Idealism is the philosophical theory that maintains that the ultimate nature of reality is based on the mind or ideas. In the philosophy of perception, idealism is contrasted with realism in which the external world is said to have an apparent absolute existence after which, and independent of completely, knowledge and consciousness. Epistemological idealists (such as Kant), it is claimed, might insist that the only things which can be directly known for certain are just ideas (abstraction).
In the philosophy of mind, idealism is the opposite of materialism, in which the ultimate nature of reality is based on physical substances. Idealism and materialism are both theories of monism as opposed to dualism and pluralism. Idealism sometimes refers to a tradition in thought that represents things of a perfect form, as in the fields of ethics, morality, aesthetics, and value. In this way, it represents a human perfect being or circumstance. In the ancient philosophy of the Vedas, idealism refers to the dynamic consciousness of living beings that emanates from the divine cosmic source. In much the same way, idealism has spread throughout the world. Individual societies have inspired and grown their own specific set of idealism, but they all have these generalities in common.
Idealism is a philosophical movement in Western thought, and names a number of philosophical positions with sometimes quite different tendencies and implications in politics and ethics, for instance, at least in popular culture, philosophical idealism is associated with Plato and the school of platonism.
Plato is called an idealist because of his theory of Forms or doctrine of Ideas, which are "ideal" in the dictionary sense. Most interpreters, ancient and modern, hold that Plato does not describe the Forms as being in any mind. Instead, he describes them as having their own independent existence—for which the textual evidence is adduced from various translations of the dialogues. Indeed, some anti-idealist commentators say that in the dialogues Socrates often denies the reality of the material world. However, it is clear that the Platonic Socrates merely denies the ideal reality of the non-ideal realm, which he sometimes compares to shadows. An exact interpretation of the dialogues, which are notoriously misrepresented, involves knowledge of linguistics, hermeneutics, philology, semantics, and the philosophy of language, as well as good grounding in classical studies. Athenian Greek philosophical terms, like most English abstract nouns, have more than one meaning. It seems clear that Plato is not, at any rate, a subjective idealist, unlike Berkeley.
Plato's Allegory of the Cave is sometimes interpreted by anti-platonists as drawing attention to the modern European philosophical problem of knowing external objects—the question that is often attributed to Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, and other early modern philosophers. According to certain materialistic interpretations of Plato, which construe matter as an entirely external reality, the Forms of which the Cave-dwellers are ignorant are not external to them in the way that so-called material objects are for modern thinkers. Again, some anti-idealistic readers hold that for Plato the Forms are true realities, but they are not outside of us in a spatial sense like material objects, which some natural scientists call physical bodies. For these interpreters, one might say, the issue that Plato's allegory addresses is the problem of how one can know what is truly real and good—a theme which apparently is opposed to the so-called modern question of our knowledge of the external world.
Nathaniel Alfred Boll wrote of this Neoplatonist philosopher: "With Plotinus there even appears, probably for the first time in Western philosophy, idealism that had long been current in the East even at that time, for it taught (Enneads, iii, lib. vii, c.10) that the soul has made the world by stepping from eternity into time, with the explanation: 'For there is for this universe no other place than the soul or mind' (neque est alter hujus universi locus quam anima), indeed the ideality of time is expressed in the words: 'We should not accept time outside the soul or mind' (oportet autem nequaquam extra animam tempus accipere)." (Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume I, "Fragments for the History of Philosophy," § 7)
Similarly, professor Ludwig Noiré wrote: "For the first time in Western philosophy we find idealism proper in Plotinus (Enneads, iii, 7, 10), where he says, "The only space or place of the world is the soul," and "Time must not be assumed to exist outside the soul." It is worth noting, however, that like Plato but unlike Schopenhauer and other modern philosophers, Plotinus does not worry about whether or how we can get beyond our ideas in order to know external objects.
Nicolas Malebranche, a student of the Cartesian School of Rationalism, disagreed that if the only things that we know for certain are the ideas within our mind, then the existence of the external world would be dubious and known only indirectly. He declared instead that the real external world is actually God. All activity only appears to occur in the external world. In actuality, it is the activity of God. For Malebranche, we directly know internally the ideas in our mind. Externally, we directly know God's operations. This kind of idealism led to the pantheism of Spinoza.
Leibniz expressed a form of Idealism known as Panpsychism in his theory of monads, as exposited in his Monadologie. He held Monads are the true atoms of the universe, and are also entities having perception. The monads are "substantial forms of being" They are indecomposable, individual, subject to their own laws, un-interacting, and each reflecting the entire universe. Monads are centers of force; substance is force, while space, matter, and motion are phenomenal. For Leibniz, there is an exact pre-established harmony or parallel between the world in the minds of the alert monads and the external world of objects. God, who is the central monad, established this harmony and the resulting world is an idea of the monads’ perception. In this way, the external world is ideal in that it is a spiritual phenomenon whose motion is the result of a dynamic force. Space and time are ideal or phenomenal and their form and existence is dependent on the simple and immaterial monads. Leibniz's cosmology, with its central monad, embraced a traditional Christian Theism and was more of a Personalism than the naturalistic Pantheism of Spinoza.
Arthur Collier published the same assertions that were made by Berkeley. However, there seemed to have been no influence between the two contemporary writers. Collier claimed that the represented image of an external object is the only knowable reality. Matter, as a cause of the representative image, is unthinkable and therefore nothing to us. An external world, as absolute matter, unrelated to an observer, does not exist for human perceivers. As an appearance in a mind, the universe cannot exist as it appears if there is no perceiving mind.
Collier was influenced by John Norris's (1701) An Essay Towards the Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World. The idealist statements by Collier were generally dismissed by readers who were not able to reflect on the distinction between a mental idea or image and the object that it represents.
Immanuel Kant held that the mind shapes the world as we perceive it to take the form of space-and-time. It is said that Kant focused on the idea drawn from British empiricism (and its philosophers such as Locke, Berkeley, and Hume) that all we can know is the mental impressions, or phenomena, that an outside world, which may or may not exist independently, creates in our minds; our minds can never perceive that outside world directly. Kant made the distinction between things as they appear to an observer and things in themselves, "... that is, things considered without regard to whether and how they may be given to us ... ."
... if I remove the thinking subject, the whole material world must at once vanish because it is nothing but a phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of ourselves as a subject, and a manner or species of representation.
– Critique of Pure Reason A383
Kant's postscript to this added that the mind is not a blank slate, tabula rasa (contrasting with the philosophy of John Locke), but rather comes equipped with categories for organising our sense impressions. Perhaps this Kantian sort of idealism opens up a world of abstractions (i.e., the universal categories minds use to understand phenomena) to be explored by reason, but perhaps, in sharp contrast to Plato's, confirms uncertainties about a (un)knowable world outside our own minds. We cannot approach the noumenon, the "Thing in Itself" (German: Ding an Sich) outside our own mental world. (Kant's idealism is called transcendental idealism.)
Apparently Kant distinguished his transcendental or critical idealism from previous varieties:
The dictum of all genuine idealists, from the Eleatic school to Bishop Berkeley, is contained in this formula: “All knowledge through the senses and experience is nothing but sheer illusion, and only in the ideas of the pure understanding and reason is there truth.” The principle that throughout dominates and determines my idealism is, on the contrary: “All knowledge of things merely from pure understanding or pure reason is nothing but sheer illusion, and only in experience is there truth.”
– Prolegomena, 374
Johann Fichte denied Kant's noumenon, and held that consciousness constitutes its own foundation, that the mental life of the Ego, of pure selfhood, relies upon nothing wholly external to itself, and that the hypothesis of an outer world of any kind is the same thing as admitting a Kantian realm. We may say that Fichte was the first German philosopher to make an attempt at a presuppositionless theory of knowledge, wherein nothing outside of thought is assumed to exist apart from the primordial analysis of the Ego. So that his philosophy could be solely grounded in itself, he assumed nothing without his Fichtean deductions from first principles, and elaborated what he called a Wissenschaftslehre. (Apparently Fichte's theory is very similar to Giovanni Gentile's Actual Idealism, except that Gentile's theory appears to go even further by denying any grounds, derived from pure thought, for the Ego or personality.)
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775 - 1854) claimed that the Fichte's "I" needs the Not-I, because there is no subject without object, and vice versa. So there is no difference between the subjective and the objective, that is, the ideal and the real. This is the Schelling's "absolute identity": the ideas or mental images in the mind are identical to the extended objects which are external to the mind.
