Idealism is the most ambiguous phrase in the English language. Because hundreds of writers on Metaphysics and Philosophy have handled the subject of Idealism in Life and Art since Plato and Aristotle wrote, the matter has become so entangled and obscured that it is of no practical use for the layman to wade through the oceans of speculative and transcendental writing on the subject.

These are the comments of Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl, as quoted in a January 1917 article.

We might deduce that Idealism has always been difficult to express, and as a result, many scholarly works on the subject have always approached the subject with a negative outlook.

Any attempt to find a definition, I fear, will unavoidably start on a negative note.

Ruckstuhl alludes to Idealism’s intellectual foundations in Platonic thinking in the preceding statement. It’s often described as “an eternally existent pattern in which individual entities in any class are imperfect copies” in this domain. While this description is somewhat beneficial in providing a complete perspective of what idealism is, it simultaneously contains a large range of sub-contexts and divisions that cannot be articulated so easily.


Idealism has a wide range of meanings and can be applied in a variety of ways. Searches yield a wide range of results, including more well-known idealisms like transcendental, pragmatic, Kant, and Collingwood; but also less well-known concepts like crazy Idealism, Buddhist practises like Yogcra Idealism, or one article by journalist Alan W. Down examining Muscular Idealism–the idea of promoting peace in the Middle East through military force, rather than a vigorous fitness regime.

Also Read, Marxism: Is it the Best philosophy for 21st Century?

It is evident from this selection of search results that defining the phrase with any degree of accuracy is difficult; yet some noteworthy attempts have been made. Edgar Sheffield Brightman alluded to this issue in a 1933 piece, writing:

Whatever the motivations for opposition to the definition and usage of terminology that describe philosophical systems, the result has been unfavourable. It has aided and abetted the myth that we have arrived at a stage where there are no fundamental distinctions between philosophical systems or “schools.” It has encouraged each philosopher to believe that the implicit (nameless) system he possesses is the only truth, or, even worse, that it is so original and unique that it cannot be connected to any other system by any conceptual description. (It’s a path to lunacy.)

It has cultivated the dissolving notion that no system is worth examining and that philosophy is only a collection of specific concerns. Brightman’s statement perfectly encapsulates the complexities of idealism. There are several persuasive arguments from various persons within various schools persuading us that their interpretation of the phrase is valid. German Idealism, for example, is one of the most well-known.

idealism, plato

Immanuel Kant is regarded as the embodiment of German idealism in general. Despite the fact that there are divisions within this school, Kant is most closely identified with the Transcendental idealism branch. In a presentation on Kantian ethics, philosopher and theologian Keith Ward states that “Kant’s suggested solution of polarities lies at the heart of his critical philosophy.” Transcendental Idealism is the doctrine.’ Transcendental Idealism is the concept of a reality that is not based on sensory perception. Robin G. Collingwood despises the idea of Idealism being fundamentally German, and throughout his writing, he separates the two, frequently explaining Idealism’s own character.

Collingwood is typically connected with British idealism, and he is the one who most vehemently condemns the realists. Recent critiques, however, query whether Collingwood should be labelled an idealist; he suggests that his character parallels the term’s complexities, in that both Collingwood and Idealism refuse any verified definition. ‘The secret to Collingwood’s autobiography resides in what he opposed,’ Connelly explains. He declared his opposition to realists.’

In fact, it appears that idealism is more commonly defined by what it is not than by what it is. It is reality that is its polar opposite in this regard. While prominent in philosophical circles, this contrast — between idealism and Realism–may also be seen in literature.

George Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925 for “work distinguished by both idealism and empathy.” Its energising sarcasm is frequently tinged with a certain poetic beauty.’ He claims in his 1891 article The Quintessence of Ibsenism that society is made up of three distinct categories of people: philistines, who lack the ability to think creatively, idealists, who believe in the tangibility of the impossible, and realists, who can perceive the world for what it is.

Major Barbara, a play written in 1905, exemplifies his personal philosophy by pitting religious idealism against pragmatic realism within a single family unit. The play demonstrates that neither extreme is viable, as idealists rarely achieve anything and realists are overly concerned with the practical.

idealism vs realism, idealism

Popular opinions of Idealism in the United Kingdom reserve the word for dreamers, futurists, and the impractical, whereas Realists are often thought to be pragmatic, resourceful, and sane. Figures demonstrate that the two concepts have always had comparable tendencies in their usage, but that after 1945, realism has risen on the scale while idealism has fallen. However, it should be emphasised that information like this does not give context for the phrases. So, whether we are a practical nation or a dreamy nation, the question stays unresolved and – may be fortunately–unknown.