Absolute idealism

Absolute idealism is an ontologically monistic philosophy "chiefly associated with Friedrich Schelling and G. W. F. Hegel, both German idealist philosophers of the 19th century, Josiah Royce, an American philosopher, and others, but, in its essentials, the product of Hegel".[1][2] It is Hegel's account of how being is ultimately comprehensible as an all-inclusive whole (das Absolute). Hegel asserted that in order for the thinking subject (human reason or consciousness) to be able to know its object (the world) at all, there must be in some sense an identity of thought and being. Otherwise, the subject would never have access to the object and we would have no certainty about any of our knowledge of the world. To account for the differences between thought and being, however, as well as the richness and diversity of each, the unity of thought and being cannot be expressed as the abstract identity "A=A". Absolute idealism is the attempt to demonstrate this unity using a new "speculative" philosophical method, which requires new concepts and rules of logic. According to Hegel, the absolute ground of being is essentially a dynamic, historical process of necessity that unfolds by itself in the form of increasingly complex forms of being and of consciousness, ultimately giving rise to all the diversity in the world and in the concepts with which we think and make sense of the world.

The absolute idealist position dominated philosophy in nineteenth-century England and Germany, while exerting significantly less influence in the United States. The absolute idealist position should be distinguished from the subjective idealism of Berkeley, the transcendental idealism of Kant, or the post-Kantian transcendental idealism (also known as critical idealism)[3] of Fichte and of the early Schelling.[4]


For Hegel, the interaction of opposites generates in dialectical fashion all concepts we use in order to understand the world. Moreover, this development occurs not only in the individual mind, but also through history. In The Phenomenology of Spirit, for example, Hegel presents a history of human consciousness as a journey through stages of explanations of the world. Each successive explanation created problems and oppositions within itself, leading to tensions which could only be overcome by adopting a view that could accommodate these oppositions in a higher unity. At the base of spirit lies a rational development. This means that the absolute itself is exactly that rational development. The assertion that "All reality is spirit" means that all of reality rationally orders itself and while doing so creates the oppositions we find in it. Even nature is not different from the spirit since it itself is ordered by the determinations given to us by spirit. Nature, as that which is not spirit is so determined by spirit, therefore it follows that nature is not absolutely other, but understood as other and therefore not essentially alien.

The aim of Hegel was to show that we do not relate to the world as if it is other from us, but that we continue to find ourselves back into that world. With the realisation that both the mind and the world are ordered according to the same rational principles, our access to the world has been made secure, a security which was lost after Kant proclaimed the 'Ding an sich' to be ultimately inaccessible.


Neo-Hegelianism is a school (or schools) of thought associated and inspired by the works of Hegel.

It refers mainly to the doctrines of an idealist school of philosophers that were prominent in Great Britain and in the United States between 1870 and 1920. The name is also sometimes applied to cover other philosophies of the period that were Hegelian in inspiration—for instance, those of Benedetto Croce and of Giovanni Gentile.

Hegelianism after Hegel

Although Hegel died in 1831, his philosophy lived on. In politics, there was a developing schism, even before his death, between right Hegelians and left Hegelians.

In the philosophy of religion, Hegel's influence soon became very powerful in the English-speaking world. The British school, called British idealism and partly Hegelian in inspiration, included Thomas Hill Green, Bernard Bosanquet, F.H. Bradley, William Wallace, and Edward Caird. It was importantly directed towards political philosophy and political and social policy, but also towards metaphysics and logic, as well as aesthetics.

America saw the development of a school of Hegelian thought move toward pragmatism.

German twentieth-century neo-Hegelians

In Germany there was a neo-Hegelianism (Neuhegelianismus) of the early twentieth century, partly developing out of the Neo-Kantians. Richard Kroner wrote one of its leading works, a history of German idealism from a Hegelian point of view.

Other notable neo-Hegelians


Exponents of analytic philosophy, which has been the dominant form of Anglo-American philosophy for most of the last century, have criticised Hegel's work as hopelessly obscure. Existentialists also criticise Hegel for ultimately choosing an essentialistic whole over the particularity of existence. Epistemologically, one of the main problems plaguing Hegel's system is how these thought determinations have bearing on reality as such. A perennial problem of his metaphysics seems to be the question of how spirit externalises itself and how the concepts it generates can say anything true about nature. At the same time, they will have to, because otherwise Hegel's system concepts would say nothing about something that is not itself a concept and the system would come down to being only an intricate game involving vacuous concepts.


Schopenhauer noted that Hegel created his absolute idealism after Kant had discredited all proofs of God's existence. The Absolute is a non-personal substitute for the concept of God. It is the one subject that perceives the universe as one object. Individuals share in parts of this perception. Since the universe exists as an idea in the mind of the Absolute, absolute idealism copies Spinoza's pantheism in which everything is in God or Nature.