Hegel is another German philosopher whose dialectical system has been called idealistic. In his Science of Logic (1812-1814) Hegel argued that finite qualities are not fully "real," because they depend on other finite qualities to determine them. Qualitative infinity, on the other hand, would be more self-determining, and hence would have a better claim to be called fully real. Similarly, finite natural things are less "real"--because they're less self-determining—than spiritual things like morally responsible people, ethical communities, and God. So any doctrine, such as materialism, that asserts that finite qualities or merely natural objects are fully real, is mistaken. Hegel called his philosophy absolute idealism, in contrast to the "subjective idealism" of Berkeley and the "transcendental idealism" of Kant and Fichte, philosophies which were not based (like Hegel's idealism) on a critique of the finite, and a dialectical philosophy of history. Some commentators have maintained that Hegel's dialectical system most closely resembles that of Plato and Plotinus, however, there is an exact historical difference between ancient and modern thought, at least in the history of philosophy. One might say that none of these three thinkers associate their idealism with the so-called epistemological thesis that what we know are ideas in our minds.
It is perhaps a noteworthy fact that some commentators of Hegel fail to distinguish Hegelian idealism from either the philosophy of Berkeley or Kant. Hegel certainly intends to preserve what he takes to be true of German idealism, in particular Kant's insistence that ethical reason can and does go beyond finite inclinations. However, some commentators hold that Hegel does not endorse Kant's conception of the thing-in-itself, or the type of epistemological perplexities that led Kant to that view. Still less does Hegel endorse Berkeley's doctrine that to be is to perceive or to be perceived—in the purely Berkeleyian sense. The guiding ideal behind Hegel's absolute idealism is the scientific thought, which he shares with Plato and other great idealist thinkers, that the exercise of reason and intellect enables the philosopher to know ultimate historical reality, which in the Hegelian system is the phenomenological constitution of self-determination,--the dialectical development of self-awareness and personality in the realm of History. By giving this Ideal a central role in his philosophy, Hegel made a lasting contribution to that part of the Western mindset, beginning in earnest with Plato and his Pre-Socratic predecessors, which makes Idealism the basis of civilization and progress in the world.
In the first volume of his Parerga and Paralipomena, Schopenhauer wrote his "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and the Real". He defined the ideal as being mental pictures that constitute subjective knowledge. The ideal, for him, is what can be attributed to our own minds. The images in our head are what comprise the ideal. Schopenhauer emphasized that we are restricted to our own consciousness. The world that appears is only a representation or mental picture of objects. We directly and immediately know only representations. All objects that are external to the mind are known indirectly through the mediation of our mind.
Schopenhauer's history is an account of the concept of the "ideal" in its meaning as "ideas in a subject's mind." In this sense, "ideal" means "ideational" or "existing in the mind as an image." He does not refer to the other meaning of "ideal" as being qualities of the highest perfection and excellence. In his On the Freedom of the Will, Schopenhauer noted the ambiguity of the word "idealism" by calling it a "term with multiple meanings."
[T]rue philosophy must at all costs be idealistic; indeed, it must be so merely to be honest. For nothing is more certain than that no one ever came out of himself in order to identify himself immediately with things different from him; but everything of which he has certain, sure, and therefore immediate knowledge, lies within his consciousness. Beyond this consciousness, therefore, there can be no immediate certainty ... . There can never be an existence that is objective absolutely and in itself; such an existence, indeed, is positively inconceivable. For the objective, as such, always and essentially has its existence in the consciousness of a subject; it is therefore the subject's representation, and consequently is conditioned by the subject, and moreover by the subject's forms of representation, which belong to the subject and not to the object.
– The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. 1
It is evident that Schopenhauer's "idealism" is based primarily on considerations having to do with the relation between our ideas and external reality, rather than being based (like Plato's, Plotinus's, or Hegel's "idealism") on considerations having to do with the nature of reality as such.
British idealism enjoyed ascendancy in English-speaking philosophy in the later part of the 19th century. F. H. Bradley of Merton College, Oxford, saw reality as a monistic whole, which is apprehended through "feeling", a state in which there is no distinction between the perception and the thing perceived. Like Berkeley, Bradley thought that nothing can be known to exist unless it is known by a mind.
We perceive, on reflection, that to be real, or even barely to exist, must be to fall within sentience ... . Find any piece of existence, take up anything that any one could possibly call a fact, or could in any sense assert to have being, and then judge if it does not consist in sentient experience. Try to discover any sense in which you can still continue to speak of it, when all perception and feeling have been removed; or point out any fragment of its matter, any aspect of its being, which is not derived from and is not still relative to this source. When the experiment is made strictly, I can myself conceive of nothing else than the experienced.
– F.H. Bradley, 'Appearance and Reality', Chapter 14
Bradley was the apparent target of G. E. Moore's radical rejection of idealism. Moore claimed that Bradley did not understand the statement that something is real. We know for certain, through common sense and prephilosophical beliefs, that some things are real, whether they are objects of thought or not, according to Moore. In this way, he disagreed with Bradley's assertion that we cannot think of anything that really exists unless we have a thought of it in our mind.
J. M. E. McTaggart of Cambridge University, argued that minds alone exist, and that they only relate to each other through love. Space, time and material objects are for McTaggart unreal. He argued, for instance, in The Unreality of Time that it was not possible to produce a coherent account of a sequence of events in time, and that therefore time is an illusion. His book The Nature of Experience (1927) contained his arguments that space, time, and matter cannot possibly be real. In his Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, Cambridge, 1901, p. 196, he declared that metaphysics are not relevant to social and political action. McTaggart "... thought that Hegel was wrong in supposing that metaphysics could show that the state is more than a means to the good of the individuals who compose it." For McTaggart, "...philosophy can give us very little, if any guidance in action... . Why should a Hegelian citizen be surprised that his belief as to the organic nature of the Absolute does not help him in deciding how to vote? Would a Hegelian engineer be reasonable in expecting that his belief that all matter is spirit should help him in planning a bridge?
In The Grammar of Science, Preface to the 2nd Edition, 1900, Karl Pearson wrote, "There are many signs that a sound idealism is surely replacing, as a basis for natural philosophy, the crude materialism of the older physicists." This book influenced Einstein's regard for the importance of the observer in scientific measurements. In § 5 of that book, Pearson asserted that "...science is in reality a classification and analysis of the contents of the mind...." Also, "...the field of science is much more consciousness than an external world."
In the 1st edition (1781) of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant described idealism thus:
We are perfectly justified in maintaining that only what is within ourselves can be immediately and directly perceived, and that only my own existence can be the object of a mere perception. Thus the existence of a real object outside me can never be given immediately and directly in perception, but can only be added in thought to the perception, which is a modification of the internal sense, and thus inferred as its external cause ... . In the true sense of the word, therefore, I can never perceive external things, but I can only infer their existence from my own internal perception, regarding the perception as an effect of something external that must be the proximate cause ... . It must not be supposed, therefore, that an idealist is someone who denies the existence of external objects of the senses; all he does is to deny that they are known by immediate and direct perception ... .
– Critique of Pure Reason, A367 f.
In the 2nd edition (1787) of his Critique of Pure Reason, he wrote a section called Refutation of Idealism to distinguish his transcendental idealism from Descartes's Sceptical Idealism and Berkeley's Dogmatic Idealism. In addition to this refutation in both the 1781 & 1787 editions the section "Paralogisms of Pure Reason" is an implicit critique of Descartes' Problematic Idealism, namely the Cogito. He says that just from "the spontaneity of thought" (cf. Descartes' Cogito) it is not possible to infer the 'I' as an object. Kant also defined idealism in the following manner: "The assertion that we can never be certain whether all of our putative outer experience is not mere imagining is idealism."
Kierkegaard's primary criticism against Hegel is based around Hegel's claim to have developed a fully comprehensive system that could explain the whole of reality. The quote commonly used to express this idea, whether fair to Hegel or not, is, "What is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational," in the Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821). Kierkegaard asserts that reality can be a system for God, but it cannot be so for any human individual, because both reality and humans are incomplete, and all philosophical systems imply completeness. Kierkegaard attacked Hegel's idealist philosophy in several of his works, but most succinctly in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846).
In the Postscript, Kierkegaard, as the pseudonymous philosopher Johannes Climacus, argues that a logical system is possible but an existential system is impossible. Hegel argues that once one has reached an ultimate understanding of the logical structure of the world, one has also reached an understanding of the logical structure of God's mind. Climacus claims Hegel's absolute idealism mistakenly blurs the distinction between existence and thought. Climacus also argues that our mortal nature places limits on our understanding of reality. As Climacus argues:
So-called systems have often been characterized and challenged in the assertion that they abrogate the distinction between good and evil, and destroy freedom. Perhaps one would express oneself quite as definitely, if one said that every such system fantastically dissipates the concept existence. ... Being an individual man is a thing that has been abolished, and every speculative philosopher confuses himself with humanity at large; whereby he becomes something infinitely great, and at the same time nothing at all.
