Idealism: Examples of the Popular Philosophy

Idealism is based on the notion that reality is grounded in human consciousness. The primary idea behind idealism as a philosophy is that what a person perceives to be reality is based on the workings of the individual's mind. Learn more about what idealism means and review some examples of this interesting perspective.

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What Is Idealism?

Idealism is is a metaphysical philosophical system that suggests objects do not have any standing that exists beyond the extent to which they are perceived by the conscious mind. In other words, what a person understands to be reality reflects the workings of their mind. In idealism, reality doesn't exist independent of the mind, but rather is dependent on the mind.

Since the mind is an aspect of reality that cannot be directly observed, that means that idealism is metaphysical in nature. The word metaphysical can be used to refer to abstract reasoning. Idealism is considered to be a metaphysical system because it seeks to explain reality in the context of abstract reasoning that takes place inside a person's mind.

Practical Examples of Idealism in Everyday Life

While you may not have really considered what idealism means from a philosophical perspective before, chances are that you have said or been told things that reflect this perspective.

  • You've probably heard someone say that a person who is inherently honest tends to assume others are telling the truth, while someone who is inherently dishonest tends to assume that others are lying. This illustrates the idea that a person's perception of reality is based on how their own mind works.
  • The phrase "perception is reality" is one that you've probably heard or said many times. Someone in a high-level job might think that they have outstanding leadership skills. However, in fact, that's really up to the employees' perceptions. If employees don't see their manager as a good leader, then that's their reality.
  • If you've ever watched the early episodes of a televised singing competition, you've probably witnessed some really poor singers on the show. Why did they try out if their singing is so bad? Chances are that in their own minds, they have fabulous voices and are surprised to find themselves on the blooper reel.
  • The saying "mind over matter" is another one that provides an example of idealism in everyday life. The idea behind that saying is that if you believe something to be true and focus on that, then ultimately it will come to reflect your reality.
  • When a person engages in negative self-talk, they can perceive themselves as failures, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, they can choose to focus on an ideal to which they aspire such that it comes to represent reality to them, whether or not it matches how others perceive them.

The idealistic view suggests that people view the world through the lens of their own mind, ultimately creating the perceived reality in which they exist.

Philosophical Idealism Examples to Consider

The idealism philosophy approach can take many forms, as evidenced by the following examples. What they all have in common is the core notion that reality is a product of the mind.

  • absolute idealism - The philosophy of absolute idealism began with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. It suggests that thought and being must have their own sense of identity for the mind to interact with the world. People relate to the world not because it is different from the mind, but because it is of the same substance.
  • actual idealism - The actual idealism philosophy posits the idea that actually perceiving the world around you is what truly defines reality. It is perception, rather than other acts of the mind, such as creativity and imagination, that determine what is real.
  • biological idealism - Arthur Schopenhauer is behind the philosophy of biological idealism. It suggests that what is useful for an organism to believe might differ greatly from the way things actually are. In other words, the way organisms understand their environment is what is most important to living things.
  • monistic idealism - The approach of monistic idealism asserts that matter is not the makeup of everything that exists, but rather everything that exists does so solely within and because of consciousness. In other words, this approach to idealism posits that the only objective thing in the universe is consciousness.
  • objective idealism - In objective idealism, there is only one perceiver. That individual is the one who is perceiving things. This form of idealism accepts that actual things exist, which is a concept in Realism, which is the opposite of idealism. However, it rejects that the mind is a result of material objects or the physical world.
  • Platonic idealism - Otherwise known as Platonism, Platonic idealism is the form of idealism that posits that certain ideal forms, such as the absolutes of morality and justice, are not dependent on the world or consciousness in order to exist. Instead, they function as overarching ideals independent of all other existence.
  • subjective idealism - The philosophical concept of subjective idealism is also known as immaterialism or empirical idealism. This philosophy suggests that only minds truly exist. It is the opposite of materialism, which is a philosophical approach that posits that the only thing that truly exists is material.
  • transcendental idealism - Transcendental idealism suggests that the mind shapes the world around it, rather than the opposite. It posits that human experience is similar to the appearance of things, as opposed to the notion that observation is a way of seeing things simply as they are.
  • Christian Science idealism - In Christian Science, idealism refers to the belief that the only thing that God is "the divine mind," which creates the reality through which the ideals of followers are created. It is the belief that everything known to man is simply a result of the ideas that spring forth from the mind of God.
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Idealism and Human Existence

While the practical idealism examples listed may seem more relevant to you than the philosophical examples, they are all related. There are many different approaches to the overall philosophical system of idealism. In all of these examples, it's clear that idealism emphasizes the role of the mind on the reality of the human experience.

Now that you're familiar with idealism, learn more about philosophy as a body of knowledge. Start by exploring examples of logical reasoning. Next, explore examples of fallacies in everyday life. Armed with the knowledge of logic and fallacies, you'll be ready to take an even deeper dive into the world of philosophy.