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Beyond Realism and Idealism

By Wilbur Marshall Urban | Go to book overview

Chapter VIII
Realism, Idealism and 'The Philosophy of Spirit.' The World of Values.

I --

A

THE THESIS of the preceding chapter is that the philosophy of nature or of science is beyond epistemological idealism and realism. This may be stated in several ways. From the developments of modern physics, the basal science of nature, no inference can be drawn either way -- that is for an exclusive idealism or an exclusive realism. On the other hand, modern physics concedes something to both positions and must so concede. In both these senses physical knowledge is beyond realism and idealism.

So much then for the world of physical objects. But there is another world which, in contrast with nature, we may call the world of spirit. When we enter this world, and consider man's attempt to know and understand the human spirit, the situation seems at first wholly different. It is here that we should expect idealism in its multiform phases to celebrate its chief victories and to be given the privileged position in the interpretation of the world. The implications of this world we should expect to be wholly idealistic.

This is, indeed, the view generally held. Idealism from Plato to Hegel has been primarily a humanistic movement. So long as it deals with the human, the social and the historical -- with mind subjective or objective -- it seems to be at home. It is when it deals with physical objects, and the sciences concerned with these objects, that its inadequacy displays itself. This view is held alike by idealists and realists. It was, according to both, because of Hegel's power of interpretation of 'mind' that his philosophy had its extraordinary vogue; it was because of its failure to explain nature that it broke down. In other words, the implications of the humanities are idealistic.

The situation is, however, by no means as simple as this. Modern thought is full of paradoxes and one of the paradoxes of the present situation is precisely this -- that while there is a strong tendency in physics towards idealism, the sciences of mind and of society have in recent times tended, on the whole, more

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