A major concern of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and of the philosophy of Spirit that he lays out in his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817-1830) is the interrelation between individual humans, which he conceives in terms of "mutual recognition." However, what Climacus means by the aforementioned statement, is that Hegel, in the Philosophy of Right, believed the best solution was to surrender one's individuality to the customs of the State, identifying right and wrong in view of the prevailing bourgeois morality. Individual human will ought, at the State's highest level of development, to properly coincide with the will of the State. Climacus rejects Hegel's suppression of individuality by pointing out it is impossible to create a valid set of rules or system in any society which can adequately describe existence for any one individual. Submitting one's will to the State denies personal freedom, choice, and responsibility.
In addition, Hegel does believe we can know the structure of God's mind, or ultimate reality. Hegel agrees with Kierkegaard that both reality and humans are incomplete, inasmuch as we are in time, and reality develops through time. But the relation between time and eternity is outside time and this is the "logical structure" that Hegel thinks we can know. Kierkegaard disputes this assertion, because it eliminates the clear distinction between ontology and epistemology. Existence and thought are not identical and one cannot possibly think existence. Thought is always a form of abstraction, and thus not only is pure existence impossible to think, but all forms in existence are unthinkable; thought depends on language, which merely abstracts from experience, thus separating us from lived experience and the living essence of all beings. In addition, because we are finite beings, we cannot possibly know or understand anything that is universal or infinite such as God, so we cannot know God exists, since that which transcends time simultaneously transcends human understanding.
Friedrich Nietzsche was the first to mount a logically serious criticism of Idealism. He argued that Kant's argument for his transcendental idealism rests on a confusion between a tautology and/or petitio principii, and is therefore an invalid argument.
In his book Beyond Good and Evil, Part 1 On the Prejudice of Philosophers Section 11, he ridicules Kant for admiring himself because he had undertaken and (thought he) succeeded in tackling "the most difficult thing that could ever be undertaken on behalf of metaphysics."
This argument Nietzsche advances can also be constructed to read that Kant was making a tautological argument (i.e. necessarily true). An argument that has a necessarily true premise cannot make any synthetic a priori statements, because (qua Kant) the synthetic cannot be necessarily true.
The first criticism of Idealism that falls within the analytic philosophical framework is by one of its co-founders G. E. Moore. This 1903 seminal article, The Refutation of Idealism. This one of the first demonstrations of Moore's commitment to analysis as the proper philosophical method.
Moore proceeds by examining the Berkeleian aphorism esse est percipi: "to be is to be perceived". He examines in detail each of the three terms in the aphorism, finding that it must mean that the object and the subject are necessarily connected. So, he argues, for the idealist, "yellow" and "the sensation of yellow" are necessarily identical - to be yellow is necessarily to be experienced as yellow. But, in a move similar to the open question argument, it also seems clear that there is a difference between "yellow" and "the sensation of yellow". For Moore, the idealist is in error because "that esse is held to be percipi, solely because what is experienced is held to be identical with the experience of it".
Though far from a complete refutation, this was the first strong statement by analytic philosophy against its idealist predecessors—or at any rate against the type of idealism represented by Berkeley—this argument did not show that the GEM (in post Stove vernacular, see below) is logically invalid. Arguments advanced by Nietzsche (prior to Moore), Russell (just after Moore) & 80 years later Stove put a nail in the coffin for the "master" argument supporting (Berkeleyan) idealism.
Despite Bertrand Russell's hugely popular book The Problems of Philosophy (this book was in its 17th printing by 1943) which was written for a general audience rather than academia, few ever mention his critique even though he completely anticipates David Stove's GEM both in form and content (see below for David Stove's GEM). In chapter 4 (Idealism) he highlights Berkeley's tautological premise for advancing idealism.
Quoting Russell's prose (1912:42-43):
Published in 1933, A. C. Ewing, according to David Stove, mounted the first full length book critique of Idealism, entitled Idealism; a critical survey. Stove does not mention that Ewing anticipated his GEM.
The Australian philosopher David Stove argued in typical acerbic style that idealism rested on what he called "the worst argument in the world". From a logical point of view his critique is no different from Russell or Nietzsche's—but Stove has been more widely cited and most clearly highlighted the mistake of proponents (like Berkeley) of subjective idealism. He named the form of this argument - invented by Berkeley -- "the GEM". Berkeley claimed that "[the mind] is deluded to think it can and does conceive of bodies existing unthought of, or without the mind, though at the same time they are apprehended by, or exist in, itself". Stove argued that this claim proceeds from the tautology that nothing can be thought of without its being thought of, to the conclusion that nothing can exist without its being thought of. Alan Musgrave recently extended this argument to attack Conceptual Idealism.
In The Construction of Social Reality, John Searle offers an attack on some versions of idealism. Searle conveniently summarises two important arguments for (subjective) idealism. The first is based on our perception of reality:
Whilst agreeing with (2), Searle argues that (1) is false, and points out that (3) does not follow from (1) and (2).
The second argument for (subjective) idealism runs as follows:
Searle goes on to point out that conclusion 2 simply does not follow from its precedents.
Alan Musgrave in an article titled Realism and Antirealism in R. Klee (ed), Scientific Inquiry: Readings in the Philosophy of Science, Oxford, 1998, 344-352 - later re-titled to Conceptual Idealism and Stove's GEM in A. Musgrave, Essays on Realism and Rationalism, Rodopi, 1999 also in M.L. Dalla Chiara et al. (eds), Language, Quantum, Music, Kluwer, 1999, 25-35 - Alan Musgrave argues in addition to Stove's GEM, Conceptual Idealists compound their mistakes with use/mention confusions and proliferation of unnecessary hyphenated entities.
stock examples of use/mention confusions:
The distinction in philosophical circles is highlighted by putting quotations around the word when we want to refer only to the name and not the object.
stock examples of hyphenated entities:
Hyphenated entities are "warning signs" for conceptual idealism according to Musgrave because they over emphasise the epistemic (ways in which people come to learn about the world) activities and will more likely commit errors in use/mention. These entities do not exist (strictly speaking and are ersatz entities) but highlight the numerous ways in which people come to know the world.
In Sir Arthur Eddington's case use/mention confusions compounded his problem when he thought he was sitting at two different tables in his study (table-of-commonsense and table-of-physics). In fact Eddington was sitting at one table but had two different perspectives or ways of knowing about that one table.
Richard Rorty and Postmodernist Philosophy in general have been attacked by Musgrave for committing use/mention confusions. Musgrave argues that these confusions help proliferate GEM's in our thinking and serious thought should avoid GEM's.
"Although it would be hard to legislate about such matters, it would perhaps be well to restrict the idealist label to theories which hold that the world, or its material aspects, are dependent upon the specifically cognitive activities of the mind or Mind in perceiving or thinking about (or 'experiencing') the object of its awareness." (Kant's Idealism, Ch. 1)
A broad enough definition of idealism could include most religious viewpoints. The belief that personal beings (e.g., God/s, angels & spirits) preceded the existence of insentient matter seems to suggest that an experiencing subject is a necessary reality. Also, the existence of an omniscient God suggests, regardless of the actual nature of matter, that all of nature is the object of at least one consciousness. Materialism sees no incoherence in a scenario of there being a cosmos where no sentient subject ever develops; a wholly unknown universe where neither any subject, nor any object of a subject's experience ever exists. Historically, Mechanistic Materialism has been the favorite viewpoint of Atheist philosophers. Still, idealistic viewpoints that have not included God, supernatural beings, or a post-mortem existence have sometimes been advanced.
While many religious philosophies are indeed specifically idealist, for example, some Hindu denominations view regarding the nature of Brahman, souls, and the world are idealistic, some have favored a form of substance dualism. Early Buddhism was not subjective idealistic. Some have misinterpreted the Yogācāra school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed the consciousness-only approach as a form of metaphysical idealism, but this is incorrect. Yogācāra thinkers did not focus on consciousness to assert it as ultimately real (Yogācāra claims consciousness is only conventionally real since it arises from moment to moment due to fluctuating causes and conditions), but rather because it is the cause of the karmic problem they are seeking to eliminate.
Some Christian theologians have held idealist views, substance dualism has been the more common view of Christian authors, especially with the strong influence of the philosophy of Aristotle among the Scholastics.
The theology of Christian Science includes a form of subjective idealism: it teaches that all that exists is God and God's ideas; that the world as it appears to the senses is a distortion of the underlying spiritual reality, a distortion that may be corrected by a reorientation (spiritualization) of thought. Such a reorientation, Christian Science teaches, results in healing, as the world of appearance adjusts to approximate more nearly to the underlying divine reality. Christian Science is consequently a form of monistic (theistic) idealism, since it teaches that there is in reality no matter: all is Spirit (God) and its manifestation. In Christian Science teaching, there is no ultimate division or dualism between Spirit and its expression (the spiritual universe including the true identity of each one of us) any more than there is between the sun and the light which shines forth from it.
