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{{main|Platonic idealism}}
{{main|Platonic idealism}}
[[Plato]] proposed an idealist theory as a solution to the [[problem of universals]]. A universal is that which all things share in virtue of having some particular property. So for example the wall, the moon and a blank sheet of paper are all white; ''white'' is the universal that all white things share. Plato argued that it is universals, [[The Forms]], or [[Platonic Ideals]] that are real, not specific individual things. Confusingly, because this idea asserts that these mental entities are ''real'', it is also called ''[[Platonic realism]]''; in this sense ''realism'' contrasts with ''[[nominalism]]'', the notion that mental abstractions are merely names without an independent existence. Nevertheless, it is a form of idealism because it asserts the primacy of the idea of universals over material things. <!-- More on maths here ? -->
[[Plato]] proposed an idealist theory as a solution to the [[problem of universals]]. A universal is that which all things share in virtue of having some particular property. So for example the wall, the moon and a blank sheet of paper are all white; ''white'' is the universal that all white things share. Plato argued that it is universals, [[The Forms]], or [[Platonic Ideals]] that are real, not specific individual things. Confusingly, because this idea asserts that these mental entities are ''real'', it is also called ''[[Platonic realism]]''; in this sense ''realism'' contrasts with ''[[nominalism]]'', the notion that mental abstractions are merely names without an independent existence. Nevertheless, it is a form of idealism because it asserts the primacy of the idea of universals over material things. <!-- More on maths here ?||| -->
Plato's [[Allegory of the Cave]] relates to epistemological idealism. The mental images, or ideas, that are immediately and directly known are not the same as the exterior objects in the real world.
Plato's [[Allegory of the Cave]] relates to epistemological idealism. The mental images, or ideas, that are immediately and directly known are not the same as the exterior objects in the real world.

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As an epistemological position, Idealism asserts that everything we experience is of a mental nature, or that we can only have direct, immediate knowledge of the contents of our mind, and can never directly know or experience an external object itself. Therefore, Idealism asserts that only minds and the objects of mind exist, and everything is composed of mental realities (e.g., thoughts, feelings, perceptions, ideas, or will). It is often contrasted with materialism, both belonging to the class of monist as opposed to dualist or pluralist ontologies. (Note that this contrast between idealism and materialism is the question of whether the substance of the world is mental or physical — it has nothing to do with thinking that things should be idealized, or with coveting goods.) Subjective Idealists and Phenomenalists (such as George Berkeley) hold that minds and their experiences constitute existence. Objective Idealists hold either that all of reality is included in a Universal Thought or Experience (Absolute Idealism), or hold that the world is composed of mental realities. Panpsychists (such as Leibniz) hold that all objects of experience are also subjects. That is, plants and minerals have subjective experiences--though very different from the consciousness of animals. Most Idealists tend to reject representationalist views of experience and instead hold that the world of experience is the same as the world of reality.

The approach to idealism by Western philosophers has been different from that of Eastern thinkers. In much of Western thought (though not in such major Western thinkers as Plato and Hegel) the ideal relates to direct knowledge of subjective mental ideas, or images. It is then usually juxtaposed with realism in which the real is said to have absolute existence prior to and independent of our knowledge. Epistemological idealists (such as Kant) might insist that the only things which can be directly known for certain are ideas. In Eastern thought, as reflected in Hindu idealism, the concept of idealism takes on the meaning of consciousness, essentially the living consciousness of an all-pervading God, as the basis of all phenomena. A type of Asian idealism is Buddhist idealism.


Idealism names a number of philosophical positions with quite different tendencies and implications.

Idealism in the East

Several Hindu traditions and schools of Buddhism can be accurately characterized as idealist. Some of the Buddhist schools are called "Consciousness-only" schools as they focus on consciousness without any deity.

Idealism in the West


In his chief work Truth, Antiphon wrote: "Time is a thought or a measure, not a substance". This presents time as an ideational, internal, mental operation, rather than a real, external object.


