Harald Holz with a holistic approach. Holz liberated transcendental philosophy from the convergence of neo-Kantianism, he critically discussed transcendental pragmatism and the relation between transcendental philosophy, neo-empiricism and the so-called postmodernism.

Colloquial usage

In everyday language, "transcendence" means "going beyond", and "self-transcendence" means going beyond a prior form or state of oneself. Mystical experience is thought of as a particularly advanced state of self-transcendence, in which the sense of a separate self is abandoned. "Self-transcendence" is believed to be psychometrically measurable, and (at least partially) inherited, and has been incorporated as a personality dimension in the Temperament and Character Inventory. [9] The discovery of this is described in the book "The God Gene" by Dean Hamer, although this has been criticized by commentators such as Carl Zimmer.

See also

Related Research Articles

In philosophy, Idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, Idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In contrast to Materialism, Idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.

The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG) is the argument that attempts to prove the existence of God by arguing that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose a supreme being and that God must therefore be the source of logic and morals.

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.

In metaphysics, the noumenon is a posited object or event that exists independently of human sense and/or perception. The term noumenon is generally used when contrasted with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to anything that can be apprehended by or is an object of the senses. Modern philosophy has generally been skeptical of the possibility of knowledge independent of the senses, and Immanuel Kant gave this point of view its canonical expression: that the noumenal world may exist, but it is completely unknowable through human sensation. In Kantian philosophy, the unknowable noumenon is often linked to the unknowable "thing-in-itself", although how to characterize the nature of the relationship is a question yet open to some controversy.

Transcendence, transcendent, or transcendental may refer to:

German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It began as a reaction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. German idealism was closely linked with both Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment.

Transcendental idealism Epistemology of the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Space and time are merely formal features of how we perceive objects, not things in themselves that exist independently of us.

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly comprehends the things as they are in themselves. The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.

Kantianism Kantianism

Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher born in Königsberg, Prussia. The term Kantianism or Kantian is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.

Absolute idealism

Absolute idealism is an ontologically monistic philosophy "chiefly associated with Friedrich Schelling and G. W. F. Hegel, both German idealist philosophers of the 19th century, Josiah Royce, an American philosopher, and others, but, in its essentials, the product of Hegel". It is Hegel's account of how being is ultimately comprehensible as an all-inclusive whole. Hegel asserted that in order for the thinking subject to be able to know its object at all, there must be in some sense an identity of thought and being. Otherwise, the subject would never have access to the object and we would have no certainty about any of our knowledge of the world. To account for the differences between thought and being, however, as well as the richness and diversity of each, the unity of thought and being cannot be expressed as the abstract identity "A=A". Absolute idealism is the attempt to demonstrate this unity using a new "speculative" philosophical method, which requires new concepts and rules of logic. According to Hegel, the absolute ground of being is essentially a dynamic, historical process of necessity that unfolds by itself in the form of increasingly complex forms of being and of consciousness, ultimately giving rise to all the diversity in the world and in the concepts with which we think and make sense of the world.

Karl Leonhard Reinhold Austrian philosopher

Karl Leonhard Reinhold was an Austrian philosopher who helped to popularise the work of Immanuel Kant in the late 18th century. His "elementary philosophy" (Elementarphilosophie) also influenced German idealism, notably Johann Gottlieb Fichte, as a critical system grounded in a fundamental first principle.

<i>Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics</i> 1783 book by Immanuel Kant

Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science is a book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, published in 1783, two years after the first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason. One of Kant's shorter works, it contains a summary of the Critique‘s main conclusions, sometimes by arguments Kant had not used in the Critique. Kant characterizes his more accessible approach here as an "analytic" one, as opposed to the Critique‘s "synthetic" examination of successive faculties of the mind and their principles.

Mou Zongsan was a Chinese New Confucian philosopher. He was born in Shandong province and graduated from Peking University. In 1949 he moved to Taiwan and later to Hong Kong, and he remained outside of mainland China for the rest of his life. His thought was heavily influenced by Immanuel Kant, whose three Critiques he translated, possibly first, into Chinese, and above all by Tiantai Buddhist philosophy.