A Course in Miracles, a spiritual self-study course published in 1976, represents an explicitly idealist, pure nondualistic thought system. In the Course, only God and His Creation, which is Spirit and has nothing to do with the world, are real. The physical universe is an illusion and does not exist. The Course compares the world of perception with a dream. It arises from the projection of the dreamer, i.e. the mind ("projection makes perception," T-21.in.1:5), according to its wishes (perception "is the outward picture of a wish; an image that you wanted to be true," T-24.VII.8:10). The purpose of the perceptual world is to ensure our separate, individual existence apart from God but avoid the responsibility and project the guilt onto others. As we learn to give the world another purpose and recognize our perceptual errors, we also learn to look past them or "forgive," as a way to awaken gradually from the dream and finally remember our true Identity in God. The Course’s nondualistic metaphysics is similar to Advaita Vedanta. However, A Course in Miracles differs in that it adds a "motivation" for the illusory existence of the perceptual world (for a further discussion, see Wapnick, Kenneth: The Message of A Course in Miracles, 1997, ISBN 0-933291-25-6).
In general parlance, "idealism" or "idealist" is also used to describe a person having high ideals, sometimes with the connotation that those ideals are unrealisable or at odds with "practical" life.
The word "ideal" is commonly used as an adjective to designate qualities of perfection, desirability, and excellence. This is foreign to the epistemological use of the word "idealism" which pertains to internal mental representations. These internal ideas represent objects that are assumed to exist outside of the mind.
IDEALISM (from Gr. iSEa, archetype or model, through Fr. idealisme), a term generally used for the attitude of mind which is prone to represent things in an imaginative light and to lay emphasis exclusively or primarily on abstract perfection (i.e. in " ideals "). With this meaning the philosophical use of the term has little in common.
To understand the philosophical theory that has come to be known under this title, we may ask (I) what in general it is and how it is differentiated from other theories of knowledge and reality, (2) how it has risen in the history of philosophy, (3) what position it occupies at present in the world of speculation.
i. General Definition of Idealism. - Idealism as a philosophical doctrine conceives of knowledge or experience as a process in which the two factors of subject and object stand in a relation of entire interdependence on each other as warp and woof. Apart from the activity of the self or subject in sensory reaction, memory and association, imagination, judgment and inference, there can be no world of objects. A thing-in-itself which is not a thing to some consciousness is an entirely unrealizable, because self-contradictory, conception. But this is only one side of the truth. It is equally true that a subject apart from an object is unintelligible. As the object exists through the constructive activity of the subject, so the subject lives in the construction of the object. To seek for the true self in any region into which its opposite in the form of a not-self does not enter is to grasp a shadow. It is in seeking to realize its own ideas in the world of knowledge, feeling and action that the mind comes into possession of itself; it is in becoming permeated and transformed by the mind's ideas that the world develops the fullness of its reality as object.
Thus defined, idealism is opposed to ordinary common-sense dualism, which regards knowledge or experience as the result of the more or less accidental relation between two separate and independent entities - the mind and its ideas on one side, the thing with its attributes on the other - that serve to limit and condition each other from without. It is equally opposed to the doctrine which represents the subject itself and its state and judgments as the single immediate datum of consciousness, and all else, whether the objects of an external world or person other than the individual subject whose states are known to itself, as having a merely problematic existence resting upon analogy or other process of indirect inference. This theory is sometimes known as idealism. But it falls short of idealism as above defined in that it recognizes only one side of the antithesis of subject and object, and so falls short of the doctrine which takes its stand on the complete correlativity of the two factors in experience. It is for this reason that it is sometimes known as subjective or incomplete idealism. Finally the theory defined is opposed to all forms of realism, whether in the older form which sought to reduce mind to a function of matter, or in any of the newer forms which seek for the ultimate essence of both mind and matter in some unknown force or energy which, while in itself it is neither, yet contains the potentiality of both. It is true that in some modern developments of idealism the ultimate reality is conceived of in an impersonal way, but it is usually added that this ultimate or absolute being is not something lower but higher than self-conscious personality, including it as a more fully developed form may be said to include a more elementary.
2. Origin and Development of Idealism. - In its self-conscious form idealism is a modern doctrine. In it the self or subject may be said to have come to its rights. This was possible in any complete sense only after the introspective movement represented by the middle ages had done its work, and the thought of the individual mind and will as possessed of relative independence had worked itself out into some degree of clearness. In this respect Descartes' dictum - cogito ergo sum - may be said to have struck the keynote of modern philosophy, and all subsequent speculation to have been merely a prolonged commentary upon it. While in its completer form it is thus a doctrine distinctive of modern times, idealism has its roots far back in the history of thought. One of the chief proofs that has been urged of the truth of its point of view is the persistency with which it has always asserted itself at a certain stage in philosophical reflection and as the solution of certain recurrent speculative difficulties. All thought starts from the ordinary dualism or pluralism which conceives of the world as consisting of the juxtaposition of mutually independent things and persons. The first movement is in the direction of dispelling this appearance of independence. They are seen to be united under the relation of cause and effect, determining and determined, which turns out to mean that they are merely passing manifestations of some single entity or energy which constitutes the real unknown essence of the things that come before our knowledge. In the pantheism that thus takes the place of the old dualism there seems no place left for the individual. Mind and will in their individual manifestations fade into the general background of appearance without significance except as a link in a fated chain. Deliverance from the pantheistic conception of the universe comes through the recognition of the central place occupied by thought and purpose in the actual world, and, as a consequence of this, of the illegitimacy of the abstraction whereby material energy is taken for the ultimate reality.
The first illustration of this movement on a large scale was given in the Socratic reaction against the pantheistic conclusions of early Greek philosophy (see Ionian School). The whole movement of which Socrates was a part may be said to have been in the direction of the assertion of the rights of the subject. Its keynote is to be found in the Protagorean " man is the measure." This seems to have been interpreted by its author and by the Sophists in general in a subjective sense, with the result that it became the motto of a sceptical and individualistic movement in contemporary philosophy and ethics. It was not less against this form of idealism than against the determinism of the early physicists that Socrates protested. Along two lines the thought of Socrates led to idealistic conclusions which may be said to have formed the basis of all subsequent advance. (I) He perceived the importance of the universal or conceptual element in knowledge, and thus at a single stroke broke through the hard realism of ordinary common sense, disproved all forms of naturalism that were founded on the denial of the reality of thought, and cut away the ground from a merely sensational and subjective idealism. This is what Aristotle means by claiming for Socrates that he was the founder of definition. (2) He taught that life was explicable only as a system of ends. Goodness consists in the knowledge of what these are. It is by his hold upon them that the individual is able to give unity and reality to his will. In expounding these ideas Socrates limited himself to the sphere of practice. Moreover, the end or ideal of the practical life was conceived of in too vague a way to be of much practical use. His principle, however, was essentially sound, and led directly to the Platonic Idealism. Plato extended the Socratic discovery to the whole of reality and while seeking to see the pre-Socratics with the eyes of Socrates sought " to see Socrates with the. eyes of the pre-Socratics." Not only were the virtues to be explained by their relation to a common or universal good which only intelligence could apprehend, but there was nothing in all the furniture of heaven or earth which in like manner did not receive reality from the share it had in such an intelligible idea or essence. But these ideas are themselves intelligible only in relation to one another and to the whole. Accordingly Plato conceived of them as forming a system and finding their reality in the degree in which they embody the one all-embracing idea and conceived of not under the form of an efficient but of a final cause, an inner principle of action or tendency in things to realize the fullness of their own nature which in the last resort was identical with the nature of the whole. This Plato expressed in the myth of the Sun, but the garment of mythology in which Plato clothed his idealism, beautiful as it is in itself and full of suggestion, covered an essential weakness. The more Plato dwelt upon his world of ideas, the more they seemed to recede from the world of reality, standing over against it as principles of condemnation instead of revealing themselves in it. In this way the Good was made to appear as an end imposed upon things from without by a creative intelligence instead of as an inner principle of adaptation.
