As you follow “School of Thought: Idealism,” idealism unfolds through a classroom scenario. At first, you are introduced to three players – an ideal(ist) student, an ideal(ist) teacher, and ideal(ist) curriculum. The goal of idealist educators is to transfer their knowledge to their students through words. Students listen and absorb, and they try to be perfect. Perfect in this sense means containing knowledge and understanding of an absolute truth or reality. Idealists don’t want to change things, they commonly want to simply study human history and read great works of literature. In fact, idealists are sometimes criticized for being complacent with the status quo.
As we enter the ideal(ist) teacher’s classroom, we can see books stacked on the shelves behind her. She begins her lecture, a teaching method commonly associated with idealism, by explaining to her students that they will be absorbing her words into their minds. Her homework assignment, a history reading, would fit right into idealism’s curriculum.
The teacher explains a brief history of idealism to her students. During Plato’s lifetime (roughly 430-35-BCE), Athens began to grow and expand. With this expansion, new people and cultures were introduced to Athens, causing a shift in Athenians’ sense of reality. Plato took notice of this shift and began to formulate the idea of a universal reality, one that is beyond relativism, one that exists beyond the physical, sensory world.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave explains his concept of reality – if people were stuck in a cave, forced to only view shadows on a cave wall, their sense of reality might tell them that the images on the wall were as real as they were. If they were suddenly freed and allowed to see that the images were mere shadows, their sense of reality would then have to shift. This highlights the fact that when reality is based on the senses, it is not consistent. Plato decides, therefore, that the sensory world must not be ultimately true, and is therefore inferior.
In summary, here is an overview of the metaphysics, epistemology and axiology of idealism: Metaphysics is inherent in idealism, because idealists believe that all truth, all reality, all ethics and even beauty lies beyond the physical world. Epistemologically, idealists believe that the truth is found in ideas, and it is up to the intellect to realize that truth and hold it. Truth is independent of the senses because the senses are relative, according to idealists. Finally the axiology of idealism can be summarized by three simple rules: 1) values and ethics are external to humanity, 2) values and ethics are within the nature of true reality, and finally, 3) values and ethics are based on fixed and eternal principles.