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. An extreme version of this idealism can exist in the philosophical notion of solipsism.

Religious and philosophical thought privileging the immaterial or supernatural over the material and natural is ubiquitous and ancient. However, 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 pantheistic 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, birthed 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.

Read more about IdealismDefinitions, Classical Idealism, Subjective Idealism, Transcendental Idealism, Objective Idealism, Idealism in The Philosophy of Science

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Famous quotes containing the word idealism:

    The President is not only the leader of a party, he is the President of the whole people. He must interpret the conscience of America. He must guide his conduct by the idealism of our people.
    Herbert Hoover (1874–1964)

    My formula for greatness in human beings is amor fati: that one wants to change nothing, neither forwards, nor backwards, nor in all eternity. Not merely to endure necessity, still less to hide it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of necessity—but rather to love it.
    Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

    Cynicism makes things worse than they are in that it makes permanent the current condition, leaving us with no hope of transcending it. Idealism refuses to confront reality as it is but overlays it with sentimentality. What cynicism and idealism share in common is an acceptance of reality as it is but with a bad conscience.
    Richard Stivers, U.S. sociologist, educator. The Culture of Cynicism: American Morality in Decline, ch. 1, Blackwell (1994)