On one side of his thought Aristotle represents a reaction against idealism and a return to the position of common-sense. dualism, but on another, and this the deeper side, he represents the attempt to restore the theory in a more satisfactory form. His account of the process of knowledge in his logical treatises exhibits the idealistic bent in its clearest form. This is as far removed as possible either from dualism or from empiricism. The universal is the real; it is that which gives coherence and individuality to the particulars of sense which apart from it are like the routed or disbanded units of an army. Still more manifestly in his Ethics and Politics Aristotle makes it clear that it is the common or universal will that gives substance and reality to the individual. In spite of these and other anticipations of a fuller idealism, the idea remains as a form imposed from without on a reality otherwise conceived of as independent of it. As we advance from the logic to the metaphysics and from that to his ontology, it becomes clear that the concepts are only " categories " or predicates of a reality lying outside of them, and there is an ultimate division between the world as the object or matter of thought and the thinking or moving principle which gives its life. It is this that gives the Aristotelian doctrine in its more abstract statements an air of uncertainty. Yet besides the particular contribution that Aristotle made to idealistic philosophy in his logical and ethical interpretations, he advanced the case in two directions. (a) He made it clear that no explanation of the world could be satisfactory that was not based on the notion of continuity in the sense of an order of existence in which the reality of the lower was to be sought for in the extent to which it gave expression to the potentialities of its own nature - which were also the potentialities of the whole of which it was a part. (b) From this it followed that difficult as we might find it to explain the relation of terms so remote from each other as sense and thought, the particular and the universal, matter and mind, these oppositions cannot in their nature be absolute. These truths, however, were hidden from Aristotle's successors, who for the most part lost the thread which Socrates had put into their hand. When the authority of Aristotle was again invoked, it was its dualistic and formal, not its idealistic and metaphysical, side that was in harmony with the spirit of the age. Apart from one or two of the greatest minds, notably Dante, what appealed to the thinkers of the middle ages was not the idea of reality as a progressive self-revelation of an inner principle working through nature and human life, but the formal principles of classification which it seemed to offer for a material of thought and action given from another source.
Modern like ancient idealism came into being as a correction of the view that threatened to resolve the world of matter and mind alike into the changing manifestations of some single non-spiritual force or substance. While, however, ancient philosophy may be said to have been unilinear, modern philosophy had a twofold origin, and till the time of Kant may be said to have pursued two independent courses.
All philosophy is the search for reality and rational certainty as opposed to mere formalism on the one hand, to authority and dogmatism on the other. In this sense modern philosophy had a common root in revolt against medievalism. In England this revolt sought for the certainty and clearness that reason requires in the assurance of an outer world given to immediate sense experience; on the continent of Europe, in the assurance of an inner world given immediately in thought. Though starting from apparently opposite poles and following widely different courses the two movements led more or less directly to the same results. It is easy to understand how English empiricism issued at once in the trenchant naturalism of Hobbes. It is less comprehensible how the Cartesian philosophy from: the starting-point of thought allied itself with a similar point of view. This can be understood only by a study of the details, of Descartes' philosophy (see Cartesianism). Suffice it to say that in spite of its spiritualistic starting-point its general result was to give a stimulus to the prevailing scientific tendency as represented by Galileo, Kepler and Harvey to the principle of mechanical explanations of the phenomena of the universe. True it was precisely against this that Descartes' immediate successors struggled. But the time-spirit was too strong for them. Determinism had other forms besides that of a crude materialism, and the direction that Malebranche succeeded in giving to speculation led only to the more complete denial of freedom and individuality in the all-devouring pantheism of Spinoza.
The foundations of idealism in the modern sense were laid by the thinkers who sought breathing room for mind and will in a deeper analysis of the relations of the subject to the world that it knows. From the outset English philosophy had a leaning to the psychological point of view, and Locke was only carrying on the tradition of his predecessors and particularly of Hobbes in definitely accepting it as the basis of his Essay. It was, however, Berkeley who first sought to utilize the conclusions that were implicit in Locke's starting-point to disprove " the systems of impious and profane persons which exclude all freeedom, intelligence, and design from the formation of things, and instead thereof make a selfexistent, stupid, unthinking substance the root and origin of all beings." Berkeley's statement of the view that all knowledge is relative to the subject - that no object can be known except under the form which our powers of sense-perception, our memory and imagination, our notions and inference, give it - is still the most striking and convincing that we possess. To have established this position was a great step in speculation. Henceforth ordinary dogmatic dualism was excluded from philosophy; any attempt to revive it, whether with Dr Johnson by an appeal to common prejudice, or in the more reflective Johnsonianism of the 18th-century Scottish philosophers, must be an anachronism. Equally impossible was it thenceforth to assert the mediate or immediate certainty of material substance as the cause either of events in nature or of sensations in ourselves. But with these advances came the danger of falling into error from which common-sense dualism and naturalistic monism were free. From the point of view which Berkeley had inherited from Locke it seemed to follow that not only material substance, but the whole conception of a world of objects, is at most an inference from subjective modifications which are the only immediately certain objects of knowledge. The implications of such a view were first clearly apparent when Hume showed that on the basis of it there seemed to be nothing that we could confidently affirm except the order of our own impressions and ideas. This being so, not only were physics and mathematics impossible as sciences of necessary objective truth, but our apparent consciousness of a permanent self and object alike must be delusive.
It was these paradoxes that Kant sought to rebut by a more thoroughgoing criticism of the basis of knowledge the substance of which is summed up in his celebrated Refuta tion of Idealism,' wherein he sought to undermine Hume's scepticism by carrying it one step further and demonstrating that not only is all knowledge of self or object excluded, but the consciousness of any series of impressions and ideas is itself impossible except in relation to some external permanent and universally accepted world of objects.
But Kant's refutation of subjective idealism and his vindication of the place of the object can be fully understood only. when we take into account the other defect in the teaching of his predecessors that he sought in his Critique to correct. In continental philosophy the reaction against mechanical and pantheistic explanations of the universe found even more definite utterance than in English psychological. empiricism in the metaphysical system of Leibnitz, whose theory of self-determined monads can be understood only when taken in the light of the assertion of the rights of the subject against the substance of Spinoza and the atoms of the materialist. But Leibnitz also anticipated Kant in seeking to correct the empirical point of view of the English philosophers. True, sense-given material is necessary in order that we may have thought. " But by what means," he asks, " can experience and the senses give ideas ? Has the soul windows ? Is it like a writing tablet? Is it like wax? It is plain that all those who think thus of the soul make it at bottom corporeal. True, nothing is in the intellect which has not been in the senses, but we must add except the intellect itself. The soul contains the notions of being, substance, unity, identity, cause, perception, reasoning and many others which the senses cannot give " (Nouveaux essais, ii. 1). But Leibnitz's conception of the priority of spirit had too little foundation, and the different elements he sought to combine were too loosely related to one another to stand the strain of the two forces of empiricism and materialism that were opposed to his idealism. More particularly by the confusion in which he left the relation between the two logical principles of identity and of sufficient reason underlying respectively analytic and synthetic, deductive and inductive thought, he may be said to have undermined in another way the idealism he strove to establish. It was in seeking to close up the fissure in his system represented by this dualism that his successors succeeded only in adding weakness to weakness by reducing the principle of sufficient reason to that of formal identity (see Wolff) and representing all thought as in essence analytic. From this it immediately followed that, so far as the connexion of our experiences of the external world does not show itself irreducible to that of formal identity, it must remain unintelligible. As empiricism had foundered on the difficulty of showing how our thoughts could be an object of sense experience, so Leibnitzian formalism foundered on that of understanding how the material of sense could be an object of thought. On one view as on the other scientific demonstration was impossible.
The extremity to which philosophy had been brought by empiricism on the one hand and formalism on the other was Kant's opportunity. Leibnitz's principle of the " nisi intellectus ipse " was expanded by him into a demon stration the completest yet effected by philosophy of the part played by the subject not merely in the manipulation of the material of experience but in the actual constitution of the object that is known. On the other hand he insisted on the synthetic character of this activity without which it was impossible to get beyond the circle of our own thoughts. The parts of the Critique of Pure Reason, more particularly the " Deduction of the Categories " in which this theory is worked out, may be said to have laid the foundation of modern idealism - " articulum stantis aut cadentis dectrinae." In spite of the defects of Kant's statement - to which it is necessary to return - the place of the concepts and ideals of the mind and the synthetic organizing 1 Kritik d. reinen Vernunft, p. 197 (ed. Hartenstein).
activity which these involve was established with a trenchancy which has been acknowledged by all schools alike. The " Copernican revolution " which he claimed to have effected may be said to have become the starting-point of all modern philosophy. Yet the divergent uses that have been made of it witness to the ambiguity of his statement which is traceable to the fact that Kant was himself too deeply rooted in the thought of his predecessors and carried with him too much of their spirit to be able entirely to free himself from their assumptions and abstractions. His philosophy was more like Michaelangelo's famous sculpture of the Dawn, a spirit yet encumbered with the stubble of the material from which it was hewn, than a clear cut figure with unmistakable outlines. Chief among these encumbering presuppositions was that of a fundamental distinction between perception and conception and consequent upon it between the synthetic and the analytic use of thought. It is upon this in the last resort that the distinction between the phenomenal world of our experience and a noumenal world beyond it is founded. Kant perceives that " perception without conception is blind, conception without perception is empty," but if he goes so far ought he not to have gone still further and inquired whether there can be any perception at all without a concept, any concept which does not presuppose a precept, and, if this is impossible, whether the distinction between a world of appearance which is known and a world of things-in-themselves which is not, is not illusory ?
