Idealism

Idealism

In philosophy, idealism is the group of philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society.As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit.Idealism thus rejects physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind.

The earliest extant arguments that the world of experience is grounded in the mental derive from India and Greece. The Hindu idealists in India and the Greek Neoplatonists gave panentheistic arguments for an all-pervading consciousness as the ground or true nature of reality.In contrast, the Yogācāra school, which arose within Mahayana Buddhism in India in the 4th century CE,based its “mind-only” idealism to a greater extent on phenomenological analyses of personal experience. This turn toward the subjective anticipated empiricists such as George Berkeley, who revived idealism in 18th-century Europe by employing skeptical arguments against materialism.

Beginning with Immanuel Kant, German idealists such as G. W. F. Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer dominated 19th-century philosophy. This tradition, which emphasized the mental or “ideal” character of all phenomena, gave birth to idealistic and subjectivist schools ranging from British idealism to phenomenalism to existentialism. The historical influence of this branch of idealism remains central even to the schools that rejected its metaphysical assumptions, such as Marxism, pragmatism and positivism.
Definitions

Idealism is a term with several related meanings. It comes via idea from the Greek idein (ἰδεῖν), meaning “to see”. The term entered the English language by 1743.In ordinary use, as when speaking of Woodrow Wilson’s political idealism, it generally suggests the priority of ideals, principles, values, and goals over concrete realities. Idealists are understood to represent the world as it might or should be, unlike pragmatists, who focus on the world as it presently is. In the arts, similarly, idealism affirms imagination and attempts to realize a mental conception of beauty, a standard of perfection, juxtaposed to aesthetic naturalism and realism.

Any philosophy that assigns crucial importance to the ideal or spiritual realm in its account of human existence may be termed “idealist”. Metaphysical idealism is an ontological doctrine that holds that reality itself is incorporeal or experiential at its core. Beyond this, idealists disagree on which aspects of the mental are more basic. Platonic idealism affirms that abstractions are more basic to reality than the things we perceive, while subjective idealists and phenomenalists tend to privilege sensory experience over abstract reasoning. Epistemological idealism is the view that reality can only be known through ideas, that only psychological experience can be apprehended by the mind.

Subjective idealists like George Berkeley are anti-realists in terms of a mind-independent world, whereas transcendental idealists like Immanuel Kant are strong skeptics of such a world, affirming epistemological and not metaphysical idealism. Thus Kant defines idealism as “the assertion that we can never be certain whether all of our putative outer experience is not mere imagining”.He claimed that, according to idealism, “the reality of external objects does not admit of strict proof. On the contrary, however, the reality of the object of our internal sense (of myself and state) is clear immediately through consciousness.” However, not all idealists restrict the real or the knowable to our immediate subjective experience. Objective idealists make claims about a transempirical world, but simply deny that this world is essentially divorced from or ontologically prior to the mental. Thus Plato and Gottfried Leibniz affirm an objective and knowable reality transcending our subjective awareness—a rejection of epistemological idealism—but propose that this reality is grounded in ideal entities, a form of metaphysical idealism. Nor do all metaphysical idealists agree on the nature of the ideal; for Plato, the fundamental entities were non-mental abstract forms, while for Leibniz they were proto-mental and concrete monads.

As a rule, transcendental idealists like Kant affirm idealism’s epistemic side without committing themselves to whether reality is ultimately mental; objective idealists like Plato affirm reality’s metaphysical basis in the mental or abstract without restricting their epistemology to ordinary experience; and subjective idealists like Berkeley affirm both metaphysical and epistemological idealism.

 

Classical idealism

Monistic idealism holds that consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all being. It is monist because it holds that there is only one type of thing in the universe and idealist because it holds that one thing to be consciousness.

Anaxagoras (480 BC) was known as “Nous” (“Mind”) because he taught that “all things” were created by Mind, that Mind held the cosmos together and gave human beings a connection to the cosmos or a pathway to the divine.

Many religious philosophies are specifically idealist. The belief that beings with knowledge (God/s, angels & spirits) preceded insentient matter seems to suggest that an experiencing subject is a necessary reality. Hindu idealism is central to Vedanta philosophy and to such schools as Kashmir Shaivism.Proponents include P.R. Sarkar and his disciple Sohail Inayatullah.

Christian theologians have held idealist views, often based on Neoplatonism, despite the influence of Aristotelian scholasticism from the 12th century onward. Later western theistic idealism such as that of Hermann Lotze offers a theory of the “world ground” in which all things find their unity: it has been widely accepted by Protestant theologians.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 idealism: it teaches that all that truly 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 (both conceptually and in terms of human experience) through a reorientation (spiritualization) of thought.

Wang Yangming, a Ming Chinese neo-Confucian philosopher, official, educationist, calligraphist and general, held that objects do not exist entirely apart from the mind because the mind shapes them. It is not the world that shapes the mind but the mind that gives reason to the world, so the mind alone is the source of all reason, having an inner light, an innate moral goodness and understanding of what is good.

The consciousness-only approach of the Yogācāra school of Mahayana Buddhism is not true metaphysical idealism as Yogācāra thinkers did not focus on consciousness to assert it as ultimately real, it is only conventionally real since it arises from moment to moment due to fluctuating causes and conditions and is significant because it is the cause of karma and hence suffering.

 

 

 
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