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I’m in law school and I have a professor who keeps using the word “transcendence” to refer to a self-less lawyer, who puts his clients first. This kills me! He doesn’t know the definition of transcendence. Doesn’t transcendence mean to be on a higher plain mentally, almost like a state of nirvana? Yes, transcendence means to be above the self, but does it have anything to do with putting others before yourself? ALTRUISM is the term my professor should be using. Altruism means to put others before oneself. This professor has received many awards and is recognized a pioneer in legal ethics. I find it astonishing that no one has corrected him. He’s built his entire curriculum, which is being adopted by other law schools, on the wrong term! Am I right?

  • April 7, 2006
  • Posted by jivy
  • Filed in Usage

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I think his use is appropriate if he means a lawyer who has been enlightened; who has realized that there is more to being a lawyer than power and money. That is, he/she has transcended the ordinary expectation of a lawyer.

Dyske April 7, 2006, 8:35am

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As dyske said, transcendence is commonly used of rising above the norm or above an inadequate moral standard. If that's what he means, I think it's an appropriate term.

dave April 7, 2006, 11:51am

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Once transcendental abilities are far way from today's so called lawyers. If one exhibits purest form of human ethics he cannot survive in today's material world, more often the word referred to those who are working for the non profit organizations not by killing once ambitions and emotions rather involved transcendentally due to attainment of absolute consciousness of mind. I believe today no one is practicing law on free service. The word transcendental just can't be referred to any professional. Moreover the word transcendence it self is open for various discussions.

Pasha April 11, 2006, 10:05pm

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While it may, trancendence does not NECESSARILY imply anything metaphysical, spiritual or higher plain-ish.

From American Heritage Dictionary 4th Edition (

v. tr.
1 - To pass beyond the limits of: "emotions that transcend understanding."
2 - To be greater than, as in intensity or power; surpass: "love that transcends infatuation."
3 - To exist above and independent of (material experience or the universe): “One never can see the thing in itself, because the mind does not transcend phenomena” (Hilaire Belloc).
v. intr.
To be transcendent; excel.

Certainly definition # 3 describes a metaphysical condition, but definition #1 and 2 simply mean to go above or beyond, to excel, etc.

Some other examples, no matter how mundane:
"second only to the need for air, thirst transcends all other biological imperatives"
"You cleaned the garage without being asked; how transcendant!"
"Coke transcends Pepsi"
Maybe I'm being silly, but I hope I've made my point.

Transcendant or transcendance from the same dictionary lists a similar variety of meanings.

porsche April 18, 2006, 2:53pm

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