More on idealism

(No, not “moron idealism,” though that may be more apt.) I am growing increasingly sure that idealism is true. Not “Irish idealism”, which is the view that only perceptions exist, but “Graeco-germanic idealism”, which is the view that the things that ultimately exist are ideal: ideas, forms, essences, concepts. My guiding thought is this: the more we try to identify existing things and distinguish them from one another, the more we are forced to identify and distinguish structures, forms, properties, and relations. Any underlying physical substance, or matter, plays absolutely no role other than an indeterminate “something” to stick into the “subject” place in a proposition. To the extent we try to describe that indeterminate something, we end up once again talking about structures, properties, forms, and relations. “We are still not rid of matter because we still believe in grammar”, to paraphrase Nz.

Aristotle seems to have believed in matter in order to be able to distinguish tokens of the same type. So, for example, two Bengal tigers may have the same form, and what makes for there being two of them rather than just one is that the form is married to two distinct parcels of matter. Matter thus serves an individuating function. But this function can be served in several other ways. Surely there is some structural or formal difference even in twins. Surely the two tigers have different relations, and histories of relations, to other things. Or failing all that, we can invent an “haecceity” to distinguish the two, following Scotus.

A more important objection is that matter brings the brute dumbness to our party. Events unfold over time in arbitrary, surprising ways; reality does not seem to be a platonic realm of forms, essences, ideas, concepts which exist in some static relation to one another. Matter provides the dynamic of experience, its clumsiness and particularity, and the difference between the merely ideal and the real. But though experience does seem this way to us, I am not sure reality is this way. Philosophers and physicists have not ever really been able to make any sense of time’s arrow. A noted physicist has recently argued that the best way to make sense of the world requires denying the reality of time (as a medium through which we travel). And our relative ignorance about matter in itself (see above) should make us wonder why we think it is the sort of thing that can introduce brute dumbness into our universe.

So color me an idealist. What I am not sure about is whether to join Kant or Hegel. More specifically, I am not sure whether the ideality of reality is something arising from the structure of the human mind (no, I am not sure what that means) or if the ideality belongs to reality in itself (not exactly sure about that, either).

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
This entry was posted in Kant and/or Hume, Metaphysical musings. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to More on idealism

  1. How about joining (a somewhat refurbished) Schopenhauer?


  2. Jake says:

    Does the conclusion change if we perform a thought experiment here, in which we suppose a race (endemic to earth or alien to it) that conceives of reality in a different way? We group ideas into categories that are meaningful to us. Let’s take the idea of a chair. In platonic idealism, we would all see chairs as approximating some ideal in form. (I understand your position is closer to Kantian idealism or Hegelian, but hear me out).

    If I were to construct a chair out of bones, aside from being viewed as a psycho, or perhaps a modern artist, people would still recognize it as a chair, as long as it contained the necessary or sufficient identifying characteristics.

    Show this chair to a cat, and it is far more like food than it is a chair. Their semantic groupings are significantly different. A leather sofa and a wooden stool are as different as a tree and a dead animal, to a cat (I would assume).

    This would push me in the direction of a Kantian idealism more so than a Hegelian idealism, if my understanding of Hegelian idealism is correct in that it draws from “reality,” rather than lending to it.

    Please correct any misunderstandings that would make my question here either irrelevant or misdirected.


    • Jake says:

      This is comment allows for, though not necessitating, the existence of matter and is meant to specifically address the idea that we deal with forms, structures, and so forth and that those ideas may come from reality.

      The conclusion I intended was that if cats or some alien race conceived of things entirely different, with different categories, each with very different necessary of sufficient characteristics, then isn’t it more likely that “the structure of our mind” is likely to play a larger role in our ideas than simply “reality”?


    • Huenemann says:

      Good to hear from you, Kake! Drop me a line sometime to tell me how you’re doing.

      The idealism I have in mind concerns the forms or concepts that describe all possible structures – this *might* just be mathematics. So if I try to do your thought experiment, I end up trying to imagine a race with a completely alien mathematics, one which cannot be reached by any means or translation of math as we know it. This I cannot do.


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