Can the philosophy of idealism (in the quite broad sense, so including Platon, Leibniz, and the so-called German idealism with Kant, Fichte, etc.), be equated with supernaturalism?

Below is provided a definition of philosophical idealism (from the article "Idealism" by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

Within modern philosophy there are sometimes taken to be two fundamental conceptions of idealism:

(1) something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality, and

(2) although the existence of something independent of the mind is conceded, everything that we can know about this mind-independent “reality” is held to be so permeated by the creative, formative, or constructive activities of the mind (of some kind or other) that all claims to knowledge must be considered, in some sense, to be a form of self-knowledge.

Idealism in sense (1) has been called “metaphysical” or “ontological idealism”, while idealism in sense (2) has been called “formal” or “epistemological idealism”.

The notion of "supernaturalism" as defined by [Britannica][2]:

supernaturalism, a belief in an otherworldly realm or reality

  • 4
    It is the other way around, spiritualism is a very peculiar kind of idealism. Idealists generally need not believe in existence of individual spirits, let alone that they persist after death and can be communicated with.
    – Conifold
    Jan 24, 2023 at 6:23
  • Perhaps your question would have been better titled 'idealism and spirituality'. Even though they're similar terms, 'spiritualism' usually refers to believers in spirits, communion with spirits, and so on (perhaps like Swedenborg practised) whereas 'spirituality' is a much broader and generally more philosophic description.
    – Wayfarer
    Jan 24, 2023 at 7:30
  • 2
    Thank you very much for all of your answers. I used them to improve my post.
    – Starckman
    Jan 24, 2023 at 7:56
  • The absolute idealism of Hegel had a World Spirit IIRC. Jan 24, 2023 at 15:03
  • 1
    Note that German idealism is very different from platonism, and merely share a name. German idealism is built around the idea that the only thing we can know of a thing are the ideas about this thing that form in our mind, but it does not imply that ideas have some form of primacy in reality. I see the apple, I touch it, ideas form in mind that are everything I will ever know of the apple, but i can't know the apple itself. For all I know, the apple could be material, which mean that, paradoxically, one thinker could be both materialist and german idealist.
    – armand
    Jan 24, 2023 at 23:37

1 Answer 1


Both terms have a range of usage.

Idealism in particular covers a wide spectrum of viewpoints.

In general, it is the view that some other aspect of our universe is primary to material.

However, as to WHAT is the "more real" basis of reality, there is a variety of ideas.

One major branch of Idealist thinking is that abstractions of various kinds are more real than matter, and matter is derivative.

  1. One family of abstract thinking is Platonism -- that there are Ideals that all specific examples (including our material world) are just reflections of.
  2. Another branch of abstract thinking is that logic and logic relations are primary, and matter is spawned by them.
  • One version of logic primacy is math primacy -- that all physics reduces to math, and math is therefore what is "real".

  • Another form of logic primacy is "logical necessity", which is the basis for Thomist theology

  • A third form of logical primacy is the view that "relationships" are primary over objects, and are the more fundamental reality that spawns matter.

  1. Process Philosophy hold that processes are more primary than matter (or possibly than logic). This is kind of a variant on "logic primary" if one treats processes as somehow "logic", but the lack of a time term in logic makes this a suspect inference, to my mind.

  2. Another approach also called idealism holds that consciousness or awareness is the primary aspect of our universe. This has a lot of variants:

  • Buddhist thinking is that our awareness is real, and the material world we think is around us is a delusion
  • The Perennial Philosophy is that there is a Mind at Large, which thinks the universe into existence. PP has delusion as a key feature as well (of our separation from MAL, and of the reality of matter)
  • There are viewpoints that mind is primary, but that our world is generated by a kind of weighted integration of all conscious expectations. Much New Age thinking falls into this approach to mind/matter.
  1. A further version of Idealism is not ontological, but epistemological. It is to hold that our knowledge is based upon perception, hence epistemologically perception (mind, consciousness) is primary. One can INFER the reality of matter if one wants, but that is a far less "real" real than perceptions are. Kant held by this version of Idealism, and it was continued into the 20th century by the Phenomenalogic movement.

Spiritualism is the view that spirits are causal agents in this world

Again, there are a lot of spiritualism views.

All of the "consciousness is primary" views above are implicitly spiritualist. But the Perennial Philosophy would hold that our belief in our agency is a delusion, so while it is spiritualist in general category, it generally rejects the agency assumptions of humans or discarnate as spirits.

However, most Spiritualism is dualist, not idealist.

There was a widespread view which was referred to as Spiritualism in the 1800s, which focused on communications with, and the agency of, discarnate spirits, primarily of dead humans. This movement has continued thru today and is exemplified by channelers.

This movement is still reasonably widely followed in Brazil, where Spiritualism is a recognized religion.

The assumptions behind shamanism, and behind Wiccan practices, are generally dualist as well.

  • I wish the MAL would think a sandwich into existence for me.
    – J D
    Jan 24, 2023 at 20:03
  • 1
    @jd -- Did you end up eating a sandwich? Then MAL DID! The intermediate medium may have been your hands, but intermediate steps are part of pretty much all causal chains. ;>
    – Dcleve
    Jan 25, 2023 at 4:51
  • Where does the whole German Idealism fall inside this spectrum?
    – Starckman
    Jan 25, 2023 at 5:48
  • @starckman -- Kant is #5 under idealism. Epistemology, not ontology.
    – Dcleve
    Jan 25, 2023 at 6:12
  • But what about Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, etc.?
    – Starckman
    Jan 25, 2023 at 6:14

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