Rough Notes on Idealism

– Idealism is broadly the thesis that reality is mental – more specifically, reality is constituted by perception (Berkely), and the only things known are what is given in conscious experience.

– An argument for this view could be sketched out as follows: everything we know about reality is based on our own experience, all our experience is mental in nature (given in consciousness and mediated by the mind) therefore, reality is ultimately mental. All we experience or perceive are ideas (or sense-data, to use a more modern term) and bundles of ideas.

– As is commonly noted, this is an extreme form of empiricism.

– A simple objection: from the fact that all we perceive is X (in this case, ideas) it does not follow that all is X (granting for the sake of argument the Way of Ideas). That leap is quite unjustified in this case.

– John Haldane notes another objection:

‘Berkeley maintained that the realist assumption that some things are mind-independent is self-contradictory, since just as an object cannot be both seen and unseen, so nothing can be both conceived and unconceived. There is a difference, however, between the fact of conceiving of something and the content of what is conceived; and it is not contradictory to conceive of something as existing unconceived. Although I may be conceiving it, it is not thereby part of an object’s nature, let along of its being, to be conceived of by me or by anyone else.’

– Issue could also be taken with the empiricist epistemology that undergirds Berkeley’s project, and, for that matter, the Way of Ideas as a whole (the latter could be criticized just by pointing out how many skeptical problems arise when such an idea is entertained).

7 thoughts on “Rough Notes on Idealism

  1. deathtoallpoets November 23, 2014 / 9:44 pm

    I’ve been flirting with some form of idealism for a little while now. Not sure where you stand on the issue of the realism/idealism debate, but quantum theory has me fascinated with some form of idealism.


    • whitefrozen November 23, 2014 / 10:12 pm

      I’m definitely a realist – as far as QM and idealism goes, that’s a whole host of philosophical problems in itself. I’ve never really been convinced by the Copenhagen interpretation, though. I recommend Stanley Jaki on this issue.


      • deathtoallpoets November 23, 2014 / 10:14 pm

        I’ll check him out. Thanks for the recommendation. I have always been a realist, just been thinking about idealism, in some soft form.


        • whitefrozen November 23, 2014 / 10:20 pm

          His Gifford lecture is available online if you google it – ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, and the relevant chapter is ‘The Horns of Complementarity’.

          The issue will depend on just what one means by idealism, though. I actually just posted on idealism if scroll the main blog page or click the idealism tag to the right.

          Liked by 1 person

          • deathtoallpoets November 23, 2014 / 10:22 pm

            Can’t wait to read it. I’m probably going to pick up his book “The Savior of Science”. It sounds like an incredible read. I’m still trying to sift my way through the different kinds of idealism. Extreme idealism is untenable.

            Liked by 1 person

          • deathtoallpoets November 23, 2014 / 10:39 pm

            Do you have a pdf link to the lecture? I can’t seem to find it anywhere.


            • whitefrozen November 26, 2014 / 3:44 pm

              Weird. The day before I posted this, the whole book was availible online at the gifford website. no more.


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