1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Idealism

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IDEALISM (from Gr. ἰδέα, archetype or model, through Fr. idéalisme), a term generally used for the attitude of mind which is prone to represent things in an imaginative light and to lay emphasis exclusively or primarily on abstract perfection (i.e. in “ideals”). With this meaning the philosophical use of the term has little in common.

To understand the philosophical theory that has come to be known under this title, we may ask (1) what in general it is and how it is differentiated from other theories of knowledge and reality, (2) how it has risen in the history of philosophy, (3) what position it occupies at present in the world of speculation.

1. General Definition of Idealism.—Idealism as a philosophical doctrine conceives of knowledge or experience as a process in which the two factors of subject and object stand in a relation of entire interdependence on each other as warp and woof. Apart from the activity of the self or subject in sensory reaction, memory and association, imagination, judgment and inference, there can be no world of objects. A thing-in-itself which is not a thing to some consciousness is an entirely unrealizable, because self-contradictory, conception. But this is only one side of the truth. It is equally true that a subject apart from an object is unintelligible. As the object exists through the constructive activity of the subject, so the subject lives in the construction of the object. To seek for the true self in any region into which its opposite in the form of a not-self does not enter is to grasp a shadow. It is in seeking to realize its own ideas in the world of knowledge, feeling and action that the mind comes into possession of itself; it is in becoming permeated and transformed by the mind’s ideas that the world develops the fullness of its reality as object.

Thus defined, idealism is opposed to ordinary common-sense dualism, which regards knowledge or experience as the result of the more or less accidental relation between two separate and independent entities—the mind and its ideas on one side, the thing with its attributes on the other—that serve to limit and condition each other from without. It is equally opposed to the doctrine which represents the subject itself and its state and judgments as the single immediate datum of consciousness, and all else, whether the objects of an external world or person other than the individual subject whose states are known to itself, as having a merely problematic existence resting upon analogy or other process of indirect inference. This theory is sometimes known as idealism. But it falls short of idealism as above defined in that it recognizes only one side of the antithesis of subject and object, and so falls short of the doctrine which takes its stand on the complete correlativity of the two factors in experience. It is for this reason that it is sometimes known as subjective or incomplete idealism. Finally the theory defined is opposed to all forms of realism, whether in the older form which sought to reduce mind to a function of matter, or in any of the newer forms which seek for the ultimate essence of both mind and matter in some unknown force or energy which, while in itself it is neither, yet contains the potentiality of both. It is true that in some modern developments of idealism the ultimate reality is conceived of in an impersonal way, but it is usually added that this ultimate or absolute being is not something lower but higher than self-conscious personality, including it as a more fully developed form may be said to include a more elementary.

2. Origin and Development of Idealism.—In its self-conscious form idealism is a modern doctrine. In it the self or subject may be said to have come to its rights. This was possible in any complete sense only after the introspective movement represented by the middle ages had done its work, and the thought of the individual mind and will as possessed of relative independence had worked itself out into some degree of clearness. In this respect Descartes’ dictum—cogito ergo sum—may be said to have struck the keynote of modern philosophy, and all subsequent speculation to have been merely a prolonged commentary upon it. While in its completer form it is thus a doctrine distinctive of modern times, idealism has its roots far back in the history of thought. One of the chief proofs that has been urged of the truth of its point of view is the persistency with which it has always asserted itself at a certain stage in philosophical reflection and as the solution of certain recurrent speculative difficulties. All thought starts from the ordinary dualism or pluralism which conceives of the world as consisting of the juxtaposition of mutually independent things and persons. The first movement is in the direction of dispelling this appearance of independence. They are seen to be united under the relation of cause and effect, determining and determined, which turns out to mean that they are merely passing manifestations of some single entity or energy which constitutes the real unknown essence of the things that come before our knowledge. In the pantheism that thus takes the place of the old dualism there seems no place left for the individual. Mind and will in their individual manifestations fade into the general background of appearance without significance except as a link in a fated chain. Deliverance from the pantheistic conception of the universe comes through the recognition of the central place occupied by thought and purpose in the actual world, and, as a consequence of this, of the illegitimacy of the abstraction whereby material energy is taken for the ultimate reality.