It was by asking precisely these questions that Hegel gave the finishing strokes to the Kantian philosophy. The startingpoint of all valid philosophy must be the perception that the essence of all conscious apprehension is the union of opposites - of which that of subject and object is the most fundamental and all-pervasive. True, before differences can be united they must have been separated, but this merely proves that differentiation or analysis is only one factor in a single process. Equally fundamental is the element of synthesis. Nor is it possible at any point in knowledge to prove the existence of a merely given in whose construction the thinking subject has played no part nor a merely thinking subject in whose structure the object is not an organic factor. In coming, as at a certain point in its development it does, to the consciousness of an object, the mind does not find itself in the presence of an opponent, or of anything essentially alien to itself but of that which gives content and stability to its own existence. True, the stability it seems to find in it is incomplete. The object cannot rest in the form of its immediate appearance without involving us in contradiction. The sun does not " rise," the dew does not " fall." But this only means that the unity between subject and object to which the gift of consciousness commits us is incompletely realized in that appearance: the apparent truth has to submit to correction and supplementation before it can be accepted as real truth. It does not mean that there is anywhere a mere fact which is not also an interpretation nor an interpreting mind whose ideas have no hold upon fact. From this it follows that ultimate or absolute reality is to be sought not beyond the region of experience, but in the fullest and most harmonious statement of the facts of our experience. True a completely harmonious world whether of theory or of practice remains an ideal. But the fact that we have already in part realized the ideal and that the degree in which we have realized it is the degree in which we may regard our experience as trustworthy, is proof that the ideal is no mere idea as Kant taught, but the very substance of reality.
Intelligible as this development of Kantian idealism seems in the light of subsequent philosophy, the first statement of it in Hegel was not free from obscurity. The unity of opposites translated into its most abstract terms PP ing as the " identity of being and not-being," the principle in that the " real is the rational," the apparent substitution of " bloodless " categories for the substance of concrete reality gave it an air of paradox in the eyes of metaphysicians while physicists were scandalized by the premature attempts at a complete philosophy of nature and history. For this Hegel was doubtless partly to blame. But philosophical critics of his own and a later day are not hereby absolved from a certain perversity in interpreting these doctrines in a sense precisely opposite to that in which they were intended. The doctrine of the unity of contraries so far from being the denial of the law of non-contradiction is founded on an absolute reliance upon it. Freed from paradox it means that in every object of thought there are different aspects or elements each of which if brought separately into consciousness may be so emphasized as to appear to contradict another. Unity may be made to contradict diversity, permanence change, the particular the universal, individuality relatedness. Ordinary consciousness ignores these " latent fires "; ordinary discussion brings them to light and divides men into factions and parties over them; philosophy not because it denies but because it acknowledges the law of non-contradiction as supreme is pledged to seek a point of view from which they may be seen to be in essential harmony with one another as different sides of the same truth. The " rationality of the real " has in like manner been interpreted as intended to sanctify the existing order. Hegel undoubtedly meant to affirm that the actual was rational in the face of the philosophy which set up subjective feeling and reason against it. But idealism has insisted from the time of Plato on the distinction between what is actual in time and space and the reality that can only partially be revealed in it. Hegel carried this principle further than had yet been done. His phrase does not therefore sanctify the established fact but, on the contrary, declares that it partakes of reality only so far as it embodies the ideal of a coherent and stable system which it is not. As little is idealism responsible for any attempt to pass off logical abstractions for concrete reality. The " Logic " of Hegel is merely the continuation of Kant's " Deduction " of the categories and ideas of the reason which has generally been recognized as the soberest of attempts to set forth the presuppositions which underlie all experience. " What Hegel attempts to show is just that the categories by which thought must determine its object are stages in a process that, beginning with the idea of ` Being,' the simplest of all determinations is driven on by its own dialectic till it reaches the idea of self-consciousness. In other words the intelligence when it once begins to define an object for itself, finds itself launched on a movement of selfasserting synthesis in which it cannot stop until it had recognized that the unity of the object with itself involves its unity with all other objects and with the mind that knows it. Hence, whatever we begin by saying, we must ultimately say ` mind ' " (Caird, Kant, 1.443) While the form in which these doctrines were stated proved fatal to them in the country of their birth, they took deep root in the next generation in English philosophy. Here the stone that the builders rejected was made the head of the corner. The influences which led to this result were manifold. From the side of literature the way was prepared for it by the genius of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Carlyle; from the side of morals and politics by the profound discontent of the constructive spirit of the century with the disintegrating conceptions inherited from utilitarianism. In taking root in England idealism had to contend against the traditional empiricism represented by Mill on the one hand and the pseudo-Kantianism which was rendered current by Mansel and Hamilton on the other. As contrasted with the first it stood for the necessity of recognizing a universal or ideal element as a constitutive factor in all experience whether cognitive or volitional; as contrasted with the latter for the ultimate unity of subject and object, knowledge and reality, and therefore for the denial of the existence of any thing-in-itself for ever outside the range of experience. Its polemic against the philosophy of experience has exposed it to general misunderstanding, as though it claimed some a priori path to truth. In reality it stands for a more thoroughgoing and consistent application of the test of experience. The defect of English empiricism from the outset had been the uncritical acceptance of the metaphysical dogma of a pure unadulterated sense-experience as the criterion of truth. This assumption idealism examines and rejects in the name of experience itself. Similarly it only carried the doctrine of relativity to its logical conclusion in denying that there could be any absolute relativity. Object stands in essential relation to subject, subject to object. This being so, it is wholly illogical to seek for any test of the truth and reality of either except in the form which that relation itself takes. In its subsequent development idealism in England has passed through several clearly marked stages which may be distinguished as (a) that of exploration and tentative exposition in the writings of J. F. Ferrier,' J. Hutchison Stirling,' Benjamin J owett, 3 W. T. Harris; 4 (b) of confident application to the central problems of logic, ethics and politics, fine art and religion, and as a principle of constructive criticism and interpretation chiefly in T. H. Green,' E. Caird,' B. Bosanquet; 7 (c) of vigorous effort to develop on fresh lines its underlying metaphysics in F. H. Bradley,& J. M. E. McTaggart,° A. E. Taylor, 10 Josiah Royce" and others. Under the influence of these writers idealism, as above expounded though with difference of interpretation in individual writers, may be said towards the end of the 19th century to have been on its way to becoming the leading philosophy in the British Isles and America.
3. Reaction against Traditional Idealism. - But it was not to be expected that the position idealism had thus won for itself would remain long unchallenged. It had its roots in New a literature and in forms of thought remote from the common track; it had been formulated before the Prag- great advances in psychology which marked the course matism. of the century; its latest word seemed to involve consequences that brought it into conflict with the vital interest the human mind has in freedom and the possibility of real initiation. It is not, therefore, surprising that there should have been a vigorous reaction. This has taken mainly two opposite forms. On the one hand the attack has come from the old ground of the danger that is threatened to the reality of the external world and may be said to be in the interest of the object. On the other hand the theory has been attacked in the interest of the subject on the ground that in the statuesque world of ideas into which it introduces us it leaves no room for the element of movement and process which recent psychology and metaphysic alike have taught us underlies all life. The conflict of idealism with these two lines of criticism - the accusation of subjectivism on the one side of intellectualism and rigid objectivism on the other - may be said to have constituted the history of Anglo-Saxon philosophy during the first decade of the 20th century.
I. Whatever is to be said of ancient Idealism, the modern doctrine may be said notably in Kant to have been in the main a vindication of the subjective factor in knowledge. But that space and time, matter and cause should owe their origin to the action of the mind has always seemed paradoxical to common sense. Nor is the impression which its enunciation in Kant made, likely to have been lightened in this country by the connexion that was sure to be traced between Berkeleyanism and the new teaching or by the form which the doctrine received at the hands of T. H. Green, its leading English representative between 1870 and 1880. If what is real in things is ultimately nothing but their relations, and if relations are inconceivable apart from the relating mind, what is this but the dissolution of the solid ground of external reality which my consciousness seems to assure me underlies and eludes all the conceptual network by which I try to bring one part of my experience into connexion with another ? It is quite true that modern idealists like Berkeley himself have sought to save themselves from the gulf of sub-. jectivism by calling in the aid of a universal or infinite mind or by an appeal to a total or absolute experience to which our own is relative. But the former device is too obviously a dens ex machina, the purpose of which would be equally well served by supposing with Fichte the individual self to be endowed with the power of subconsciously extraditing a world which returns to it in consciousness under the form of a foreign creation. The appeal to an Absolute on the other hand is only to substitute one difficulty for another. For granting that it places the centre of reality outside the individual self it does so only at the price of reducing the reality of the latter to an appearance; 1 Institutes of Metaphysics (1854); Works (1866).