Main article: Platonic idealism

Plato proposed an idealist theory as a solution to the problem of universals. A universal is that which all things share in virtue of having some particular property. So for example the wall, the moon and a blank sheet of paper are all white; white is the universal that all white things share. Plato argued that it is universals, The Forms, or Platonic Ideals that are real, not specific individual things. Confusingly, because this idea asserts that these mental entities are real, it is also called Platonic realism; in this sense realism contrasts with nominalism, the notion that mental abstractions are merely names without an independent existence. Nevertheless, it is a form of idealism because it asserts the primacy of the idea of universals over material things.

Plato's Allegory of the Cave relates to epistemological idealism. The mental images, or ideas, that are immediately and directly known are not the same as the exterior objects in the real world.

This world that appears to the senses has no true being, but only a ceaseless becoming; it is, and it also is not; and its comprehension is not so much a knowledge as an illusion. This is what he expresses in a myth at the beginning of the seventh book of the Republic, the most important passage in all his works … . He says that men, firmly chained in a dark cave, see neither the genuine original light nor actual things, but only the inadequate light of the fire in the cave, and the shadows of actual things passing by the fire behind their backs. Yet they imagine that the shadows are the reality, and that determining the succession of these shadows is true wisdom.

Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, Appendix


Schopenhauer 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." [1]


Writing about Descartes, Schopenhauer claimed, "… he was the first to bring to our consciousness the problem whereon all philosophy has since mainly turned, namely that of the ideal and the real. This is the question concerning what in our knowledge is objective and what subjective, and hence what eventually is to be ascribed by us to things different from us and what is to be attributed to ourselves." (Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and the Real") According to Descartes, we really know only what is in our own consciousnesses. We are immediately and directly aware of only our own states of mind. The whole external world is merely an idea or picture in our minds. Therefore, it is possible to doubt the reality of the external world as consisting of real objects. “I think, therefore I am” is the only assertion that can’t be doubted. This is because self-consciousness and thinking are the only things that are unconditionally experienced for certain as being real. In this way, Descartes clearly presented the main problem of philosophical idealism, which is awareness of the difference between the world as an ideational mental picture and the world as a system of external objects.


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 sensation. 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.

George Berkeley

Bishop Berkeley, in seeking to find out what we could know with certainty, decided that our knowledge must be based on our perceptions. This led him to conclude that there was indeed no "real" knowable object behind one's perception, that what was "real" was the perception itself. This is characterised by Berkeley's slogan: "Thier esse est aut percipi aut percipere" or "To be is to be perceived or to perceive", meaning that something only exists, in the particular way that it is seen to exist, when it is being perceived (seen, felt etc.) by an observing subject.

This subjective idealism or dogmatic idealism led to his placing the full weight of justification on our perceptions. This left Berkeley with the problem, common to other forms of idealism, of explaining how it is that each of us apparently has much the same sort of perceptions of an object. He solved this problem by having God intercede, as the immediate cause of all of our perceptions.

Schopenhauer wrote: "Berkeley was, therefore, the first to treat the subjective starting-point really seriously and to demonstrate irrefutably its absolute necessity. He is the father of idealism...." (Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Fragments for the History of Philosophy," § 12)

Arthur Collier

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.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, an American theologian, went to Yale University in 1716 at the age of thirteen. After reading Locke's doctrine of ideas, he kept a notebook entitled "Mind." In it, he wrote, at the age of fourteen, that the only things that are real are minds. He contended that matter exists only as an idea in a mind. Due to his theological manner of thinking, he asserted that space is God, due to its infinity. After adolescence, he never elaborated on these early idealistic notes.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant held that the mind shapes the world as we perceive it to take the form of space-and-time. 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 emphasized the difference 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 … ."[2]

… 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 (contra John Locke), but rather comes equipped with categories for organising our sense impressions. 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 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 goes by the counterintuitive name of transcendental idealism.)