Moore and Russell

Famously, G. E. Moore’s rebellion against absolutism found expression in his defense of common sense against the radically counter-intuitive conclusions of absolutism (e.g. time is unreal, change is unreal, separateness is unreal, imperfection is unreal, etc.). G. E. Moore also pioneered the use of logical analysis against the absolutists, which Bertrand Russell promulgated and used in order to begin the entire tradition of analytic philosophy with its use against the philosophies of his direct predecessors. In recounting his own mental development Russell reports, "For some years after throwing over [absolutism] I had an optimistic riot of opposite beliefs. I thought that whatever Hegel had denied must be true." (Russell in Barrett and Adkins 1962, p. 477) Also:

G.E. Moore took the lead in the rebellion, and I followed, with a sense of emancipation. [Absolutism] argued that everything common sense believes in is mere appearance. We reverted to the opposite extreme, and thought that everything is real that common sense, uninfluenced by philosophy or theology, supposes real.

— Bertrand Russell; as quoted in Klemke 2000, p.28


Particularly the works of William James and F. C. S. Schiller, both founding members of pragmatism, made lifelong assaults on Absolute Idealism. James was particularly concerned with the monism that Absolute Idealism engenders, and the consequences this has for the problem of evil, free will, and moral action. Schiller, on the other hand, attacked Absolute Idealism for being too disconnected with our practical lives, and argued that its proponents failed to realize that thought is merely a tool for action rather than for making discoveries about an abstract world that fails to have any impact on us.

Absolute idealism has greatly altered the philosophical landscape. Paradoxically, (though, from a Hegelian point of view, maybe not paradoxically at all) this influence is mostly felt in the strong opposition it engendered. Both logical positivism and Analytic philosophy grew out of a rebellion against Hegelianism prevalent in England during the 19th century.[5] Continental phenomenology, existentialism and post-modernism also seek to 'free themselves from Hegel's thought'. Martin Heidegger, one of the leading figures of Continental philosophy in the 20th century, sought to distance himself from Hegel's work. One of Heidegger's philosophical themes was "overcoming metaphysics".

See also


  1. ^ Absolute Idealism – Britannica.com
  2. ^ The term absoluter Idealismus occurs for the first time in Schelling's Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur als Einleitung in das Studium dieser Wissenschaft (Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature: as Introduction to the Study of this Science), Vol. 1, P. Krüll, 1803 [1797], p. 80.
  3. ^ Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801, Harvard University Press, 2002, p. 3.
  4. ^ Nectarios G. Limnatis, German Idealism and the Problem of Knowledge: Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, Springer, 2008, pp. 138, 166, 177.
  5. ^ "Without exception, the best philosophy departments in the United States are dominated by analytic philosophy, and among the leading philosophers in the United States, all but a tiny handful would be classified as analytic philosophers. Practitioners of types of philosophizing that are not in the analytic tradition—such as phenomenology, classical pragmatism, existentialism, or Marxism—feel it necessary to define their position in relation to analytic philosophy." John Searle (2003) Contemporary Philosophy in the United States in N. Bunnin and E.P. Tsui-James (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., (Blackwell, 2003), p. 1.

Further reading

  • Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (Garfield)
  • Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Blackburn)
  • A History of Christian Thought (Tillich)
  • From Socrates to Sartre (Lavine)
  • Hegel: Een inleiding (ed. Ad Verbrugge et al.)
  • Hegel's Idealism – The Satisfactions of Self Consciousness (Pippin)
  • Endings – Questions of Memory in Hegel and Heidegger (ed. McCumber, Comay)

Acosmism, in contrast to pantheism, denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory, (the prefix "a-" in Greek meaning negation; like "un-" in English), and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real. Conceptual versions of Acosmism are found in eastern and western philosophies.

Actual idealism

Actual idealism was a form of idealism, developed by Giovanni Gentile, that grew into a 'grounded' idealism, contrasting the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, and the absolute idealism of G. W. F. Hegel. To Gentile, who considered himself the "philosopher of Fascism," actualism was the sole remedy to philosophically preserving free agency, by making the act of thinking self-creative and, therefore, without any contingency and not in the potency of any other fact.

British idealism

A species of absolute idealism, British idealism was a philosophical movement that was influential in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The leading figures in the movement were T. H. Green (1836–1882), F. H. Bradley (1846–1924), and Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923). They were succeeded by the second generation of J. M. E. McTaggart (1866–1925), H. H. Joachim (1868–1938), J. H. Muirhead (1855–1940), and R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943). The last major figure in the tradition was G. R. G. Mure (1893–1979). Doctrines of early British idealism so provoked the young Cambridge philosophers G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell that they began a new philosophical tradition, analytic philosophy.

Canadian idealism

Canadian idealism is a Canadian philosophical tradition that stemmed from British idealism.

