Definition and Characteristics of Idealism


Idealism is one of the oldest schools of thought in the world of philosophy, originating inhuman nature itself, continuing from the primitive man to his present counterpart in some modified former the other.

The entire universe is an extension of them in do soul. From the epistemological stand point it is better called Ideal ism, implying there by that thought or idea has greater validity than the physical object. From then or mativest and point it is accurately represented by the term Idealism which means that the theory attaches greater importance to ideals than of acts in this world.

Obviously, the term idealism connotes different concepts when placed in various contexts. Whatever the context, the word definitely represents a particular theory in philosophy.

Characteristics of Idealism

It has always been believed that idealism is the philosophic theory which is a complete contradiction of the theory known as realism. Idealism has the following characteristics:

  1. Universe subsists within the spirit or mind. According to this philosophic theory, the entire world is fundamentally of the nature of spirit or mind which accounts for its being called idealism.
  2. Mechanistic explanation of universe is inadequate. Idealists refuse to accept that the world or universe is susceptible to a mechanical explanation, or to believe that the processes of Nature can be explained on a mechanistic principle. For this reason, the idealists are opposed to all deterministic thinking.
  3. Synthesis between Man and Nature. It becomes inevitable for the idealists to believe that there is harmony between the natural processes and human activity. Both Man and Nature are busy in working out a common destiny
  4. Man is central to the universe. Idealists are also humanists from this standpoint. They believe that man, being the ultimate in spiritual existents, is central to the universe.
  5. Teleological explanation of universe. Opposed to the mechanistic explanations on the universe the idealists turn to a teleological theory which holds thaand natural processes have a common objective which both is simultaneously trying to achieve.

Types of Idealism

Generally speaking, there are many varieties of idealism in vogue but the more prominent
ones can be conveniently listed as follows:

Subjective Idealism

This particular species of idealism is to be found in the thought of Berkeley, the British philosopher in the tradition of empiricism. It is termed subjective since it holds that all objects of knowledge are subjective in as much that they depend upon the mind. It is equivalent to a conceptual theory since it also holds that the universe is composed of either minds alone or of minds and their ideas, nothing else besides. According to Berkeley, existence lies in perception, meaning thereby that a thing exists only when it is the subject of perception. Anything which cannot be the subject of mind cannot exist. He does not imply thereby that the object must be a subject of only a mind, but of any mind that exists in the universe. It is also difficult to have an infinite number of thoughts in one mind which is finite; they can exist only in an infinite mind, and this mind is God. Subjective idealism also holds that the qualities of an object have existence as elements in perception, not otherwise. Images depend upon the human mind while objects have their existence since they are perceived by God. Objects correspond to the knowledge of them while knowledge corresponds to the objects. Knowledge is direct awareness of the object. Objects are not public.


This particular form of idealism was propounded by Kant the
German philosopher. Kant’s first discovery concerned the limits of man’s knowledge, and it led him to the conclusion that the only knowledge that is possible to man is knowledge of the phenomenon. From this hypothesis he proceeded to argue that objects are phenomenal, that their existence as well as the existence of their qualities depends upon their being known. An object is just as it appears to being its phenomenal appearance. There is direct knowledge of the phenomenal object, and this knowledge depends upon the construction of the mind. We can never know the thing-in-itself, or what is otherwise called the Noumenal reality. Therefore, this kind of reasoning leads subjective idealism to a kind of scepticism. This type of idealism finds its greatest difficulties in the duality it has posited between phenomenal and noumenal reality, object and its sensations and their classes, and between the mind
and its categories of thought. Hegel is the most important thinker of all those who indulged in the effort of trying to resolve this dualism.

Objective Idealism

The particular form of idealism is also known as objective idealism. According to Hegel the ultimate reality is the absolute eternal substance, outside which nothing can and does exist. If he believed this, then obviously his thought resembled the subjective idealism of Berkeley. But his idealism is given a different designation for he combines it with a touch of realism. He believed that although objects are not independent of the mind they are real and not dependent upon the finite mind. He accepts the independent existence of objects that is independent of the finite mind. Hence the name objective idealism. Deviating from the dualism between phenomenal and noumenal reality created by Kant, Hegel believes that objects are just what they appear to be although the perception of them changes along with the change in our knowledge of them. The existence of objects does depend upon knowledge and so does the existence of their qualities. The nature or form of objects is determined by knowledge, which is direct. This knowledge of
objects is private and personal rather than public because they are the subjects of individual and private minds, not limited by another mind. The Absolute is the ultimate subject, within which all the limited objects are mutually related. From the standpoint of the Absolute all knowledge is subjective but from man’s standpoint it is objective. Hegel, therefore, represents the line of objective idealists.


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