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 made the claim that consciousness made its own foundation, that the mental ego of the self relied on no external, and that an external of any kind would be the same as admitting a real material. He was the first to make the attempt at a presuppositionless theory of knowledge, wherein nothing outside of thinking would be assumed to exist outside the initial analysis of concept. So that conception could be solely grounded in itself, and assume nothing without deduction from there first, what he called a Wissenschaftslehre. (This stand is very similar to Giovanni Gentile's Actual Idealism, except that Gentile's theory goes further by denying a ground for even an ego or self made from thinking.)


Hegel, another philosopher whose system has been called idealism, argued in his Science of Logic (1812-1814) 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, which were not based (like Hegel's idealism) on a critique of the finite. The "idealists" listed above whose philosophy Hegel's philosophy most closely resembles are Plato and Plotinus. None of these three thinkers associates their idealism with the epistemological thesis that what we know are "ideas" in our minds.


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 there 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

British idealism

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. Bradley was the apparent target of G. E. Moore's radical rejection of idealism.

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.

American philosopher Josiah Royce described himself as an objective idealist.

Karl Pearson

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 " 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."

Criticism of Idealism

Immanuel Kant

In the 1st edition (1781) of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant described Idealism as such.

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. In his Notes and Fragments ( 6315,1790-91; 18:618) Kant defines 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 "

Søren Kierkegaard

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."

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was the first to mount a logically serious criticism of Idealism that has been popularised by David Stove (see below). He pre-empts Stove's GEM by arguing that Kant's argument for his transcendental idealism rests on a confusion between a tautology and begging the question, and therefore is an invalid, improper 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."

Quoting Nietzsche's prose:

"But let us reflect; it is high time to do so. 'How are synthetic judgements a priori possible?' Kant asked himself-and what really is his answer? 'By virtue of a faculty' - but unfortunately not in five words,...The honeymoon of German philosophy arrived. All the young theologians of the Tübingen seminary went into the bushes all looking for 'faculties.'...'By virtue of a faculty' - he had said, or at least meant. But is that an answer? An explanation? Or is it not rather merely a repetition of the question? How does opium induce sleep? 'By virtue of a faculty,' namely the virtus dormitiva, replies the doctor in Moliére."

In addition to the Idealism of Kant, Nietzsche in the same book attacks the idealism of Schopenhauer and Descartes via a similar argument to Kant's original critique of Descartes. Quoting Nietzsche:

There are still harmless self-observers who believe that there are "immediate certainties"; for example, "I think," or as the superstition of Schopenhauer put it, "I will"; as though knowledge here got hold of its objects purely and nakedly as "the thing in itself," without any falsification on the part of either the subject or the object. But that "immediate certainty," as well as "absolute knowledge" and the "thing in itself," involved a contradictio in adjecto, (contradiction between the noun and the adjective) I shall repeat a hundred times; we really ought to free ourselves from the seduction of words!

G. E. Moore

The first criticism of Idealism that falls within the analytic philosophical framework is by one of its co-founders 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 this refutation of idealism was the first strong statement by analytic philosophy against its idealist predecessors 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 idealism.

Bertrand Russell

Despite his 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 Russell's 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) highlights Berkeley's tautological premise for advancing idealism.

Quoting Russell's prose (1912:42-43):

"If we say that the things known must be in the mind, we are either un-duly limiting the mind's power of knowing, or we are uttering a mere tautology. We are uttering a mere tautology if we mean by 'in the mind' the same as by 'before the mind', i.e. if we mean merely being apprehended by the mind. But if we mean this, we shall have to admit that what, in this sense, is in the mind, may nevertheless be not mental. Thus when we realize the nature of knowledge, Berkeley's argument is seen to be wrong in substance as well as in form, and his grounds for supposing that 'idea'-i.e. the objects apprehended-must be mental, are found to have no validity whatever. Hence his grounds in favour of the idealism may be dismissed."

A.C. Ewing

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.

