Manual The Impact of Idealism: 4

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The Impact of Idealism

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No keywords specified fix it. No categories specified categorize this paper. Does an Idea of Christianity exist? The Transcendental Theology of K. Truth and History. One generally understands the term "idealism" to mean every philosophy that, in questioning the source of knowledge, identifies it with thought, that is, with ideas. Taking the "principle of immanence " as its own method, according to which we do not directly know real objects, but only our representations of them, idealist philosophy bases its gnoseology on the claim that an immediate access to the data of experience on the part of our conscious would be impossible, or at least doubtful.

The idealist position, beyond determining a gnoseology, also constructs its own metaphysics: in contrast to realism, that bases reality and truth in being, the principle of immanence maintains that truth is founded on thought. This idealist metaphysical conception has remarkable consequences in anthropology, theology, and also science, when the subject is predominant over the external world, that is, over the knowledge of a reality created independently from the subject itself.

The first philosophical use of the term "idealism " was made by Leibniz , who used it in reference to the philosophy of Plato. Although in the history of philosophy the term "idealism " usually indicates a period from the end of the 's to the first decades of the following century, the idealist philosophy has in reality a much broader historical scope.

Though recognizing that the German idealism of Hegel, Fichte and Schelling perhaps represents its greatist theoretic consistency, such a philosophical current cannot be confined to this period alone, as it concerns a gnoseological vision that, even with its different shades of meaning, crosses the entire history of Western philosophical thought.


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Idealism effectively began with the philosophy of Plato B. In fact the main characteristic of the platonic philosophy is just the vision of this super-sensibile truth, defined as "theory of ideas. These were expressed in the mechanistic combination of what were then believed to be the four fundamental elements of matter: water, air, earth and fire.

Plato did not, however, believe that these combinations were the true causes; he thought, in fact, that the cause of the sensible was to be found in something "supersensible" cf. Phaedo , 97bc. For Plato the physical "data" cannot be explained remaining in the dimension of the physical, but rather ascending to the "supersensible", that is, in the ideas.

Internationales Jahrbuch des Deutschen Idealismus / International Yearbook of German Idealism

With the term "idea" Plato meant, in a certain sense, something that is opposed to thought, that is "that to which" thought turns to when it thinks, something without which thought itself would not be: thus, the Platonic idea is not a thought, but rather a "being," indeed that being "that is absolutely," the "true being" cf. Reale, , vol. II, pp. For Plato, therefore, the idea is the ontological essence and not so much the logical concept. Plato's idealist conception can be found, among other texts, in Book VII of The Republic , where the famous "myth of the cave" is found, and where there is a description, through a metaphorical-mythical process, of the various levels of human knowledge, that proceed increasingly from the sense knowledge to the intelligible knowledge.

It is in these pages, and in similar ones of Platonic writings, that the first form of idealism is put, understood as a progressive rebuttal of sensible experience as the basis for knowledge, giving predominance to ideas.

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Only in this way, Plato claimed, could one hope to move from simple "opinion" Gr. If what we have recalled by now is common knowledge accepted by everyone, Plato's position in favor of the reality of mathematical entities is, on the contrary, under a great debate. In the pages of Metaphysics dedicated to the Platonic doctrine of causes, Aristotle B.


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For Aristotle, therefore, Plato admits the existence of "archetypal ideas" of numbers from which, similarly to other ideas, mathematical numbers are derived. In effect, in several works of Plato, such as Philebus , Republic , the VIIth Letter , we find a reference to the existence of ideal numbers that are archetypes of the numbers used by mathematicians. In Plato one can therefore suppose the existence of numbers, but with the shrewdness to remember that he speaks about them only as archetypal ideas, a concept of the number very different to the mathematical reality that he derives.

In the context of modern philosophy the term "idea" is altered. If for Plato it is something real, for modern philosophers it is rather a "mental representation," that is, the idea is closer to the "psychological" than to the "ontological" dimension. According to many historians of philosophical thought, it is only with the Modern Age that the specifics of idealism are explicitly set out.

In this period we find, on the one hand, a world of experience that is considerably valued, thanks to physical-mathematical science, which after Galileo and Newton had grounded its epistemological autonomy on experience ; on the other hand, thought is interpreted as "intuition", a thought that looks within itself for the certainty of its truth, a vision that will have its foremost defender in Descartes. But if Platonic idealism can be identified as an "objective" idealism, that of the Modern Age should be defined as a "subjective" idealism, meaning that the ultimate foundation of reality is based in the subject.

