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IDEALISM

and a perception are by various authorities contrasted in various ways. “Difference in degree of intensity,” “comparative absence of bodily movement on the part of the subject,” “comparative dependence on mental activity,” are suggested by psychologists as characteristic of an idea as compared with a perception.

It should be observed that an idea, in the narrower and generally accepted sense of a mental reproduction, is frequently composite. That is, as in the example given above of the idea of chair, a great many objects, differing materially in detail, all call a single idea. When a man, for example, has obtained an idea of chairs in general by comparison with which he can say “This is a chair, that is a stool,” he has what is known as an “abstract idea” distinct from the reproduction in his mind of any particular chair (see Abstraction). Furthermore a complex idea may not have any corresponding physical object, though its particular constituent elements may severally be the reproductions of actual perceptions. Thus the idea of a centaur is a complex mental picture composed of the ideas of man and horse, that of a mermaid of a woman and a fish.


IDEALISM (from Gr. ἰδέα, archetype or model, through Fr. idéalisme), 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 (1) 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.

1. 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 Ancient idealism: Socrates. 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. (1) 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