Secret of Hegel (1865).
3 Dialogues of Plato (1871).
4 Journal of Spec. Phil. (1867).
' Hume's Phil. Works (1875).
6 Critical account of the Phil. of Kant (1877).
7 Knowledge and Reality (1885); Logic (1888).
8 Appearance and Reality (1893). 9 Studies in Hegelian Cosmology (1901).
10 Elements of Metaphysics (1903).
" The World and the Individual (1901).
and if only one thing is real what becomes of the many different things which again my consciousness assures me are the one world with which I can have any practical concern? To meet these difficulties and give back to us the assurance of the substantiality of the world without us it has therefore been thought necessary to maintain two propositions which are taken to be the refutation of idealism. (I) There is given to us immediately in knowledge a world entirely independent of and different from our own impressions on the one hand and the conceptions by which we seek to establish relations between them upon the other. The relation of these impressions (and for the matter of that of their inter-relations among themselves) to our minds is only one out of many. As a leading writer puts it: " There is such a thing as greenness having various relations, among others that of being perceived.'" (2) Things may be, and may be known to be simply different. They may exclude one another, exist so to speak in a condition of armed neutrality to one another, without being positively thereby related to one another or altered by any change taking place in any of them. As the same writer puts it: " There is such a thing as numerical difference, different from conceptual difference," 2 or expressing the same thing in other words " there are relations not grounded in the nature of the related terms." In this double-barrelled criticism it is important to distinguish what is really relevant. Whatever the shortcomings of individual writers may be, modern idealism differs, as we have seen, from the arrested idealism of Berkeley precisely in the point on which dualism insists. In all knowledge we are in touch not merely with the self and its passing states, but with a real object which is different from them. On this head there is no difference, and idealism need have no difficulty in accepting all that its opponents here contend. The difference between the two theories does not consist in any difference of emphasis on the objective side of knowledge, but in the standard by which the nature of the object is to be tested - the difference is logical not metaphysical - it concerns the definition of truth or falsity in the knowledge of the reality which both admit. To idealism there can be no ultimate test, but the possibility of giving any fact which claims to be true its place in a coherent system of mutually related truths. To this dualism opposes the doctrine that truth and falsehood are a matter of mere immediate intuition: " There is no problem at all in truth and falsehood, some propositions are true and some false just as some roses are red and some white." 3 The issue between the two theories under this head may here be left with the remark that it is a curious comment on the logic of dualism that setting out to vindicate the reality of an objective standard of truth it should end in the most subjective of all the way a thing appears to the individual. The criticism that applies to the first of the above contentions applies mutatis mutandis to the second. As idealism differs from Berkeleyanism in asserting the reality of an " external " world so it differs from Spinozism in asserting the reality of difference within it. Determination is not merely negation. On this head there need be no quarrel between it and dualism. Ours is a many-sided, a many-coloured world. The point of conflict again lies in the nature and ground of the assigned differences. Dualism meets the assertion of absolute unity by the counter assertion of mere difference. But if it is an error to treat the unity of the world as its only real aspect, it is equally an error to treat its differences as something ultimately irreducible. No philosophy founded on this assumption is likely to maintain itself against the twofold evidence of modern psychology and modern logic. According to the first the world, whether looked at from the side of our perception or from the side of the object perceived, can be made intelligible only when we accept it for what it is as a real continuity. Differences, of course, there are; and, if we like to say so, every difference is unique, but this does not mean that they are given in absolute independence of everything else, " fired at us out of 1 See Mind, New Series, xii. p. 433 sqq.
2 Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1900-1901), p. 110. Mind, New Series, xiii. p. 523; cf. 204, 350.
a cannon." They bear a definite relation to the structure of our physical and psychical nature, and correspond to definite needs of the subject that manifests itself therein. Similarly from the side of logic. It is not the teaching of idealism alone but of the facts which logical analysis has brought home to us that all difference in the last resort finds its ground in the quality or content of the things differentiated, and that this difference of content shows in turn a double strand, the strand of sameness and the strand of otherness - that in which and that by which they differ from one another. Idealism has, of course, no quarrel with numerical difference. All difference has its numerical aspect: two different things are always two both in knowledge and in reality. What it cannot accept is the doctrine that there are two things which are two in themselves apart from that which makes them two - which are not two of something. So far from establishing the truth for which dualism is itself concerned - the reality of all differences - such a theory can end only in a scepticism as to the reality of any difference. It is difficult to see what real difference there can be between things which are differences of nothing.
II. More widespread and of more serious import is the attack from the other side to which since the publication of A. Seth's Hegelianism and Personality (1887) and W. James's Will to Believe (1903) idealism has been subjected. Here also it is important to distinguish what is relevant from what is irrelevant in the line of criticism represented by these writers. There need be no contradiction between idealism and a reasonable pragmatism. In so far as the older doctrine is open to the charge of neglecting the conative and teleological side of experience it can afford to be grateful to its critics for recalling it to its own eponymous principle of the priority of the "ideal " to the " idea," of needs to the conception of their object. The real issue comes into view in the attempt, undertaken in the interest of freedom, to substitute for the notion of the world as a cosmos pervaded by no discernible principle and in its essence indifferent to the form impressed upon it by its active parts.
To the older idealism as to the new the essence of mind or spirit is freedom. But the guarantee of freedom is to be sought for not in the denial of law, but in the whole nature of mind and its relation to the structure of experience. Without mind no orderly world: only through the action of the subject and its " ideas " are the confused and incoherent data of sense-perception (themselves shot through with both strands) built up into that system of things we call Nature, and which stands out against the subject as the body stands out against the soul whose functioning may be said to have created it. On the other hand, without the world mind: only through the action of the environment upon the subject is the idealizing activity in which it finds its being called into existence. Herein lies the paradox which is also the deepest truth of our spiritual life. In interpreting its environment first as a world of things that seem to stand in a relation of exclusion to one another and to itself, then as a natural system governed by rigid mechanical necessity, the mind can yet feel that in its very opposition the world is akin to it, bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh. What is true of mind is true of will. Idealism starts from the relativity of the world to purposive consciousness. But this again may be so stated as to represent only one side of the truth. It is equally true that the will is relative to the world of objects and interests to which it is attached through instincts and feelings, habits and sentiments. In isolation from its object the will is as much an abstraction as though apart from the world of precepts, memories and associations which give it content and stability. And just as mind does not lose but gain in individuality in proportion as it parts with any claim to the capricious determination of what its world shall be, and becomes dominated by the conception of an order which is immutable so the will becomes free and " personal " in proportion as it identifies itself with objects and interests, and subordinates itself to laws and requirements which involve the suppression of all that is merely arbitrary and subjective. Here, too, subject and object grow together. The power and vitality of the one is the power and vitality of the other, and this is so because they are not two things. with separate roots but are both rooted in a common reality which, while it includes, is more than either.
Passing by these contentions as unmeaning or irrelevant and seeing nothing but irreconcilable contradiction between the conceptions of the world as immutable law and a self-determining subject pragmatism (q.v.) seeks other means of vindicating the reality of freedom. It agrees with older forms of libertarianism in taking its stand on the fact of spontaneity as primary and self-evidencing, but it is not content to assert its existence side by side with rigidly determined sequence. It carries the war into the camp of the enemy by seeking to demonstrate that the completely determined action which is set over against freedom as the basis of explanation in the material world is merely a hypothesis which, while it serves sufficiently well the limited purpose for which it is devised, is incapable of verification in the ultimate constituents of physical nature. There seems in fact nothing to prevent us from holding that while natural laws express the average tendencies of multitudes they give no clue to the movement of individuals. Some have gone farther and argued that from the nature of the case no causal explanation of any real change in the world of things is possible. A cause is that which contains the effect (" causa aequat effectum "), but this is precisely what can never be proved with respect to anything that is claimed as a real cause in the concrete world. Everywhere the effect reveals an element which is indiscoverable in the cause with the result that the identity we seek for ever eludes us. Even the resultant of mechanical forces refuses to resolve itself into its constituents. In the " resultant " there is a new direction, and with it a new quality the component forces of which no analysis can discover.' It is not here possible to do more than indicate what appear to be the valid elements in these two conflicting interpretations of the requirements of a true idealism. On behalf of the older it may be confidently affirmed that no solution is likely to find general acceptance which involves the rejection of the conception of unity and intelligible order as the primary principle of our world. The assertion of this principle by Kant was, we have seen, the corner-stone of idealistic philosophy in general, underlying as it does the conception of a permanent subject not less than that of a permanent object. As little from the side of knowledge is it likely that any theory will find acceptance which reduces all thought to a process of analysis and the discovery of abstract identity. There is no logical principle which requires that we should derive qualitative change by logical analysis from quantitative difference. Everywhere experience is synthetic: it gives us multiplicity in unity. Explanation of it does not require the. annihilation of all differences but the apprehension of them in organic relation to one another and to the whole to which they belong. It was, as we have seen, this conception of thought as essentially synthetic for which Kant paved the way in his polemic against the formalism of his continental predecessors. The revival as in the above argument of the idea that the function of thought is the elimination of difference, and that rational connexion must fail where absolute identity is indiscoverable merely shows how imperfectly Kant's lesson has been learned by some of those who prophesy in his name.