The first illustration of this movement on a large scale was given in the Socratic reaction against the pantheistic conclusions of early Greek philosophy (see Ionian School). The whole movement of which Socrates was a part may be Ancient idealism: Socrates. said to have been in the direction of the assertion of the rights of the subject. Its keynote is to be found in the Protagorean “man is the measure.” This seems to have been interpreted by its author and by the Sophists in general in a subjective sense, with the result that it became the motto of a sceptical and individualistic movement in contemporary philosophy and ethics. It was not less against this form of idealism than against the determinism of the early physicists that Socrates protested. Along two lines the thought of Socrates led to idealistic conclusions which may be said to have formed the basis of all subsequent advance. (1) He perceived the importance of the universal or conceptual element in knowledge, and thus at a single stroke broke through the hard realism of ordinary common sense, disproved all forms of naturalism that were founded on the denial of the reality of thought, and cut away the ground from a merely sensational and subjective idealism. This is what Aristotle means by claiming for Socrates that he was the founder of definition. (2) He taught that life was explicable only as a system of ends. Goodness consists in the knowledge of what these are. It is by his hold upon them that the individual is able to give unity and reality to his will. In expounding these ideas Socrates limited himself to the sphere of practice. Moreover, the end or ideal of the practical life was conceived of in too vague a way to be of much practical use. His principle, however, was essentially sound, and led directly to the Platonic Idealism. Plato extended the Socratic discovery to the whole of reality and while seeking to see the pre-Socratics with the eyes of Socrates sought “to see Socrates with the Plato eyes of the pre-Socratics.” Not only were the virtues to be explained by their relation to a common or universal good which only intelligence could apprehend, but there was nothing in all the furniture of heaven or earth which in like manner did not receive reality from the share it had in such an intelligible idea or essence. But these ideas are themselves intelligible only in relation to one another and to the whole. Accordingly Plato conceived of them as forming a system and finding their reality in the degree in which they embody the one all-embracing idea and conceived of not under the form of an efficient but of a final cause, an inner principle of action or tendency in things to realize the fullness of their own nature which in the last resort was identical with the nature of the whole. This Plato expressed in the myth of the Sun, but the garment of mythology in which Plato clothed his idealism, beautiful as it is in itself and full of suggestion, covered an essential weakness. The more Plato dwelt upon his world of ideas, the more they seemed to recede from the world of reality, standing over against it as principles of condemnation instead of revealing themselves in it. In this way the Good was made to appear as an end imposed upon things from without by a creative intelligence instead of as an inner principle of adaptation.

On one side of his thought Aristotle represents a reaction against idealism and a return to the position of common-sense dualism, but on another, and this the deeper side, he represents the attempt to restore the theory in a more satisfactory form. His account of the process of knowledge Aristotle. in his logical treatises exhibits the idealistic bent in its clearest form. This is as far removed as possible either from dualism or from empiricism. The universal is the real; it is that which gives coherence and individuality to the particulars of sense which apart from it are like the routed or disbanded units of an army. Still more manifestly in his Ethics and Politics Aristotle makes it clear that it is the common or universal will that gives substance and reality to the individual. In spite of these and other anticipations of a fuller idealism, the idea remains as a form imposed from without on a reality otherwise conceived of as independent of it. As we advance from the logic to the metaphysics and from that to his ontology, it becomes clear that the concepts are only “categories” or predicates of a reality lying outside of them, and there is an ultimate division between the world as the object or matter of thought and the thinking or moving principle which gives its life. It is this that gives the Aristotelian doctrine in its more abstract statements an air of uncertainty. Yet besides the particular contribution that Aristotle made to idealistic philosophy in his logical and ethical interpretations, he advanced the case in two directions, (a) He made it clear that no explanation of the world could be satisfactory that was not based on the notion of continuity in the sense of an order of existence in which the reality of the lower was to be sought for in the extent to which it gave expression to the potentialities of its own nature—which were also the potentialities of the whole of which it was a part. (b) From this it followed that difficult as we might find it to explain the relation of terms so remote from each other as sense and thought, the particular and the universal, matter and mind, these oppositions cannot in their nature be absolute. These truths, however, were hidden from Aristotle’s successors, who for the most part lost the thread which Socrates had put into their hand. When the authority of Aristotle was again invoked, it was its dualistic and formal, not its idealistic and metaphysical, side that was in harmony with the spirit of the age. Apart from one or two of the greatest minds, notably Dante, what appealed to the thinkers of the middle ages was not the idea of reality as a progressive self-revelation of an inner principle working through nature and human life, but the formal principles of classification which it seemed to offer for a material of thought and action given from another source.

Modern like ancient idealism came into being as a correction of the view that threatened to resolve the world of matter and mind alike into the changing manifestations of some single non-spiritual force or substance. While, however, ancient philosophy may be said to have Modern Idealism. been unilinear, modern philosophy had a twofold origin, and till the time of Kant may be said to have pursued two independent courses.

All philosophy is the search for reality and rational certainty as opposed to mere formalism on the one hand, to authority and dogmatism on the other. In this sense modern philosophy had a common root in revolt against medievalism. In England this revolt sought for the certainty and clearness that reason requires In the assurance of an outer world given to immediate sense experience; on the continent of Europe, in the assurance of an inner world given immediately in thought. Though starting from apparently opposite poles and following widely different courses the two movements led more or less directly to the same results. It is easy to understand how English empiricism issued at once in the trenchant naturalism of Hobbes. It is less comprehensible how the Cartesian philosophy from the starting-point of thought allied itself with a similar point of view. This can be understood only by a study of the details of Descartes’ philosophy (see Cartesianism). Suffice it to say that in spite of its spiritualistic starting-point its general result was to give a stimulus to the prevailing scientific tendency as represented by Galileo, Kepler and Harvey to the principle of mechanical explanations of the phenomena of the universe. True it was precisely against this that Descartes’ immediate successors struggled. But the time-spirit was too strong for them. Determinism had other forms besides that of a crude materialism, and the direction that Malebranche succeeded in giving to speculation led only to the more complete denial of freedom and individuality in the all-devouring pantheism of Spinoza.

