Transcendence (philosophy)
In philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, the adjective transcendental and the noun transcendence convey the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning (from Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

), of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages. This article covers the topic from a Western and Islamic perspective by epoch: Ancient
Ancient philosophy
This page lists some links to ancient philosophy. In Western philosophy, the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire marked the ending of Hellenistic philosophy and ushered in the beginnings of Medieval philosophy, whereas in Eastern philosophy, the spread of Islam through the Arab Empire...

, Medieval
Medieval philosophy
Medieval philosophy is the philosophy in the era now known as medieval or the Middle Ages, the period roughly extending from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD to the Renaissance in the sixteenth century...

, and modern
Modern philosophy
Modern philosophy is a type of philosophy that originated in Western Europe in the 17th century, and is now common worldwide. 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.The 17th and...

, primarily Continental philosophy
Continental philosophy
Continental philosophy, in contemporary usage, refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th century philosophy from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and...


Original definition

The first meaning, as part of the concept pair transcendence/immanence
Immanence refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence, in which the divine is seen to be manifested in or encompassing of the material world. It is often contrasted with theories of transcendence, in which the divine is seen to be outside the material world...

, is used primarily with reference to God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

's relation to the world and is particularly important in theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

. Here transcendent means that God is completely outside of and beyond the world, as contrasted with the notion that God is manifested in the world. This meaning originates both in the Aristotelian view of God
Aristotelian view of God
The Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian views of God have been influential in Western intellectual history.-The Metaphysics:In his book on first philosophy, which most now call the Metaphysics, Aristotle discussed the meaning of "being as being". Aristotle concluded that "being" primarily refers to...

 as the prime mover, a non-material self-consciousness that is outside of the world. Philosophies of immanence
Immanence refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence, in which the divine is seen to be manifested in or encompassing of the material world. It is often contrasted with theories of transcendence, in which the divine is seen to be outside the material world...

 such as stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

, Spinoza, Deleuze or pantheism
Pantheism is the view that the Universe and God are identical. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. The word derives from the Greek meaning "all" and the Greek meaning "God". As such, Pantheism denotes the idea that "God" is best seen as a process of...

 maintain that God is manifested in and fully present in the world and the things in the world.

Medieval usage

In the second meaning, which originated in Medieval philosophy, concepts are transcendental if they are broader than what falls within the Aristotelian
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

Categories (Aristotle)
The Categories is a text from Aristotle's Organon that enumerates all the possible kinds of thing that can be the subject or the predicate of a proposition...

 that were used to organize reality conceptually. The prevailing notion of transcendental is that of a quality of being which can be predicated on any actually existing thing insofar as it exists. Primary examples of the transcendental are the existent (ens) and the characteristics, designated transcendentals, of unity, truth, and goodness.

Transcendent theosophy

Transcendent theosophy or al-hikmah al-muta’aliyah (Arabic: , Persian: ), the doctrine and philosophy that has been developed by Persian
Iranian philosophy
Iranian philosophy or Persian philosophy can be traced back as far as to Old Iranian philosophical traditions and thoughts which originated in ancient Indo-Iranian roots and were considerably influenced by Zarathustra's teachings...

 Islamic philosopher
Early Islamic philosophy
Early Islamic philosophy or classical Islamic philosophy is a period of intense philosophical development beginning in the 2nd century AH of the Islamic calendar and lasting until the 6th century AH...

, Mulla Sadra
Mulla Sadra
Ṣadr ad-Dīn Muḥammad Shīrāzī also called Mulla Sadrā was a Persian Shia Islamic philosopher, theologian and ‘Ālim who led the Iranian cultural renaissance in the 17th century...

, is one of two main disciplines of Islamic philosophy
Islamic philosophy
Islamic philosophy is a branch of Islamic studies. It is the continuous search for Hekma in the light of Islamic view of life, universe, ethics, society, and so on...

 which is active today.

The expression al-hikmah al-muta’aliyah comprises two terms al-hikmah (meaning theosophia) and muta’aliyah (meaning exalted or Transcendent). This school of Mulla Sadra
Mulla Sadra
Ṣadr ad-Dīn Muḥammad Shīrāzī also called Mulla Sadrā was a Persian Shia Islamic philosopher, theologian and ‘Ālim who led the Iranian cultural renaissance in the 17th century...

 in Islamic philosophy is usually called al-hikmah al-muta’aliyah. It is a most appropriate name for his school, not only for historical reasons, but also because the doctrines of Mulla Sadra are veritably both hikmah or theosophy in its original sense and an intellectual vision of the transcendent which leads to the Transcendent Itself. So Mulla Sadra’s school is transcendent for both historical and metaphysical reasons.

A concept that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's philosophy is the idea of "existence precedes essence
Existence precedes essence
The proposition that existence precedes essence is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence or nature of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence...