In religion, transcendence is the aspect of a deity's nature and power that is wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all known physical laws. This is contrasted with immanence, where a god is said to be fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways. In religious experience transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and by some definitions has also become independent of it. This is typically manifested in prayer, séance, meditation, psychedelics and paranormal "visions".

Schema (Kant) Kantian term referring to how perceptions are matched to concepts

In Kantian philosophy, a transcendental schema is the procedural rule by which a category or pure, non-empirical concept is associated with a sense impression. A private, subjective intuition is thereby discursively thought to be a representation of an external object. Transcendental schemata are supposedly produced by the imagination in relation to time.

The Latin phrases a priori and a posteriori are philosophical terms popularized by Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. However, in their Latin forms they appear in Latin translations of Euclid's Elements, of about 300 BC, a work widely considered during the early European modern period as the model for precise thinking.

Béatrice Longuenesse is a Silver Professor of Philosophy at New York University. Her work focuses on Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the philosophy of mind and language. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Longuenesse is one of the most prominent living Kant scholars, and her works have generated significant discussion around parts of Kant's corpus that were previously largely overlooked.

Mou Zongsan's study of Immanuel Kant has been cited as a highly crucial part in the development Mou’s personal philosophy, namely New Confucianism. Widely regarded as the most influential Kant scholar in China, Mou's rigorous critique of Kant’s philosophy—having translated all three of Kant’s critiques—served as an ardent attempt to reconcile Chinese and Western philosophy whilst increasing pressure to westernize in China.


  1. Caygill, Howard. A Kant Dictionary. (Blackwell Philosopher Dictionaries), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2000, p. 398
  2. Turner, W. (1912). Transcendentalism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. <>
  3. cf. Critique of Pure Reason or Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
  4. In Parerga and Paralipomena , Volume 2, Chapter 10, § 141, Schopenhauer presented the difference between transcendent and immanent in the form of a dialogue. The dialogists were Thrasymachos, a student of German Idealism, and Philalethes, a Kantian Transcendental Idealist. "Thrasymachos: …I know these expressions from my professor, but only as predicates of a loving God with whom his philosophy was exclusively concerned, as is only right and proper. Namely, if God is situated within the world, he is immanent; if he resides somewhere outside, he is transcendent. … Philalethes: Transcendent knowledge is that which, going beyond all possibility of experience, strives to determine the nature of things as they are in themselves; immanent knowledge, on the other hand, is that which keeps within the bounds of the possibility of experience, but thus can speak only of phenomena." In Schopenhauer’s German: "Thrasymachos: …Mir sind diese Ausdrücke zwar auch bekannt, von meinem Professor her, aber nur als Prädikate des lieben Gottes, mit welchem seine Philosophie, wie sich das eben auch geziemt, es ausschließlich zu tun hatte. Steckt nämlich der in der Welt drinne, so ist er immanent: sitzt er aber irgendwo draußen, so ist er transzendent….Philalethes: Transzendente Erkenntnis ist die, welche, über alle Möglichkeit der Erfahrung hinausgehend, das Wesen der Dinge, wie sie an sich selbst sind, zu bestimmen anstrebt; immanente Erkenntnis hingegen die, welche sich innerhalb der Schranken der Möglichkeit der Erfahrung hält, daher aber auch nur von Erscheinungen reden kann."
  5. "I call all cognition transcendental that is occupied not so much with objects but rather with our mode of cognition of objects insofar as this is to be possible a priori. A system of such concepts would be called transcendental philosophy." Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Edited and translated by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood, Cambridge University Press, 1998. p. 149 (B25)
  6. Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Judgment , Introduction, V
  7. Stephen Palmquist, "Faith as Kant's Key to the Justification of Transcendental Reflection", The Heythrop Journal 25:4 (October 1984), pp.442-455. A revised version of this paper appeared as Chapter V in Palmquist's book, Kant's System of Perspectives (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993).
  8. Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. New York: Washington Square Press, 1956.
  9. Cloninger, C.R.; Svrakic, DM; Przybeck, TR (December 1993). "A psychobiological model of temperament and character". Archives of General Psychiatry. 50 (12): 975–90. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1993.01820240059008. PMID   8250684.