The foundations of idealism in the modern sense were laid by the thinkers who sought breathing room for mind and will in a deeper analysis of the relations of the subject to the world that it knows. From the outset English philosophy had a leaning to the psychological point of Berkeley. view, and Locke was only carrying on the tradition of his predecessors and particularly of Hobbes in definitely accepting it as the basis of his Essay. It was, however, Berkeley who first sought to utilize the conclusions that were implicit in Locke’s starting-point to disprove “the systems of impious and profane persons which exclude all freedom, intelligence, and design from the formation of things, and instead thereof make a self-existent, stupid, unthinking substance the root and origin of all beings.” Berkeley’s statement of the view that all knowledge is relative to the subject—that no object can be known except under the form which our powers of sense-perception, our memory and imagination, our notions and inference, give it—is still the most striking and convincing that we possess. To have established this position was a great step in speculation. Henceforth ordinary dogmatic dualism was excluded from philosophy; any attempt to revive it, whether with Dr Johnson by an appeal to common prejudice, or, in the more reflective Johnsonianism of the 18th-century Scottish philosophers, must be an anachronism. Equally impossible was it thenceforth to assert the mediate or immediate certainty of material substance as the cause either of events in nature or of sensations in ourselves. But with these advances came the danger of falling into error from which common-sense dualism and naturalistic monism were free. From the point of view which Berkeley had inherited from Locke it seemed to follow that not only material substance, but the whole conception of a world of objects, is at most an inference from subjective modifications which are the only immediately certain objects of knowledge. The implications of such a view were first clearly apparent when Hume showed that on the basis of it there seemed to be nothing that we could confidently affirm except the order of our own impressions and ideas. This being so, not only were physics and mathematics impossible as sciences of necessary objective truth, but our apparent consciousness of a permanent self and object alike must be delusive.

It was these paradoxes that Kant sought to rebut by a more thoroughgoing criticism of the basis of knowledge the substance of which is summed up in his celebrated Refutation of Idealism,[1] wherein he sought to undermine Hume’s scepticism by carrying it one step further and demonstrating Kant. that not only is all knowledge of self or object excluded, but the consciousness of any series of impressions and ideas is itself impossible except in relation to some external permanent and universally accepted world of objects.

But Kant’s refutation of subjective idealism and his vindication of the place of the object can be fully understood only when we take into account the other defect in the teaching of his predecessors that he sought in his Critique to correct. In continental philosophy the reaction Leibnitz. against mechanical and pantheistic explanations of the universe found even more definite utterance than in English psychological empiricism in the metaphysical system of Leibnitz, whose theory of self-determined monads can be understood only when taken in the light of the assertion of the rights of the subject against the substance of Spinoza and the atoms of the materialist. But Leibnitz also anticipated Kant in seeking to correct the empirical point of view of the English philosophers. True, sense-given material is necessary in order that we may have thought. “But by what means,” he asks, “can experience and the senses give ideas? Has the soul windows? Is it like a writing tablet? Is it like wax? It is plain that all those who think thus of the soul make it at bottom corporeal. True, nothing is in the intellect which has not been in the senses, but we must add except the intellect itself. The soul contains the notions of being, substance, unity, identity, cause, perception, reasoning and many others which the senses cannot give” (Nouveaux essais, ii. 1). But Leibnitz’s conception of the priority of spirit had too little foundation, and the different elements he sought to combine were too loosely related to one another to stand the strain of the two forces of empiricism and materialism that were opposed to his idealism. More particularly by the confusion in which he left the relation between the two logical principles of identity and of sufficient reason underlying respectively analytic and synthetic, deductive and inductive thought, he may be said to have undermined in another way the idealism he strove to establish. It was in seeking to close up the fissure in his system represented by this dualism that his successors succeeded only in adding weakness to weakness by reducing the principle of sufficient reason to that of formal identity (see Wolff) and representing all thought as in essence analytic. From this it immediately followed that, so far as the connexion of our experiences of the external world does not show itself irreducible to that of formal identity, it must remain unintelligible. As empiricism had foundered on the difficulty of showing how our thoughts could be an object of sense experience, so Leibnitzian formalism foundered on that of understanding how the material of sense could be an object of thought. On one view as on the other scientific demonstration was impossible.

The extremity to which philosophy had been brought by empiricism on the one hand and formalism on the other was Kant’s opportunity. Leibnitz’s principle of the “nisi intellectus ipse” was expanded by him into a demonstration the completest yet effected by philosophy of the part Kant. played by the subject not merely in the manipulation of the material of experience but in the actual constitution of the object that is known. On the other hand he insisted on the synthetic character of this activity without which it was impossible to get beyond the circle of our own thoughts. The parts of the Critique of Pure Reason, more particularly the “Deduction of the Categories” in which this theory is worked out, may be said to have laid the foundation of modern idealism—“articulum stantis aut cadentis doctrinae.” In spite of the defects of Kant’s statement—to which it is necessary to return—the place of the concepts and ideals of the mind and the synthetic organizing activity which these involve was established with a trenchancy which has been acknowledged by all schools alike. The “Copernican revolution” which he claimed to have effected may be said to have become the starting-point of all modern philosophy. Yet the divergent uses that have been made of it witness to the ambiguity of his statement which is traceable to the fact that Kant was himself too deeply rooted in the thought of his predecessors and carried with him too much of their spirit to be able entirely to free himself from their assumptions and abstractions. His philosophy was more like Michaelangelo’s famous sculpture of the Dawn, a spirit yet encumbered with the stubble of the material from which it was hewn, than a clear cut figure with unmistakable outlines. Chief among these encumbering presuppositions was that of a fundamental distinction between perception and conception and consequent upon it between the synthetic and the analytic use of thought. It is upon this in the last resort that the distinction between the phenomenal world of our experience and a noumenal world beyond it is founded. Kant perceives that “perception without conception is blind, conception without perception is empty,” but if he goes so far ought he not to have gone still further and inquired whether there can be any perception at all without a concept, any concept which does not presuppose a precept, and, if this is impossible, whether the distinction between a world of appearance which is known and a world of things-in-themselves which is not, is not illusory?

