"Idealism" is one of the most vague concepts I've faced in philosophy. According to Wikipedia:

In philosophy, idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial.

And in SEP we see that:

...Even within philosophy, the terms “idealism” and “idealist” are used in different ways, which often makes their meaning dependent on the context. However, independently of context one can distinguish between a descriptive (or classificatory) use of these terms and a polemical one, although sometimes these different uses occur together. Their descriptive use is best documented by paying attention to the large number of different “idealisms” that appear in philosophical textbooks and encyclopedias, ranging from metaphysical idealism through epistemological and aesthetic to moral or ethical idealism. Within these idealisms one can find further distinctions, such as those between subjective, objective and absolute idealism, and even more obscure characterizations such as speculative idealism and transcendental idealism. It is also remarkable that the term “idealism”, at least within philosophy, is often used in such a way that it gets its meaning through what is taken to be its opposite: as the meaningful use of the term “outside” depends on a contrast with something considered to be inside, so the meaning of the term “idealism” is often fixed by what is taken to be its opposite. Thus, an idealist is someone who is not a realist, not a materialist, not a dogmatist, not an empiricist, and so on. Given the fact that many also want to distinguish between realism, materialism, dogmatism, and empiricism, it is obvious that thinking of the meaning of “idealism” as determined by what it is meant to be opposed to leads to further complexity and gives rise to the impression that underlying such characterizations lies some polemical intent.

So, we can see that "Idealism" may be used in variety of ways, each by different philosopher and in different contexts. So I'd like to ask, in which context would "Idealism" be used to describe a "non-physical"/"corporeal" substance?

  • How do we define non-physical? We should also take into consideration both our individual and collective perceptual or observational abilities / capabilities. Realistically, things don't exist until we observe, perceive, or detect them somehow. For example, a microbiologist knows that cells exist because he has seen them under a microscope. Yet there are perhaps certain kinds of cells he has only heard about and never seen before. So he sets a goal to observe them himself. Realists should not believe they exist if they have not personally seen or heard of them from an authoritative source. – Bread Sep 25 '18 at 10:49
  • Hi YM. I find the question as stated rather confusing. 'Idealism' does not describe a phenomenon but a theory or doctrine, while 'non-material substance' which seems to be an oxymoron. It might be just me. – PeterJ Sep 25 '18 at 13:49
  • PS. David Chalmers has recently published a useful article laying out almost all the different forms of Idealism. He leaves out the form that is most widely endorsed but as he is a decidedly 'Western' thinker this is not surprising and I doubt he even knows he left it out. It may be a useful article nonetheless. – PeterJ Sep 25 '18 at 13:52
  • 1
    @PeterJ are you taking about "Idealism and the Mind-Body Problem"? It is his first article I've read, very nice layout indeed. "Idealism" does describe a theory, but in a certain context a (metaphysical) theory in which certain kind of "substance" would be considered as corporeal. Schelling would use it sometimes in this context. Whitehead as well. I hope this helps clear the concepts I use here. – Yechiam Weiss Sep 25 '18 at 14:25
  • @Bread a) I'm not discussing the subject of the possibility of "non-physical" here, but rather taking it as given. b) if I were, I would state that empiricism is not the only view. But I won't open this conversation now. – Yechiam Weiss Sep 25 '18 at 14:28

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.