David Stove

The Australian philosopher David Stove argued in typical acerbic style that idealism rested on what he called "the worst argument in the world". His critique of Idealism is perhaps the most devastating critique of subjective idealism in philosophy. 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 idealist proponents. 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.

The following is Stove's version of Berkeley's GEM (1991:139):

1) You cannot have trees-without-the-mind in mind, without having them in mind.

2) Therefore, you cannot have trees-without-the-mind in mind.

1) Is a tautology (self-referential statement); therefore the premise of this argument is trivially true.

2) Is not a trivially true conclusion. The logic flowing from 1) to 2) is valid (as this premise cannot lead to a false conclusion), but unsound because tautological premises can bring only tautological conclusions.

Refer to Stove's 1991 book The Plato Cult & Other Philosophical Follies chapter 6 Idealism: A Victorian Horror Story for numerous elucidations and numerous GEM's quoted from the history of philosophy and GEM's reconstructed in syllogistic form.

John Searle

In The Construction of Social Reality John Searle offers an attack on some versions of idealism. Searle conveniently summarises two important arguments for idealism. The first is based on our perception of reality:

1. All we have access to in perception are the contents of our own experiences
2. The only epistemic basis we can have for claims about the external world are our perceptual experiences


3. the only reality we can meaningfully speak of is the reality of perceptual experiences (The Construction of Social Reality p. 172)

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 idealism runs as follows:

Premise: Any cognitive state occurs as part of a set of cognitive states and within a cognitive system
Conclusion 1: It is impossible to get outside of all cognitive states and systems to survey the relationships between them and the reality they are used to cognize
Conclusion 2: No cognition is ever of a reality that exists independently of cognition (The Construction of Social Reality p. 174)

Searle goes on to point out that conclusion 2 simply does not follow from its precedents.

Alan Musgrave

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:

Santa Claus (the person) does not exist.
'Santa Claus' (the name/concept/fairy tale) does exist; because adults tell children this every Christmas season.

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:

things-in-itself (Immanuel Kant)
things-as-interacted-by-us (Arthur Fine)
Table-of-commonsense (Sir Arthur Eddington)
Table-of-physics (sir Arthur Eddington)

Hyphenated entities are "warning signs" for conceptual idealism according to Musgrave is because they over emphasis the epistemic (ways on how 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.

Philip J. Neujahr

"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)

Idealism in religious thought

A broad enough definition of idealism could include most religious viewpoints. The belief that personal beings (e.g., God and the angels) 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. Mahayana Buddhist denominations have usually embraced some form of idealism, while 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.

Several modern religious movements, for example the organizations within the New Thought Movement and the Unity Church, may be said to have a particularly idealist orientation.

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.

The West is inundated with physicalistic monism. There is widespread belief that everything will be explained in terms of matter/energy by science. Since we are constantly taught this it may make the idea of mentalistic monism hard to grasp. One way to begin to grasp the idea is through analogy. One analogy is the movie screen. If we next consider "Star Trek's holodeck" it takes us a step further as what appear to be physical objects are not. Next consider the movie "The Matrix". In "The Matrix" even people's bodies and identities are projected. Then replace the machine with a vast and powerful mind. A last analogy is our dreams at night. We seem to be in a world filled with other objects and other people and yet nothing of it is real. Although this is not a strict philosophical argument it does allow us to begin to think along these lines.

Idealism is based on the root word "Ideal," meaning a perfect form of, and is also described as a belief in perfect forms of virtue, truth, and the absolute. (i.e., Webster's Dictionary says "conforming exactly to an ideal, law, or standard: perfect."). idealism in comparison to pragmatism

Other uses

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.

See also


  1. Ludwig Noiré, Historical Introduction to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
  2. Critique of Pure Reason, A 140


  • Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason with an historical introduction by Ludwig Noiré, available at [1]
  • Neujahr, Philip J., Kant's Idealism, Mercer University Press, 1995 ISBN 0-86554-476-X

External links

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