It was by asking precisely these questions that Hegel gave the finishing strokes to the Kantian philosophy. The starting-point of all valid philosophy must be the perception that the essence of all conscious apprehension is the union of opposites—of which that of subject and object is the Hegel. most fundamental and all-pervasive. True, before differences can be united they must have been separated, but this merely proves that differentiation or analysis is only one factor in a single process. Equally fundamental is the element of synthesis. Nor is it possible at any point in knowledge to prove the existence of a merely given in whose construction the thinking subject has played no part nor a merely thinking subject in whose structure the object is not an organic factor. In coming, as at a certain point in its development it does, to the consciousness of an object, the mind does not find itself in the presence of an opponent, or of anything essentially alien to itself but of that which gives content and stability to its own existence. True, the stability it seems to find in it is incomplete. The object cannot rest in the form of its immediate appearance without involving us in contradiction. The sun does not “rise,” the dew does not “fall.” But this only means that the unity between subject and object to which the gift of consciousness commits us is incompletely realized in that appearance: the apparent truth has to submit to correction and supplementation before it can be accepted as real truth. It does not mean that there is anywhere a mere fact which is not also an interpretation nor an interpreting mind whose ideas have no hold upon fact. From this it follows that ultimate or absolute reality is to be sought not beyond the region of experience, but in the fullest and most harmonious statement of the facts of our experience. True a completely harmonious world whether of theory or of practice remains an ideal. But the fact that we have already in part realized the ideal and that the degree in which we have realized it is the degree in which we may regard our experience as trustworthy, is proof that the ideal is no mere idea as Kant taught, but the very substance of reality.

Intelligible as this development of Kantian idealism seems in the light of subsequent philosophy, the first statement of it in Hegel was not free from obscurity. The unity of opposites translated into its most abstract terms as the “identity of being and not-being,” the principle Stumbling blocks in Hegel’s statements. that the “real is the rational,” the apparent substitution of “bloodless” categories for the substance of concrete reality gave it an air of paradox in the eyes of metaphysicians while physicists were scandalized by the premature attempts at a complete philosophy of nature and history. For this Hegel was doubtless partly to blame. But philosophical critics of his own and a later day are not hereby absolved from a certain perversity in interpreting these doctrines in a sense precisely opposite to that in which they were intended. The doctrine of the unity of contraries so far from being the denial of the law of non-contradiction is founded on an absolute reliance upon it. Freed from paradox it means that in every object of thought there are different aspects or elements each of which if brought separately into consciousness may be so emphasized as to appear to contradict another. Unity may be made to contradict diversity, permanence change, the particular the universal, individuality relatedness. Ordinary consciousness ignores these “latent fires”; ordinary discussion brings them to light and divides men into factions and parties over them; philosophy not because it denies but because it acknowledges the law of non-contradiction as supreme is pledged to seek a point of view from which they may be seen to be in essential harmony with one another as different sides of the same truth. The “rationality of the real” has in like manner been interpreted as intended to sanctify the existing order. Hegel undoubtedly meant to affirm that the actual was rational in the face of the philosophy which set up subjective feeling and reason against it. But idealism has insisted from the time of Plato on the distinction between what is actual in time and space and the reality that can only partially be revealed in it. Hegel carried this principle further than had yet been done. His phrase does not therefore sanctify the established fact but, on the contrary, declares that it partakes of reality only so far as it embodies the ideal of a coherent and stable system which it is not. As little is idealism responsible for any attempt to pass off logical abstractions for concrete reality. The “Logic” of Hegel is merely the continuation of Kant’s “Deduction” of the categories and ideas of the reason which has generally been recognized as the soberest of attempts to set forth the presuppositions which underlie all experience. “What Hegel attempts to show is just that the categories by which thought must determine its object are stages in a process that, beginning with the idea of ‘Being,’ the simplest of all determinations is driven on by its own dialectic till it reaches the idea of self-consciousness. In other words the intelligence when it once begins to define an object for itself, finds itself launched on a movement of self-asserting synthesis in which it cannot stop until it had recognized that the unity of the object with itself involves its unity with all other objects and with the mind that knows it. Hence, whatever we begin by saying, we must ultimately say ‘mind’” (Caird, Kant, i. 443).