", a key foundational concept of existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

. This was also the opposite of the idea of "essence
In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the object or substance has contingently, without...

 precedes existence
In common usage, existence is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them. In academic philosophy the word has a more specialized meaning, being contrasted with essence, which specifies different forms of existence as well as different identity...

" previously supported by Avicenna
Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā , commonly known as Ibn Sīnā or by his Latinized name Avicenna, was a Persian polymath, who wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of which around 240 have survived...

 and his school of Avicennism as well as Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi
Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi
Other important Muslim mystics carry the name Suhrawardi, particularly Abu 'l-Najib al-Suhrawardi and his paternal nephew Abu Hafs Umar al-Suhrawardi."Shahāb ad-Dīn" Yahya ibn Habash as-Suhrawardī was a Persian...

 and his school of Illuminationism.

Kant (and modern philosophy)

In modern philosophy, Kant
KANT is a computer algebra system for mathematicians interested in algebraic number theory, performing sophisticated computations in algebraic number fields, in global function fields, and in local fields. KASH is the associated command line interface...

 introduced a new term - transcendental, thus instituting a new, third meaning. In his theory of knowledge, this concept is concerned with the conditions 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.
For him transcendental meant knowledge about our cognitive faculty with regard to how objects are possible a priori
A priori and a posteriori (philosophy)
The terms a priori and a posteriori are used in philosophy to distinguish two types of knowledge, justifications or arguments...

. "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."
He also equated transcendental with that which is " respect of the subject's faculty of cognition." 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
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

's argument that certain general features of objects (e.g. persistence, causal relationships) cannot derive 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
Critique of Pure Reason
The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, first published in 1781, second edition 1787, is considered one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. Also referred to as Kant's "first critique," it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgement...

, the "Transcendental Deduction of the Categories", Kant argues for a deep interconnection between the ability to have self-consciousness 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.

A metaphilosophical question discussed by many Kantian scholars is how transcendental reflection is itself possible. Stephen Palmquist interprets Kant's appeal to faith
Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. In religion, faith is a belief in a transcendent reality, a religious teacher, a set of teachings or a Supreme Being. Generally speaking, it is offered as a means by which the truth of the proposition,...

 as his most effective solution to this problem.

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.

In phenomenology, the "transcendent" is that which transcends our own consciousness - that which is objective rather than only a phenomenon of consciousness. Noema
Noema derives from the Greek word νόημα meaning thought or what is thought about. Edmund Husserl used noema as a technical term in Phenomenology to stand for the object or content of a thought, judgment or perception, but its precise meaning in his work has remained a matter of...

 is employed in phenomenology to refer to the terminus of an intention as given for consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...


Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, particularly Marxism, and was one of the key figures in literary...

 also speaks of transcendence in his works. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre utilizes 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
Pour soi
Pour soi or being-for-itself is a term used by Jean-Paul Sartre in his Existentialist work Being and Nothingness. Contrasted with the being-in-itself which rejects its own freedom and objectifies itself, the being-for-itself actively exercises its own freedom to impart essence and meaning to its...

 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.

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. The discovery of this is described in the book "The God Gene" by Dean Hamer
Dean Hamer
Dr. Dean Hamer is an American geneticist, author, and filmmaker. He is known for his contributions to biotechnology and AIDS prevention, his research on the genetics of human behavior including sexual orientation and spirituality, and his popular books and documentaries on a wide range of...

, although this has been criticized by commentators such as Carl Zimmer
Carl Zimmer
Carl Zimmer is a popular science writer and blogger, especially regarding the study of evolution and parasites. He has written several books and contributes science essays to publications such as The New York Times and Discover...


See also

  • God gene
    God gene
    The God gene hypothesis proposes that a specific gene predisposes humans towards spiritual or mystic experiences. The idea has been postulated by geneticist Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S...

  • Immanence
    Immanence refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence, in which the divine is seen to be manifested in or encompassing of the material world. It is often contrasted with theories of transcendence, in which the divine is seen to be outside the material world...

    , which is the reverse of transcendence.
  • Materialism
    In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs
    Maslow's hierarchy of needs
    Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity...

  • Metaphysics
    Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

  • Ontology
    Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

  • Transcendental idealism
    Transcendental idealism
    Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth 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...

  • Transcendentalism
    Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the New England region of the United States as a protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian...

  • Transcendental Meditation
    Transcendental Meditation
    Transcendental Meditation refers to the Transcendental Meditation technique, a specific form of mantra meditation, and to the Transcendental Meditation movement, a spiritual movement...

  • For the traditional Jewish mystical
    Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

     understanding, see Tzimtzum
    Tzimtzum is a term used in the kabbalistic teaching of Isaac Luria, explaining his concept that God began the process of creation by "contracting" his infinite light in order to allow for a "conceptual space" in which a finite and seemingly independent world could exist...


  • External links

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