What is Idealism?

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Idealism is a philosophical school of thought which maintains that man’s perception of reality is the product of his mind.

Idealism emphasizes on the spiritual as the basis of all consciousness and that nothing in the material world is real, rather it is a creation of ideas.

Idealism has many meanings in different contexts, it can take a metaphysical view in which reality is perceived through experience, rather than materially, and it can also be epistemological in which reality is perceived through ideas.

Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.
– William F. Buckley, Jr

According to the Omonia Vinieris (2002), idealists do not believe in the existence of the material world, to them, the mind and spirit constitute a person’s most importance essence, and all other beings are the creation of a person’s imagination. As a philosophical view, idealism is supported by Christian Science, Hinduism, Plato, Berkeley, Descartes, Spinoza and so many other philosophers who believe the world came to be as a result of some supreme power which humans cannot understand.

There have been conflict of ideas among many idealists, with some leaning towards the metaphysical aspect, while others stand on the epistemological view of idealism. Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant are called transcendental idealists and they hold the view that reality is clearly perceptible through the senses, while George Berkeley and the likes are referred to as subjective idealists and they view reality as something which the mind is not capable of understanding.  To better understand the subject of idealism, it is important to discuss some of the different forms of idealistic views.

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Platonian Idealism

One of the earliest proponents of idealism was Plato, a Greek philosopher who lived from 428BC-347BC. Plato held the view that the material world was in fact a creation of ideas, and did not exist in reality. He believes this is because the world which surrounds us is changing continuously, but another world which is made from ideas and which holds the absolute truth about reality exists and never changes. This view of a world conceived from ideas can be proved through the concept of a circle in geometry. Even though a perfect circle is impossible in the real world, our minds are still able to conjure the reality in perfection. Omonia Vinieris (2002).

Eternal truths exist in the realm of Ideas (“Idealism” = “Ideas”) rather than in what we would call the natural, physical world. Image by webpages

Idealism in Christian Science

Christian Science also support idealism and teaches that God is the omnipresent, omniscient, beneficent, and the sole creator of all things. It views all reality as a manifestation of God’s spirituality, and its perception is a distortion of its true spiritual form. Encyclopedia Britannica (2012).

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Transcendental Idealism

This form of idealism was founded by Immanuel Kant and holds the view that the mind creates the world as we see it into a space and time form. In his treatise Critique of Pure Reason A383, Kant maintains that

“If I remove the thinking subject, the entire material world will cease to exist because it is only a phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of ourselves as a subject, and a manner or form of representation”.

He continues in The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. 1, thus,

“True philosophy must certainly be idealistic, and so must it in all honesty. For nothing is more certain than the knowledge that nobody can identify with themselves except that which they have a certain knowledge of, and which their consciousness is sure of absolutely. If this certainty is lacking, then the consciousness is impaired”.

He adds that no existence can claim to be objective in absolute terms, and only through a subject’s consciousness does the objective exist. Therefore, the form of an object is a manifestation of itssubject’s consciousness or perception of the object in reality.

Objective Idealism

Objective idealism maintains that an experienced reality transcends and combines the consciousness of the object in the mind of the observer and the essence of the object. Some of the proponents of this view include Josiah Royce, Charles Sanders Pierce, and Thomas Hill Green among others.

Subjective Idealism

This form of idealism maintains that reality is created by the consciousness of the individual, i.e., the subject. The proponents of this school of thought include Leibniz and Berkeley. According to Berkeley, the ideas that shape our consciousness are not of our making, they are the creation of spirits which have imprinted the reality of those objects into our consciousness. He believes that the only things that are able to function are souls or spirits, and that attributing the power of perception to human or material things is foolish and nonsensical.

Scientific Idealism

This view of idealism was founded by Hermann Cohen who adapted Kant’s thoughts to scientific research. This form of idealism influenced many societies in Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

To drive home the major points; to the idealist, the world transcend the physical and is governed by the supernatural.

The idealists views the world as a creation of the mind, and that an object is without essence except that which the consciousness of the observer attributes to it.

Idealism accommodates scientific arguments and also supports the validity of religious assertions about a supreme being that coordinates the affairs of creation. It places much importance on the power of the mind in shaping our perception of reality, which makes us active participants in our world.

 Reference Links

http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_idealism.html“Idealism – By Branch / Doctrine – The Basics of Philosophy”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealismhttp://www.qcc.cuny.edu/SocialSciences/ppecorino/INTRO_TEXT/Chapter%204%20Metaphysics/Idealism.htm


Feature image – Iaia Quarchioni

Kostas Deroukakis
Love to search, to try, to give, to learn. Knowledge, is the road for this achievement
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