While the form in which these doctrines were stated proved fatal to them in the country of their birth, they took deep root in the next generation in English philosophy. Here the stone that the builders rejected was made the head of the corner. The influences which led to this result were manifold. From the side of literature the way was prepared for it by the genius of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Carlyle; from the side of morals and politics by the profound discontent of the constructive spirit of the century with the disintegrating conceptions inherited from utilitarianism. In taking root in England idealism had to contend against the traditional empiricism represented by Mill on the one hand and the pseudo-Kantianism which was rendered current by Mansel and Hamilton on the other. As contrasted with the first it stood for the necessity of recognizing a universal or ideal element as a constitutive factor in all experience whether cognitive or volitional; as contrasted with the latter for the ultimate unity of subject and object, knowledge and reality, and therefore for the denial of the existence of any thing-in-itself for ever outside the range of experience. Its polemic against the philosophy of experience has exposed it to general misunderstanding, as though it claimed some a priori path to truth. In reality it stands for a more thoroughgoing and consistent application of the test of experience. The defect of English empiricism from the outset had been the uncritical acceptance of the metaphysical dogma of a pure unadulterated sense-experience as the criterion of truth. This assumption idealism examines and rejects in the name of experience itself. Similarly it only carried the doctrine of relativity to its logical conclusion in denying that there could be any absolute relativity. Object stands in essential relation to subject, subject to object. This being so, it is wholly illogical to seek for any test of the truth and reality of either except in the form which that relation itself takes. In its subsequent development idealism in England has passed through several clearly marked stages which may be distinguished as (a) that of exploration and tentative exposition in the writings of J. F. Ferrier,[2] J. Hutchison Stirling,[3] Benjamin Jowett,[4] W. T. Harris;[5] (b) of confident application to the central problems of logic, ethics and politics, fine art and religion, and as a principle of constructive criticism and interpretation chiefly in T. H. Green,[6] E. Caird,[7] B. Bosanquet;[8] (c) of vigorous effort to develop on fresh lines its underlying metaphysics in F. H. Bradley,[9] J. M. E. McTaggart,[10] A. E. Taylor,[11] Josiah Royce[12] and others. Under the influence of these writers idealism, as above expounded though with difference of interpretation in individual writers, may be said towards the end of the 19th century to have been on its way to becoming the leading philosophy in the British Isles and America.

3. Reaction against Traditional Idealism.—But it was not to be expected that the position idealism had thus won for itself would remain long unchallenged. It had its roots in a literature and in forms of thought remote from the common track; it had been formulated before the New Dualism and Pragmatism. great advances in psychology which marked the course of the century; its latest word seemed to involve consequences that brought it into conflict with the vital interest the human mind has in freedom and the possibility of real initiation. It is not, therefore, surprising that there should have been a vigorous reaction. This has taken mainly two opposite forms. On the one hand the attack has come from the old ground of the danger that is threatened to the reality of the external world and may be said to be in the interest of the object. On the other hand the theory has been attacked in the interest of the subject on the ground that in the statuesque world of ideas into which it introduces us it leaves no room for the element of movement and process which recent psychology and metaphysic alike have taught us underlies all life. The conflict of idealism with these two lines of criticism—the accusation of subjectivism on the one side of intellectualism and rigid objectivism on the other—may be said to have constituted the history of Anglo-Saxon philosophy during the first decade of the 20th century.

I. Whatever is to be said of ancient Idealism, the modern doctrine may be said notably in Kant to have been in the main a vindication of the subjective factor in knowledge. But that space and time, matter and cause should owe their origin to the action of the mind has always seemed paradoxical to common sense. Nor is the impression which its enunciation in Kant made, likely to have been lightened in this country by the connexion that was sure to be traced between Berkeleyanism and the new teaching or by the form which the doctrine received at the hands of T. H. Green, its leading English representative between 1870 and 1880. If what is real in things is ultimately nothing but their relations, and if relations are inconceivable apart from the relating mind, what is this but the dissolution of the solid ground of external reality which my consciousness seems to assure me underlies and eludes all the conceptual network by which I try to bring one part of my experience into connexion with another? It is quite true that modern idealists like Berkeley himself have sought to save themselves from the gulf of subjectivism by calling in the aid of a universal or infinite mind or by an appeal to a total or absolute experience to which our own is relative. But the former device is too obviously a deus ex machina, the purpose of which would be equally well served by supposing with Fichte the individual self to be endowed with the power of subconsciously extraditing a world which returns to it in consciousness under the form of a foreign creation. The appeal to an Absolute on the other hand is only to substitute one difficulty for another. For granting that it places the centre of reality outside the individual self it does so only at the price of reducing the reality of the latter to an appearance; and if only one thing is real what becomes of the many different things which again my consciousness assures me are the one world with which I can have any practical concern? To meet these difficulties and give back to us the assurance of the substantiality of the world without us it has therefore been thought necessary to maintain two propositions which are taken to be the refutation of idealism. (1) There is given to us immediately in knowledge a world entirely independent of and different from our own impressions on the one hand and the conceptions by which we seek to establish relations between them upon the other. The relation of these impressions (and for the matter of that of their inter-relations among themselves) to our minds is only one out of many. As a leading writer puts it: “There is such a thing as greenness having various relations, among others that of being perceived.”[13] (2) Things may be, and may be known to be simply different. They may exclude one another, exist so to speak in a condition of armed neutrality to one another, without being positively thereby related to one another or altered by any change taking place in any of them. As the same writer puts it: “There is such a thing as numerical difference, different from conceptual difference,”[14] or expressing the same thing in other words “there are relations not grounded in the nature of the related terms.”

