Idealism explained: Who were Plato and Kant? Subjective Idealism vs Objective Idealism

Updated: Feb 2

As we near the completion of the first phase of “The Lesser-Known Philosophies” Project, I would like to tell you that I cherished the journey to the core. It was fun reading about the varied philosophies; so much so that I kind of got addicted to this field of study. It was something that I never cared to take up until this project happened — presuming it to be “boring”. However, if you ask me now, I have become fond of it.

On this note, allow me to walk you through the last, but not the least article of the project.

In this article, I will be talking about the philosophy of Idealism. Do you know what Idealism as a philosophy means? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

What is Idealism?

Idealism, in colloquial terms, means ‘the unrealistic belief in or pursuit of perfection.’ In other words, utopianism or wishful thinking.

However, the concept is drastically modified in the field of philosophy. In actuality, Idealism is a part of the metaphysical study because it states that reality is dependent on what our minds can comprehend. It is correlated with our mind and majorly centres on what’s going on in one’s mind regarding the perception of reality.

Idealism, as a philosophical movement, means those systems of thoughts where the objects of knowledge are held to be in some way dependent on the activity of the mind. It is a doctrine that holds the view that ideas are the only reality. An idealist would argue that there is no such thing as materiality and there are no external realities; only that which exists in our minds. The reason they have quoted for their claims is that external facts are destructible and volatile, and the things that are destructible and volatile cannot be called real.

Plato, the Greek Idealist

The ancient Greek philosopher named Plato was most associated with this philosophy. Plato, who was born in Athens, was one of the most influential philosophers of all the ancient, medieval and modern philosophers. He argued that what we see is not real. It keeps on changing, therefore cannot be termed as real.

Immanuel Kant, the German Idealist

Immanuel Kant was another philosopher that was associated with the philosophy of Idealism. He developed a sophisticated model of idealism based on the difference between phenomena (“things-as-they-appear”) and noumena (“things-in-themselves”). For him, the mind always drew on specific hard-wired techniques for creating the noumena into phenomena — the mind, in other words, is like a set of tinted goggles that allow us to see the noumena but always with a certain amount of discolouration and distortion. We can never perceive them directly.

Subjective Idealism Vs Objective Idealism

My out-and-out research led me to understand that there are majorly two types of Idealism - Subjective Idealism, and Objective Idealism. Let me guide you through the difference between both:

Subjective Idealism - takes as its starting point that objects only exist to the extent that someone perceives them. It entails that whatever we see is not real but is the perception of our minds. It equals perception with reality. Simply put, it means immaterialism.

An Irish philosopher, George Berkeley, was a famous proponent of Subjective Idealism. There’s a quote from Principles of Human Knowledge that demonstrates his ideas-

…For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that is to me perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percipi; nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds of thinking things which perceive them… all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind ; that their being is to be perceived or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit: it being perfectly unintelligible and involving all the absurdity of abstraction to attribute to any single part of them an existence independent of a spirit. To be convinced of which, the reader need only reflect and try to separate in his own thoughts the being of a sensible thing from its being perceived. From what has been said, it follows, there is not any other substance than spirit, or that which perceives.”

Objective Idealism - posits the existence of an objective consciousness which exists before and, in some sense, independently of human consciousness, thereby bringing about the presence of objects independently of human minds.

The idea of Objective Idealism was developed by Hegel in the 19th century. Hegel objectified thought and mind into a fundamental independent entity devoid of all subjective properties. This is the Absolute Mind which becomes the real universe and which manifests itself as world history and is organised as a rational dialectical process of self-realisation.

This was all that I could fit into my unique, passion-filled project. Hope you enjoyed reading! :)


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