Beyond Realism and Idealism

By Wilbur Marshall Urban | Go to book overview

Chapter IX .
An Idealistic Philosophy on Realistic Lines: The Synthesis of Idealism and Naturalism

I

A

NO SANE philosophy,' wrote Samuel Alexander, 'has ever been exclusively realistic or idealistic.' If the arguments of the preceding chapters are sound we should now be ready to give to this assertion our full and cordial assent. What Alexander means is that no sane philosophy has ever failed to include in some form the fundamental motives of both realism and idealism -- has failed to acknowledge the driving force of idealism or to recognize the significance of the resistance of realism. The minimum of each which has shown itself to be irrefutable must find its place in any significant and lasting philosophy.

The expression 'sane' is in a sense a question begging epithet and yet we can, I think, fully appreciate what it means. If life itself which, as we have seen, contains these two motives also reconciles them, then a philosophy which shall not be inimical to life, and in this sense sane, must find a way to reconcile them also. There are, to be sure, logical minds -- logical in the sense that the insane man is logical, to use Chesterton's terms -- who insist upon being exclusively one or the other. But this 'all or nothing' type of thought consorts ill with the real motives and objectives of a significant philosophy.

Alexander is himself an illustration of his own dictum and of that essential soundness of mind which is the desideratum of the great philosopher. When in his Space, Time and Deity he approaches the levels of life, mind and values, his work becomes increasingly idealistic both in spirit and method. And somewhat the same may be said of other philosophers of this type. It is undoubtedly partly the desire to do justice to life, mind and values which leads Whitehead to seek 'to transform some of the main ideas of objective idealism unto a realistic basis.' It is also the ground for the expression of the opinion, on the part of many philosophers who have grown up in the naturalistic tradition, that the next stage in philosophy must be a 'fusion of

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