Bronson Alcott, Personalistic Idealist

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Bronson Alcott is often known as the eccentric Transcendentalist, who wrote no books, had no important philosophical thoughts, and occasionally earned bread for his family and intellectually stimulated his indulgent friend Emerson. Chapter One of this dissertation shows that Alcott contributed his own philosophy, Personalistic Idealism, to the broader Transcendental movement. Alcott challenged Emerson's abstract, impersonal idealism and argued that there could be no communication with a God who did not have a personality, a warm loving consciousness with which the occupants of his world could have communion.Thus, Transcendental thought flows in two directions: Emerson's abstract idealism and Alcott's Personalistic Idealism. Although Alcott's books are so little known that he is often thought of as the Transcendentalist who only expressed his ideas in conversation, his Tablets (1868), Concord Days (1872), and Table Talk (1877) are filled with references to a Personal God and other Personalistic reflections. Not only do his books show Alcott's attempt to construct a Personalistic ontology, they demonstrate that the Orphic Sage was a pioneer in an important movement: the Boston school of theological Personalism (the broad modern term which includes Personalistic Idealism). Including the respected theological philosophers Borden Parker Bowne, Edgar Sheffield Brightman, and Albert Cornelius Knudson, the Boston group, by its existence, indicated that Alcott's early Personalistic thoughts were not lost to posterity; they were the precursors to the ideas of men who built Personalistic systems which have earned a respected place in the history of philosophy.The Personalistic creative activity of the self, by which mind creates the world of matter, which man perceives through the senses, is central to Alcott's thought. When the person is cleansed of the effects of the lapse (Alcott's version of the Fall), he uses his freedom of the will to seek communion with the divine Person; a person's use of his freedom of the will to bring himself closer to God is basic to modern Personalism. The Orphic Sage was not just a dilettante in philosophy and literature; he was a pioneer in the American school of Personalism.


Literature, American

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text