Finally, apart from these more academic arguments there is an undoubted paradox in a theory which, at a moment when in whatever direction we look the best inspiration in poetry, sociology and physical science comes from the idea of the unity of the world, gives in its adhesion to pluralism on the ground of its preponderating practical value.
On the other hand, idealism would be false to itself if it interpreted the unity which it thus seeks to establish in any sense that is incompatible with the validity of moral distinctions and human responsibility in the fullest sense of the term. It would on its side be, indeed, a paradox if at a time when the validity of human ideals and the responsibility of nations and individuals to realize them is more universally recognized than ever before on our planet, the philosophical theory which hitherto has been chiefly identified with their vindication should be turned against them. Yet the depth and extent of the dissatisfaction are sufficient evidence that the most recent developments are not free from ambiguity on this vital issue.
What is thus suggested is not a rash departure from the general point of view of idealism (by its achievements in every field to which it has been applied, " stat mole sua ") but a cautious inquiry into the possibility of reaching a conception of the world ' The most striking statement of this argument is to be found in Boutroux's treatise De la contingence des lois de la nature, first published in 1874 and reprinted without alteration in 1905. The same general line of thought underlies James Ward's Naturalism and Agnosticism (2nd ed., 1903), and A. J. Balfour's Foundations of Belief (8th ed., 1901). H. Bergson's works on the other hand contain the elements of a reconstruction similar in spirit to the suggestions of the present article.
in which a place can be found at once for the idea of unity and determination and of movement and freedom. Any attempt here to anticipate what the course of an idealism inspired by such a spirit of caution and comprehension is likely to be cannot but appear dogmatic.
Yet it may be permitted to make a suggestion. Taking for granted the unity of the world idealism is committed to interpret it as spiritual as a unity of spirits. This is implied in the phrase by which it has sought to signalize its break with Spinozism: " from substance to subject." The universal or infinite is one that realizes itself in finite particular minds and wills, not as accidents or imperfections of it, but as its essential form. These on their side, to be subject in the true sense must be conceived of as possessing a life which is truly their own, the expression of their own nature as self-determinant. In saying subject we say self, in saying self we say free creator. No conception of the infinite can therefore be true which does not leave room for movement, process, free creation. Oldness, sameness, permanence of principle and direction, these must be, otherwise there is nothing; but newness of embodiment, existence, realization also, otherwise nothing is. Now it is just to these implications in the idea of spirit that some of the prominent recent expositions of Idealism seem to have failed to do justice. They have failed particularly when they have left the idea of " determination " unpurged of the suggestion of time succession. The very word lends itself to this mistake. Idealists have gone beyond others in asserting that the subject in the sense of a being which merely repeats what has gone before is timeless. This involves that its activity cannot be truly conceived of as included in an antecedent, as an effect in a cause or one term of an equation in the other. As the activity of a subject or spirit it is essentially a new birth. It is this failure that has led to the present revolt against a " block universe." But the difficulty is not to be met by running to the opposite extreme in the assertion of a loose and ramshackle one. This is merely another way of perpetuating the mistake of allowing the notion of determination by an other or a preceding to continue to dominate us in a region where we have in reality passed from it to the notion of determination by self or by self-acknowledged ideals. As the correction from the one side consists in a more whole-hearted acceptance of the conception of determination by an ideal as the essence of mind, so from the other side it must consist in the recognition of the valuelessness of a freedom which does not mean submission to a self-chosen, though not selfcreated, law.
The solution here suggested is probably more likely to meet with opposition from the side of Idealism than of Pragmatism. It involves, it will be said, the reality of time, the dependence of the Infinite in the finite, and therewith a departure from the whole line of Hegelian thought. (I) It does surely involve the reality of time in the sense that it involves the reality of existence, which it is agreed is process. Without process the eternal is not complete or, if eternity means completeness, is not truly eternal. Our mistake lies in abstraction of the one from the other, which, as always, ends in confusion of the one with the other. Truth lies in giving each its place. Not only does eternity assert the conception of the hour but the hour asserts the conception of eternity - with what adequacy is another question. (2) The second of the above objections takes its point from the contradiction to religious consciousness which seems to be involved. This is certainly a mistake. Religious consciousness asserts, no doubt, that God is necessary to the soul: from Him as its inspiration, to Him as its ideal are all things. But it asserts with equal emphasis that the soul is necessary to God. To declare itself an unnecessary creation is surely on the part of the individual soul the height of impiety. God lives in the soul as it in Him. He also might say, from it as His offspring, to it as the object of His outgoing love are all things. (3) It is a mistake to attribute to Hegel the doctrine that time is an illusion. If in a well-known passage (Logic § 212) he seems to countenance the Spinoxistic view he immediately corrects it by assigning an " actualizing force " to this illusion and making it a " necessary dynamic element of truth." Consistently with this we have the conclusion stated in the succeeding section on the Will. " Good, the final end of the world, has being only while it constantly produces itself. And the world of the spirit and the world of nature continue to have this distinction, that the latter moves only in a recurring cycle while the former certainly also makes progress." The mistake is not Hegel's but ours. It is to be remedied not by giving up the idea of the Infinite but by ceasing to think of the Infinite as of a being endowed with a static perfection which the finite will merely reproduces, and definitely recognizing the forward effort of the finite as an essential element in Its self-expression. If there be any truth in this suggestion it seems likely that the last word of idealism, like the first, will prove to be that the type of the highest reality is to be sought for not in any fixed Parmenidean circle of achieved being but in an ideal of good which while never fully expressed under the form of time can never become actual and so fulfil itself under any other.
(A) General works besides those of the writers mentioned above: W. Wallace, Prolegomena to the Study of Hegel (1894), and Hegel's Philosophy of Mind (1894); A. Seth and R. B.
Haldane, Essays Phil. Criticism (1883); John Watson, Kant and his English Critics (1881); J. B. Baillie, Idealistic Construction of Experience (1906); J. S. Mackenzie, Outlines of Metaphysics (1902); A. E. Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics (1903); R. L. Nettleship, Lectures and Remains (1897); D. G. Ritchie, Philosophical Studies (1905).
(B) Works on particular branches of philosophy: (a) Logic F. H. Bradley, Principles of Logic (1883); B. Bosanquet, Logic (1888) and Essentials of Logic (1895). (b) Psychology - J. Dewey, Psychology (1886); G. F. Stout, Analytic Psychology (1896); B. Bosanquet, Psychology of the Moral Self (1897). (c) Ethics - F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (1876); J. Dewey, Ethics (1891); W. R. Sorley, Ethics of Naturalism (2nd ed., 1904); J. S. Mackenzie, Manual of Ethics (4th ed., 1900); J. H. Muirhead, Elements of Ethics (3rd ed., 1910). (d) Politics and Economics - B. Bosanquet, Philosophical Theory of the State (1899), and Aspects of the Social Problem (1895); B. Bonar, Philosophy and Political Economy in their historical Relations (1873); D. G. Ritchie, Natural Rights (1895); J. S. Mackenzie, An Introd. to Social Phil. (1890); J. MacCunn, Six Radical Thinkers (1907). (e) Aesthetic - B. Bosanquet, History of Aesthetic (1892), and Introd. to Hegel's Phil. of the Fine Arts (1886); W. Hastie, Phil. of Art by Hegel and Michelet (1886). (f) Religion - J. Royce, Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), and The Conception of God (1897); R. B. Haldane, The Pathway to Reality (1903); E. Caird, Evolution of Religion (1893); J. Caird, Introd. to the Phil. of Religion (1880); H. Jones, Idealism as a Practical Creed (1909).
(C) Recent Criticism. Besides works mentioned in the text: W. James; Pragmatism (1907), A Pluralistic Universe (1909), The Meaning of Truth (1909); H. Sturt, Personal Idealism (1902); F. C. S. Schiller, Humanism (1903); G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica; H. Rashdall, The Theory of Good and Evil (1907).
See also ETHICS and METAPHYSICS. (J. H. Mu.)
Idealism is the philosophy that believes the ultimate nature of reality is ideal, or based upon ideas, values, or essences. The external, or real world cannot be separated from consciousness, perception, mind, intellect and reason in the sense of science.