In this double-barrelled criticism it is important to distinguish what is really relevant. Whatever the shortcomings of individual writers may be, modern idealism differs, as we have seen, from the arrested idealism of Berkeley precisely in the point on which dualism insists. In all knowledge we are in touch not merely with the self and its passing states, but with a real object which is different from them. On this head there is no difference, and idealism need have no difficulty in accepting all that its opponents here contend. The difference between the two theories does not consist in any difference of emphasis on the objective side of knowledge, but in the standard by which the nature of the object is to be tested—the difference is logical not metaphysical—it concerns the definition of truth or falsity in the knowledge of the reality which both admit. To idealism there can be no ultimate test, but the possibility of giving any fact which claims to be true its place in a coherent system of mutually related truths. To this dualism opposes the doctrine that truth and falsehood are a matter of mere immediate intuition: “There is no problem at all in truth and falsehood, some propositions are true and some false just as some roses are red and some white.”[15] The issue between the two theories under this head may here be left with the remark that it is a curious comment on the logic of dualism that setting out to vindicate the reality of an objective standard of truth it should end in the most subjective of all the way a thing appears to the individual. The criticism that applies to the first of the above contentions applies mutatis mutandis to the second. As idealism differs from Berkeleyanism in asserting the reality of an “external” world so it differs from Spinozism in asserting the reality of difference within it. Determination is not merely negation. On this head there need be no quarrel between it and dualism. Ours is a many-sided, a many-coloured world. The point of conflict again lies in the nature and ground of the assigned differences. Dualism meets the assertion of absolute unity by the counter assertion of mere difference. But if it is an error to treat the unity of the world as its only real aspect, it is equally an error to treat its differences as something ultimately irreducible. No philosophy founded on this assumption is likely to maintain itself against the twofold evidence of modern psychology and modern logic. According to the first the world, whether looked at from the side of our perception or from the side of the object perceived, can be made intelligible only when we accept it for what it is as a real continuity. Differences, of course, there are; and, if we like to say so, every difference is unique, but this does not mean that they are given in absolute independence of everything else, “fired at us out of a cannon.” They bear a definite relation to the structure of our physical and psychical nature, and correspond to definite needs of the subject that manifests itself therein. Similarly from the side of logic. It is not the teaching of idealism alone but of the facts which logical analysis has brought home to us that all difference in the last resort finds its ground in the quality or content of the things differentiated, and that this difference of content shows in turn a double strand, the strand of sameness and the strand of otherness—that in which and that by which they differ from one another. Idealism has, of course, no quarrel with numerical difference. All difference has its numerical aspect: two different things are always two both in knowledge and in reality. What it cannot accept is the doctrine that there are two things which are two in themselves apart from that which makes them two—which are not two of something. So far from establishing the truth for which dualism is itself concerned—the reality of all differences—such a theory can end only in a scepticism as to the reality of any difference. It is difficult to see what real difference there can be between things which are differences of nothing.

II. More widespread and of more serious import is the attack from the other side to which since the publication of A. Seth’s Hegelianism and Personality (1887) and W. James’s Will to Believe (1903) idealism has been subjected. Here also it is important to distinguish what is relevant from what is irrelevant in the line of criticism represented by these writers. There need be no contradiction between idealism and a reasonable pragmatism. In so far as the older doctrine is open to the charge of neglecting the conative and teleological side of experience it can afford to be grateful to its critics for recalling it to its own eponymous principle of the priority of the “ideal” to the “idea,” of needs to the conception of their object. The real issue comes into view in the attempt, undertaken in the interest of freedom, to substitute for the notion of the world as a cosmos pervaded by no discernible principle and in its essence indifferent to the form impressed upon it by its active parts.

To the older idealism as to the new the essence of mind or spirit is freedom. But the guarantee of freedom is to be sought for not in the denial of law, but in the whole nature of mind and its relation to the structure of experience. Without mind no orderly world: only through the action of the subject and its “ideas” are the confused and incoherent data of sense-perception (themselves shot through with both strands) built up into that system of things we call Nature, and which stands out against the subject as the body stands out against the soul whose functioning may be said to have created it. On the other hand, without the world no mind: only through the action of the environment upon the subject is the idealizing activity in which it finds its being called into existence. Herein lies the paradox which is also the deepest truth of our spiritual life. In interpreting its environment first as a world of things that seem to stand in a relation of exclusion to one another and to itself, then as a natural system governed by rigid mechanical necessity, the mind can yet feel that in its very opposition the world is akin to it, bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh. What is true of mind is true of will. Idealism starts from the relativity of the world to purposive consciousness. But this again may be so stated as to represent only one side of the truth. It is equally true that the will is relative to the world of objects and interests to which it is attached through instincts and feelings, habits and sentiments. In isolation from its object the will is as much an abstraction as thought apart from the world of percepts, memories and associations which give it content and stability. And just as mind does not lose but gain in individuality in proportion as it parts with any claim to the capricious determination of what its world shall be, and becomes dominated by the conception of an order which is immutable so the will becomes free and “personal” in proportion as it identifies itself with objects and interests, and subordinates itself to laws and requirements which involve the suppression of all that is merely arbitrary and subjective. Here, too, subject and object grow together. The power and vitality of the one is the power and vitality of the other, and this is so because they are not two things with separate roots but are both rooted in a common reality which, while it includes, is more than either.

