Present Philosophical Tendencies: A Critical Survey of Naturalism, Idealism, Pragmatism, and Realism Together with a Synopsis of the Philosophy of William James

By Ralph Perry Barton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF IDEALISM1

§ 1. "THE constant presupposition is, that a spiritual life which is a unified whole is at work in the depths of our soul." These words, written by Rudolph Eucken,2 admirably express the message of idealism to modern times. Idealism is a form of spiritualism in which man, the finite individual, is regarded as a microcosmic representation of God, the Absolute Individual. Man's spiritual nature is a revelation of the principle of reality, and his ideals an intimation of the perfect and eternal reality. So that, but for his limitations, man would be God; and taken together with the balance of spiritual life, which compensates for these limitations, he is God.

The General Meaning of Modern Idealism

But a characterization of idealism in terms so general as these, while it helps to define its place among religious and ethical motives, throws little light upon its technical philosophical meaning. To understand this it is necessary to examine its method and proofs. And we then discover that idealism rests fundamentally upon a theory of knowledge. The supremacy of spirit is argued from the theory of the priority of the knowing consciousness itself, over all with which it has to do. All things, it is contended, are primarily 'objects'; and to be object means necessarily to be 'for' something, to be in some sense the expression or creation of a 'subject.' The so-called 'external world' being in this manner reduced to knowledge, and knowledge being construed as spiritual, the supremacy of spirit is

____________________
1
Reprinted, with additions and alterations, from an article published in Mind, N. S., Vol. XIX, 1910.
2
The Life of the Spirit, trans. by F. L. Pogson, p.100.

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