The role assumed by Descartes in effecting this change of route is remarkable: with his cogito ergo sum he turns the previous gnoseological outline on its head, giving to "knowing" the subject the precedence over "being" the object.


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  4. By introducing methodical doubt, refuting the certainties that are not grasped in a clear and distinct manner, that is, in an immediate and intuitive way the human spirit having "innate ideas" that exist in it as objects of knowledge , Descartes places himself as the remote father of modern idealism, even if, in fact, it is difficult to categorize him as a pure idealist. In fact, in Descartes' gnoseological doctrine "sense" has a certain degree of obscurity and is contrasted with intellect, the faculty of "clear and distinguished ideas," that acts through intuition and deduction to reach true knowledge.

    In his philosophy there is still, however, the difficulty of establishing whether an effective object existing in reality corresponds to these objects of the mind. In order to answer this problem he recovers, in part, the doctrine of Plato's ideas, thus showing how his way of thinking truly reflects his habit of mathematician. A different gnoseological formulation was that of John Locke Remembering the admirable synthesis performed by Newton , who was also a friend of his, he does not start from mere sensation, but rather from the "sensible perception," which is itself an act of knowledge.

    Locke defines the "idea" as: "whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perpection, thought, or understanding" An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , II, 8. A true admirer of the physics of Newton, Locke never thought of denying the existence of the truth outside of us cf. It is from the critique to the concept of substance begun by Locke that subsequently, thanks to George Berkeley , the best-known form of modern idealism would be born.

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    In his critique to Locke, Berkeley was lead to deny the existence of bodies as substances and to say that they are only ideas. All substance would be constituted by "ideas," whose truth consists in the fact that they are perceived by the subject. The esse est percipi would become, from that moment onwards, the typical formula of modern idealism. Only spirits and ideas exist, the spirit is the active substance, the idea is the inert and passive object of knowledge, for which the ideas depend in a certain sense from the spirit cf.

    The Principles of Human Knowledge , But, as Berkeley still emphasizes, not all ideas depend on "our" spirit, in fact some of them depend on God. He takes ideas as objects of sense experience: his theory of ideas is a theory that refers not to all being, but only to the sensible world. The jump performed here, with respect to Platonic idealism, is evident.

    From his gnoseological theory, Berkeley draws as a consequence the rehabilitation of final causes and the critique of Newton's absolute time and space, considered by the Irish bishop as pure abstractions. With Immanuel Kant idealism is defined in an even more specific way. He calls his philosophy "transcendental idealism," in order to distinguish it from the problematic idealism of Descartes and the dogmatic one of Berkeley. In the Critique of Pure Reason the problem of the possibility of metaphysics is raised, starting from the question of what are the conditions of possibility that allow science to arrive at a certainty cf.

    Fascinated by Newtonian physics, he claimed that mathematics and physics are the only sciences through which human reason reaches unequivocal results. Their characteristic is that of being based on necessary and universal principles, a priori, and thus principles not derived from experience. Experience, from which science nevertheless is nourished, can only say: "things have always worked this way," but not: "they should work this way.

    This entails that all our knowledge is limited to phenomena and that, in fact, we cannot know a thing in itself, the "noumenon. In Kantian idealism, space and time are not real properties, but a priori structures of our knowledge, forms of our sensitivity, conditions of the object's appearance to our intellect. Therefore, the main feature of the Kantian system is the definition of "transcendental," a term by which the active presence of the human spirit is indicated in every knowledge that concerns experience. Thus, the difference between the scientist and the philosopher consists in the fact that, while the former puts his or her trust in an "experience" approach, in perceptions of the material world derived from the senses, the philosopher examines the same job of the scientist, to make him or her understand that this is only a construction of human spirit, an interpretation of the sensory experience.

    Kant therefore does not deny the existence of an external reality, indeed he criticizes the idealism of Berkeley: Kant's idealism rather operates a stronger accentuation of the role of the knowing subject. After Kant, the position of idealism can be summarized by the statement: "there is only the Self and every other reality is a work of the Self. The intervention of the subject, of human spirit, is thus moved further: from the phenomenon to the noumenon. The spirit not only creates the form of the knowable, but also the content of the consciousness; it entirely creates the known object and identifies with it.

    Taking a different position to Kant, J.