Beyond Realism and Idealism

By Wilbur Marshall Urban | Go to book overview

Chapter II
The Driving Force of Idealism. The Idealistic Train of Thought.

I --

A

WHEN one reflects on idealism in the different stages of one's life something like the following usually happens. At first, as a youth, we smile over its silliness; somewhat further on the way we find the idea interesting, clever and forgivable -- we discuss it readily and gladly with people who are still, according to their age and development, in an earlier stage. With maturity we are likely to find it meaningful, to annoy ourselves and others with it, but on the whole scarcely worth disproving, and contrary to nature. It is hardly worth the trouble of further thinking because we feel that we have thought often enough about it already. But later, and with more earnest reflection and more extensive knowledge of human life and its interests, idealism acquires a strength which it is difficult to overcome.

This statement, in substance a quotation from Lichtenberg's papers, written in 1853, is still for countless minds as true as when it was first written. It expresses admirably that driving force of idealism which we are now to attempt to understand, and it is for this reason that I have begun my discussion with the quotation. The inherent strength of this belief -- the driving force of the idealistic train of thought -- is, then, the theme of this chapter. We shall be concerned first of all with idealism as a life form of the human reason, as a way of thinking which, while clothing itself in logical argument, gets its real driving force, as Lichtenberg says, from earnest reflection and fuller knowledge of human life.

But what is this idealism, which many, like Lichtenberg, have found it so difficult to overcome? To this question, as we have already indicated, no single answer can be found. Nevertheless, an identity of intention runs throughout the entire series of changes which constitute the history of the notion. It is this continuity of intention, suggested briefly in the preceding chapter, which we have now to develop more fully. In presenting the idealistic train of thought the driving force of

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