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Idealism, as a philosophical term, has several different meanings, and originates from the Greek word meaning “to see.” In philosophy, idealism refers to the notion that it is the spiritual, or ideal that is fundamental to the interpretation of human experience. Reality exists only in regards to consciousness, otherwise known as spirit. Your research paper could outline the following:

Types of Idealism

There are several types of idealism that have developed throughout history:

  1. Classical Idealism
  2. Subjective Idealism
  3. Transcendental Idealism
  4. Objective Idealism
  5. Absolute Idealism
  6. Actual Idealism
  7. Pluralistic Idealism

The idealist rejects the positivist’s claim that the social world is analogous to the natural world, and so can be studied with the philosophy and methods of the natural sciences. For the idealist, the primary subject of study in sociology is not the observable facts of the social world, but the subjective experiences of human actors. Idealists believe that people experience the social world through complex schemes of meaning. For this reason, it is subjective experience that forms the basis of understanding social interactions.

What is Idealism?

Idealism asserts that social reality is created by human consciousness, and cannot be understood to exist independently of it. There are two strong consequences of this position. The first is that social reality cannot be seen as a fixed subject: it will be as varied and slippery as is human subjective experience. The second consequence is that subjective experience is not observable, at least not observable in the way that natural phenomena are, and so sociology cannot be a purely empirical science.

While idealists may believe that something like natural laws can be discovered for the social world, these will not be universal laws, as social relationships and actions will vary as much as subjective experience does. What is crucial for the idealist is finding ways to understand and explain the meanings that determine subjective experience.

Classical Idealists


Anaxagoras was a Greek philosopher that held the belief that all things were the result of the mind, and that it was the mind that connected the individual to the universe. Plato later expanded the school of idealism through his theory of the ideal form. However, modern idealism rejects the duality of the physical world as a representation of some ideal.

Subjective idealism is one of two modern schools of thought. Perceived objects are no more than collections of perceptions by the individual. Bishop Berkeley was an early proponent of this theory, holding that ideas were dependent upon perception.

Kant and Idealism

Immanuel Kant founded the school of transcendental idealism, holding that it is the mind that shapes the perceived world around the individual. Kant directly opposed the idea of tabula rasa, and believed that the individual mind was innately able to categorize sensory input. Later, Gottfried Leibniz transformed idealism into the idea of a collective or pluralistic idealism.

In Kant’s idea of idealism the rational will is paramount, not the outcome in terms of the totality of human happiness. If the will is rational it could not possibly wish for a chaotic world in which everyone was stealing one another’s money and there is no need to calculate whether or not people would be happier in such a world than in one were everyone keeps his own money. Mill’s utilitarianism does not reference the will, but merely says ”pleasure is good, pain bad; everything we do should be in accordance with the principle that we want to increase the one and diminish the other.” Kant’s system is more sophisticated than is utilitarianism; it takes into account the role that intention plays in the makeup of a moral person.


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