Passing by these contentions as unmeaning or irrelevant and seeing nothing but irreconcilable contradiction between the conceptions of the world as immutable law and a self-determining subject pragmatism (q.v.) seeks other means of vindicating the reality of freedom. It agrees with older forms of libertarianism in taking its stand on the fact of spontaneity as primary and self-evidencing, but it is not content to assert its existence side by side with rigidly determined sequence. It carries the war into the camp of the enemy by seeking to demonstrate that the completely determined action which is set over against freedom as the basis of explanation in the material world is merely a hypothesis which, while it serves sufficiently well the limited purpose for which it is devised, is incapable of verification in the ultimate constituents of physical nature. There seems in fact nothing to prevent us from holding that while natural laws express the average tendencies of multitudes they give no clue to the movement of individuals. Some have gone farther and argued that from the nature of the case no causal explanation of any real change in the world of things is possible. A cause is that which contains the effect (“causa aequat effectum”), but this is precisely what can never be proved with respect to anything that is claimed as a real cause in the concrete world. Everywhere the effect reveals an element which is indiscoverable in the cause with the result that the identity we seek for ever eludes us. Even the resultant of mechanical forces refuses to resolve itself into its constituents. In the “resultant” there is a new direction, and with it a new quality the component forces of which no analysis can discover.[16]

It is not here possible to do more than indicate what appear to be the valid elements in these two conflicting interpretations of the requirements of a true idealism. On behalf of the older it may be confidently affirmed that no solution is likely to find general acceptance which involves the rejection of the conception of unity and intelligible order as the primary principle of our world. The assertion of this principle by Kant was, we have seen, the corner-stone of idealistic philosophy in general, underlying as it does the conception of a permanent subject not less than that of a permanent object. As little from the side of knowledge is it likely that any theory will find acceptance which reduces all thought to a process of analysis and the discovery of abstract identity. There is no logical principle which requires that we should derive qualitative change by logical analysis from quantitative difference. Everywhere experience is synthetic: it gives us multiplicity in unity. Explanation of it does not require the annihilation of all differences but the apprehension of them in organic relation to one another and to the whole to which they belong. It was, as we have seen, this conception of thought as essentially synthetic for which Kant paved the way in his polemic against the formalism of his continental predecessors. The revival as in the above argument of the idea that the function of thought is the elimination of difference, and that rational connexion must fail where absolute identity is indiscoverable merely shows how imperfectly Kant’s lesson has been learned by some of those who prophesy in his name.

Finally, apart from these more academic arguments there is an undoubted paradox in a theory which, at a moment when in whatever direction we look the best inspiration in poetry, sociology and physical science comes from the idea of the unity of the world, gives in its adhesion to pluralism on the ground of its preponderating practical value.

On the other hand, idealism would be false to itself if it interpreted the unity which it thus seeks to establish in any sense that is incompatible with the validity of moral distinctions and human responsibility in the fullest sense of the term. It would on its side be, indeed, a paradox if at a time when the validity of human ideals and the responsibility of nations and individuals to realize them is more universally recognized than ever before on our planet, the philosophical theory which hitherto has been chiefly identified with their vindication should be turned against them. Yet the depth and extent of the dissatisfaction are sufficient evidence that the most recent developments are not free from ambiguity on this vital issue.

What is thus suggested is not a rash departure from the general point of view of idealism (by its achievements in every field to which it has been applied, “stat mole sua”) but a cautious inquiry into the possibility of reaching a conception of the world in which a place can be found at once for the idea of unity and determination and of movement and freedom. Any attempt here to anticipate what the course of an idealism inspired by such a spirit of caution and comprehension is likely to be cannot but appear dogmatic.

Yet it may be permitted to make a suggestion. Taking for granted the unity of the world idealism is committed to interpret it as spiritual as a unity of spirits. This is implied in the phrase by which it has sought to signalize its break with Spinozism: “from substance to subject.” The universal or infinite is one that realizes itself in finite particular minds and wills, not as accidents or imperfections of it, but as its essential form. These on their side, to be subject in the true sense must be conceived of as possessing a life which is truly their own, the expression of their own nature as self-determinant. In saying subject we say self, in saying self we say free creator. No conception of the infinite can therefore be true which does not leave room for movement, process, free creation. Oldness, sameness, permanence of principle and direction, these must be, otherwise there is nothing; but newness of embodiment, existence, realization also, otherwise nothing is.

Now it is just to these implications in the idea of spirit that some of the prominent recent expositions of Idealism seem to have failed to do justice. They have failed particularly when they have left the idea of “determination” unpurged of the suggestion of time succession. The very word lends itself to this mistake. Idealists have gone beyond others in asserting that the subject in the sense of a being which merely repeats what has gone before is timeless. This involves that its activity cannot be truly conceived of as included in an antecedent, as an effect in a cause or one term of an equation in the other. As the activity of a subject or spirit it is essentially a new birth. It is this failure that has led to the present revolt against a “block universe.” But the difficulty is not to be met by running to the, opposite extreme in the assertion of a loose and ramshackle one. This is merely another way of perpetuating the mistake of allowing the notion of determination by an other or a preceding to continue to dominate us in a region where we have in reality passed from it to the notion of determination by self or by self-acknowledged ideals. As the correction from the one side consists in a more whole-hearted acceptance of the conception of determination by an ideal as the essence of mind, so from the other side it must consist in the recognition of the valuelessness of a freedom which does not mean submission to a self-chosen, though not self-created, law.

