Who’s an “Idealist”?

Review of Metaphysics 58 (3):561 - 570 (2005)
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The term “Idealism” has been used to characterize a variety of positions in the western philosophical tradition. Plato, the Neoplatonists, Leibniz, Berkeley, Kant, and Hegel, among others, have been interpreted as proponents of some version of philosophical idealism. Idealism is typically viewed as a response to theoretical problems generated by materialism and certain forms of realism. The difficulties involved with making sense of mind and values within a strictly materialist context, materialist explanations of causality, realist accounts of knowledge, and the ontological status of matter itself have provided the grounds for idealist innovations. However, idealist solutions to these problems need not reject materialism or realism in toto. Idealists may incorporate philosophical claims which appear to be consistent with materialist or realist doctrines. For instance, Plato, the Neoplatonists, and Hegel often write about physical, material objects as if they exist as extramental entities—on some interpretations, at least. An idealist of the Berkeleyan sort would reject the notion of extra-mental material bodies as incoherent. Thus, the following questions emerge



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