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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N027-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Idealism is now usually understood in philosophy as the view that mind is the most basic reality and that the physical world exists only as an appearance to or expression of mind, or as somehow mental in its inner essence. However, a philosophy which makes the physical world dependent upon mind is usually also called idealist even if it postulates some further hidden, more basic reality behind the mental and physical scenes (for example, Kant’s things-in-themselves). There is also a certain tendency to restrict the term ‘idealism’ to systems for which what is basic is mind of a somewhat lofty nature, so that ‘spiritual values’ are the ultimate shapers of reality. (An older and broader use counts as idealist any view for which the physical world is somehow unreal compared with some more ultimate, not necessarily mental, reality conceived as the source of value, for example Platonic forms.)

The founding fathers of idealism in Western thought are Berkeley (theistic idealism), Kant (transcendental idealism) and Hegel (absolute idealism). Although the precise sense in which Hegel was an idealist is problematic, his influence on subsequent absolute or monistic idealism was enormous. In the US and the UK idealism, especially of the absolute kind, was the dominating philosophy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, receiving its most forceful expression with F.H. Bradley. It declined, without dying, under the influence of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, and later of the logical positivists. Not a few philosophers believe, however, that it has a future.

Citing this article:
Sprigge, T.L.S.. Idealism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N027-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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