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Idealism (derived from the Greek ἰδέα “idea”, “archetype”) denotes different currents and individual positions in philosophy , which “emphasize that reality is determined in a radical way by knowledge and thinking ” or that ideas or ideal are the foundations of Make up reality, knowledge and morals. In a narrower sense, a representative of an idealism is referred to as someone who assumes that the physical world only exists as an object for consciousness or in consciousness or that it is mentally constituted in itself.

In ethical idealism it is assumed that we can and should justify and regulate our actions through reasonable, reliable and binding considerations. In everyday language use “idealism” can e.g. B. denote an altruistic , selfless attitude.

Concept history

The term “idealism” appears in German as a foreign term for philosophical positions in the 18th century. Opposite terms are primarily " materialism ", " realism " and " naturalism ".

Leibniz uses "idealist" for positions that he connects primarily with Plato and opposes positions that he v. a. connects with Epicurus , whom he calls "materialist".

Wolff uses “idealism” as a “veto against materialistic conceptions”. For example, the "idealist" records the reality of the soul as a non-material object. On the other hand, the "idealist" denies in the use of the term by Wolff, Leibniz and Moses Mendelssohn that an objective world of things and bodies exists. Mendelssohn uses "idealism" as the opposite of "dualism" and characterizes the former:

"The follower of idealism considers all phenomena of our senses to be accidents of the human spirit, and does not believe that outside of it there is a material archetype to which they belong as properties."

- Morning hours or lectures on the existence of God (1785) I, 7.

The use of the term by Immanuel Kant is particularly influential in terms of history .

Epistemology and Metaphysics

The following positions belong to important currents that are called "idealism":

  • Theories which are sometimes referred to as objective idealism and which trace all reality back to ideas that exist in themselves and in which everything else participates , as is developed in Plato's theory of ideas and in Platonism .
    Historically, this position was first established with Plato . In his dialogue Politeia he develops, among other things, a. with the allegory of the cave and following on from mathematics, a theory of ideas in which he imagines ideas as archetypes or plans of things and actions. Whoever realizes these ideas can also rule the community.
    With regard to especially medieval debates about the so-called problem of universals , the assumption of an independent reality (not only as an occurrence in our mind, in our language or as properties of objects) of ideas is also called " realism " (with regard to independently existing ideas or universals) .
  • The critical idealism or transcendental idealism was from Immanuel Kant developed.
    According to Kant, cognition never has to do directly with objects as they are in themselves, but with their appearances in consciousness . Kant, however, presupposes that the cause of these phenomena are “ things in themselves ”, although we can never have direct knowledge of them. The designation (epistemological) " realism " (with regard to extra-mental objects) can be used as a counter-concept , provided that it means that our concepts and beliefs are directed towards objects outside the mind, their existence and nature from our consciousness and our experience is independent. On the other hand, Kant assumes that prior to any individual experience (“ a priori ”), conditions for cognition are given, including spatiotemporal structures that he calls “forms of sensory perception” or so-called categories such as the relation of causes to effects . Such transcendental forms of knowledge order our knowledge; without it, knowledge is therefore not possible.
  • The Magic idealism is a central concept in the philosophy and poetry of Novalis , who was close to the romantics the German idealism. According to magical idealism, the insufficient external world can be poetically (from within) perfected and vice versa.
  • The British idealism was a philosophical doctrine dominant in the UK in Victorian times, the z. T. took over and continued positions of German idealism and also became influential for parts of so-called analytical philosophy .

“Idealism” in the sense of idealistic metaphysics is faced with the fundamental objections of the critique of metaphysics . Some elaborations of existentialist and phenomenological positions can be understood as continuations of classical idealistic positions. The ontological status of ideas is v. a. continues to be controversial in analytical ontology . In the more recent philosophical semantics , epistemology and metaphilosophy , the classic realism debate is continued in a differentiated manner. The debate is not only about which corresponding reference objects are acceptable, but also e.g. B. also about conditions of assertibility, validity or truth of statements which refer or seem to refer to them. One sub-area of ​​systematic debates, the questions of which traditionally appeared in debates about “idealistic” positions, are discussions about externalism and internalism .


  • Karl Ameriks (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK 2000.
  • Andreas Dorschel : The idealistic criticism of the will , Meiner, Hamburg 1992.
  • Alfred Cyril Ewing (Ed.): The Idealist Tradition: From Berkeley to Blanshard . Free Press, Glencoe, IL 1957.
  • Vittorio Hösle : History of Philosophy and Objective Idealism , CH Beck, Munich 1996.
  • Hans Jörg Sandkühler (Ed.): Handbook of German Idealism . JB Metzler, Stuttgart 2005.
  • Hans Jörg Sandkühler : Article idealism . In: Encyclopedia Philosophy , Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 2nd edition 2009.
  • Oswald Schwemmer : Article idealism (systematic) , idealism, German , idealism, transcendental , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie Philosophie und Wissenschaftstheorie. Vol. 2, Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim a. a. 1984, 167-170, 170-172, 173-175.
  • Godfrey Vesey (Ed.): Idealism, Past and Present . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK 1982.
  • Otto Willmann : History of Idealism , 3 volumes, Vieweg, Braunschweig 1894/96/97 ( digital copies ); also in: Heinrich and Marga Bitterlich-Willmann (eds.): Complete Works , Volume I (1973), Volume II (1975) and Volume III (1979), Scientia, Aalen. ISBN 3-511-03709-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Idealism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Anton Hügli , Poul Lübcke: Philosophielexikon , Rowohlt, Reinbek 1997, sv
  2. See e.g. B. Michael Baur: Article Idealism , in: Maryanne Cline Horowitz (ed.): New Dictionary of the History of Ideas , Vol. 3, Thomson Gale, Detroit u. a. 2005, 1078-1082, here 1078: “The term idealism in its broadest sense denotes the philosophical position that ideas (mental or spiritual entities) are primary and lie at the very foundation of reality, knowledge, and morality, while non-ideal entities (such as physical or material things) are secondary and perhaps even illusory. "
  3. See Timothy Sprigge : Artikel Idealism , in: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy : "Idealism is now usually understood in philosophy as the view that mind is the most basic reality and that the physical world exists only as an appearance to or expression of mind, or as somehow mental in its inner essence. However, a philosophy which makes the physical world dependent upon mind is usually also called idealist even if it postulates some further hidden, more basic reality behind the mental and physical scenes (for example, Kant's things-in-themselves). There is also a certain tendency to restrict the term 'idealism' to systems for which what is basic is mind of a somewhat lofty nature, so that 'spiritual values' are the ultimate shapers of reality. "
  4. ^ Oswald Schwemmer : Article Idealism , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd edition, Vol. 3 pp. 506f.
  5. ^ Leibniz: Réponse aux réflexions de P. Bayle , art. Rorarius (after 1702), in: Carl Immanuel Gerhardt (ed.): Philosophische Schriften , Vol. 4, p. 560 ( digitized version ). Also cited in: H. Zeltner: Article Idealism , in: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Vol. 4, Schwabe Verlag, Basel 1976, 30-33, 30.
  6. Hans Jörg Sandkühler : Handbuch Deutscher Idealismus , Metzler 2005, p. 2.
  7. ^ Edition in: Werner Vogt (ed.): Metaphysische Schriften , Meiner, Hamburg 2008, 146; Georg Benjamin Mendelssohn (ed.): Collected writings in seven volumes , Volume 2, p. 292 ( digitized version ). Also cited in Sandkühler, lc