The solution here suggested is probably more likely to meet with opposition from the side of Idealism than of Pragmatism. It involves, it will be said, the reality of time, the dependence of the Infinite in the finite, and therewith a departure from the whole line of Hegelian thought. (1) It does surely involve the reality of time in the sense that it involves the reality of existence, which it is agreed is process. Without process the eternal is not complete or, if eternity means completeness, is not truly eternal. Our mistake lies in abstraction of the one from the other, which, as always, ends in confusion of the one with the other. Truth lies in giving each its place. Not only does eternity assert the conception of the hour but the hour asserts the conception of eternity—with what adequacy is another question. (2) The second of the above objections takes its point from the contradiction to religious consciousness which seems to be involved. This is certainly a mistake. Religious consciousness asserts, no doubt, that God is necessary to the soul: from Him as its inspiration, to Him as its ideal are all things. But it asserts with equal emphasis that the soul is necessary to God. To declare itself an unnecessary creation is surely on the part of the individual soul the height of impiety. God lives in the soul as it in Him. He also might say, from it as His offspring, to it as the object of His outgoing love are all things. (3) It is a mistake to attribute to Hegel the doctrine that time is an illusion. If in a well-known passage (Logic § 212) he seems to countenance the Spinoxistic view he immediately corrects it by assigning an “actualizing force” to this illusion and making it a “necessary dynamic element of truth.” Consistently with this we have the conclusion stated in the succeeding section on the Will. “Good, the final end of the world, has being only while it constantly produces itself. And the world of the spirit and the world of nature continue to have this distinction, that the latter moves only in a recurring cycle while the former certainly also makes progress.” The mistake is not Hegel’s but ours. It is to be remedied not by giving up the idea of the Infinite but by ceasing to think of the Infinite as of a being endowed with a static perfection which the finite will merely reproduces, and definitely recognizing the forward effort of the finite as an essential element in Its self-expression. If there be any truth in this suggestion it seems likely that the last word of idealism, like the first, will prove to be that the type of the highest reality is to be sought for not in any fixed Parmenidean circle of achieved being but in an ideal of good which while never fully expressed under the form of time can never become actual and so fulfil itself under any other.

Bibliography.—(A) General works besides those of the writers mentioned above: W. Wallace, Prolegomena to the Study of Hegel (1894), and Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind (1894); A. Seth and R. B. Haldane, Essays in Phil. Criticism (1883); John Watson, Kant and his English Critics (1881); J. B. Baillie, Idealistic Construction of Experience (1906); J. S. Mackenzie, Outlines of Metaphysics (1902); A. E. Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics (1903); R. L. Nettleship, Lectures and Remains (1897); D. G. Ritchie, Philosophical Studies (1905).

(B) Works on particular branches of philosophy: (a) Logic—F. H. Bradley, Principles of Logic (1883); B. Bosanquet, Logic (1888) and Essentials of Logic (1895). (b) Psychology—J. Dewey, Psychology (1886); G. F. Stout, Analytic Psychology (1896); B. Bosanquet, Psychology of the Moral Self (1897). (c) Ethics—F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (1876); J. Dewey, Ethics (1891); W. R. Sorley, Ethics of Naturalism (2nd ed., 1904); J. S. Mackenzie, Manual of Ethics (4th ed., 1900); J. H. Muirhead, Elements of Ethics (3rd ed., 1910). (d) Politics and Economics—B. Bosanquet, Philosophical Theory of the State (1899), and Aspects of the Social Problem (1895); B. Bonar, Philosophy and Political Economy in their historical Relations (1873); D. G. Ritchie, Natural Rights (1895); J. S. Mackenzie, An Introd. to Social Phil. (1890); J. MacCunn, Six Radical Thinkers (1907). (e) Aesthetic—B. Bosanquet, History of Aesthetic (1892), and Introd. to Hegel’s Phil. of the Fine Arts (1886); W. Hastie, Phil. of Art by Hegel and Michelet (1886). (f) Religion—J. Royce, Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), and The Conception of God (1897); R. B. Haldane, The Pathway to Reality (1903); E. Caird, Evolution of Religion (1893); J. Caird, Introd. to the Phil. of Religion (1880); H. Jones, Idealism as a Practical Creed (1909).

(C) Recent Criticism. Besides works mentioned in the text: W. James, Pragmatism (1907), A Pluralistic Universe (1909), The Meaning of Truth (1909); H. Sturt, Personal Idealism (1902); F. C. S. Schiller, Humanism (1903); G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica; H. Rashdall, The Theory of Good and Evil (1907).

See also Ethics and Metaphysics.  (J. H. Mu.) 

  1. Kritik d. reinen Vernunft, p. 197 (ed. Hartenstein).
  2. Institutes of Metaphysics (1854); Works (1866).
  3. Secret of Hegel (1865).
  4. Dialogues of Plato (1871).
  5. Journal of Spec. Phil. (1867).
  6. Hume’s Phil. Works (1875).
  7. Critical account of the Phil. of Kant (1877).
  8. Knowledge and Reality (1885); Logic (1888).
  9. Appearance and Reality (1893).
  10. Studies in Hegelian Cosmology (1901).
  11. Elements of Metaphysics (1903).
  12. The World and the individual (1901).
  13. See Mind, New Series, xii. p. 433 sqq.
  14. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1900–1901), p. 110.
  15. Mind, New Series, xiii. p. 523; cf. 204, 350.
  16. The most striking statement of this argument is to be found in Boutroux’s treatise De la contingence des lois de la nature, first published in 1874 and reprinted without alteration in 1905. The same general line of thought underlies James Ward’s Naturalism and Agnosticism (2nd ed., 1903), and A. J. Balfour’s Foundations of Belief (8th ed., 1901). H. Bergson’s works on the other hand contain the elements of a reconstruction similar in spirit to the suggestions of the present article.