The early idealists include George Paxton Young (1818–1889) who began teaching at Knox College in 1851, Samuel Dyde (1862-1947), and John Watson (1847–1939) who began teaching at Queen's University in 1872. The more recent idealists include philosophers George Parkin Grant (1918–1988), Leslie Armour (1931–2014), and Charles Taylor (born 1931).Both the British and Canadian idealists draw from Georg W. F. Hegel's absolute idealism. There are three pillars to this philosophy. The first pillar is the response to the materialism of the Enlightenment. Idealists argue that the scientific reason of the Enlightenment artificially suppresses a significant dimension of human experience; that is, the cultural framework and historically inherited ideas with which we make sense of the world around us. Idealists hold that knowledge and reason are socially cultivated, not only with our contemporaries but also with our history.The second pillar is the philosophy of history. For idealists, philosophy includes a study of history. To reflect on what we currently believe we must understand the historical dialogue and the conflict of ideas that has brought us to this point. A wide range of subjects from economic rights to the notion of the family come into consideration, but the central question of idealists is how to reconcile civic unity (or the common good) with individual freedom.The third pillar is the formulation of a philosophy of freedom. The concept of culturally embedded knowledge and the historical approach to philosophy set the groundwork for idea of freedom as something that is achieved through a commitment to the community rather than in opposition to it, as is the case with the contract theory of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke for whom freedom is the absence of external interference with our choices (negative liberty). Freedom for the idealists is achieved through the ethical life of our community, not despite it. By participating in our society, engaging in dialogues with others about our proper ends, and giving and receiving the recognition of others that we are free, we cultivate the elements that make us self-governing (or autonomous) individuals, and hence truly free (positive liberty).

Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences

The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (abbreviated as EPS or simply Encyclopaedia; German: Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse, EPW, translated as Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline) by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (first published in 1817, second edition 1827, third edition 1830), is a work that presents an abbreviated version of Hegel's systematic philosophy in its entirety, and is the only form in which Hegel ever published his entire mature philosophical system. The fact that the account is exhaustive, that the grounding structures of reality are ideal, and that the system is closed makes the Encyclopedia a statement par excellence of absolute idealism.

Intended as a pedagogical aid for attendees of his lectures, Hegel revised and extended the Encyclopedia over more than a decade, but stressed its role as a "textbook" in need of elucidation through oral commentary. The 1830 text is widely available in various English translations with copious additions (Zusätze) added posthumously by Hegel's students, deriving from their lecture notes. These additions expand on the text with examples and illustrations, and while scholars do not take the Zusätze to be verbatim transcription of Hegel's lectures, their more informal and non-technical style make them good stand-ins for the "necessary oral commentary".

Part I of the work is sometimes referred to as the Lesser Logic (or Shorter Logic) to distinguish it from the Greater Logic, the moniker given to Hegel's Science of Logic.

Essays on Truth and Reality

Essays on Truth and Reality is a 1914 book by the English philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley, in which the author expounds his philosophy of absolute idealism and gives the classic statement of a coherence theory of truth and knowledge.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (, German: [ˈɡeːɔɐ̯k ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈheːɡl̩]; August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher and an important figure of German idealism. He achieved wide recognition in his day and—while primarily influential within the continental tradition of philosophy—has become increasingly influential in the analytic tradition as well. Although Hegel remains a divisive figure, his canonical stature within Western philosophy is universally recognized.

Hegel's principal achievement was his development of a distinctive articulation of idealism, sometimes termed absolute idealism, in which the dualisms of, for instance, mind and nature and subject and object are overcome. His philosophy of spirit conceptually integrates psychology, the state, history, art, religion and philosophy. His account of the master–slave dialectic has been highly influential, especially in 20th-century France. Of special importance is his concept of spirit (Geist, sometimes also translated as "mind") as the historical manifestation of the logical concept and the "sublation" (Aufhebung, integration without elimination or reduction) of seemingly contradictory or opposing factors: examples include the apparent opposition between nature and freedom and between immanence and transcendence. Hegel has been seen in the 20th century as the originator of the thesis, antithesis, synthesis triad, but as an explicit phrase it originated with Johann Gottlieb Fichte.Hegel has influenced many thinkers and writers whose own positions vary widely. Karl Barth described Hegel as a "Protestant Aquinas" while Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote that "all the great philosophical ideas of the past century—the philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche, phenomenology, German existentialism, and psychoanalysis—had their beginnings in Hegel."

Hegel Bulletin

Hegel Bulletin (previously Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain) is a bi-annual peer-reviewed academic journal covering the thought of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel published by Hegel Society of Great Britain. It was established in 1980. The editors are Christoph Schuringa and Alison Stone.


Hegelianism is the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel which can be summed up by the dictum that "the rational alone is real", which means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. His goal was to reduce reality to a more synthetic unity within the system of absolute idealism.


In philosophy, Idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, Idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In contrast to Materialism, Idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.

Idealism theories are mainly divided into two groups. Subjective idealism takes as its starting point the given fact of human consciousness seeing the existing world as a combination of sensation. Objective idealism posits the existence of an objective consciousness which exists before and, in some sense, independently of human ones. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society. As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism thus rejects those physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind.

The earliest extant arguments that the world of experience is grounded in the mental derive from India and Greece. The Hindu idealists in India and the Greek Neoplatonists gave panentheistic arguments for an all-pervading consciousness as the ground or true nature of reality. In contrast, the Yogācāra school, which arose within Mahayana Buddhism in India in the 4th century CE, based its "mind-only" idealism to a greater extent on phenomenological analyses of personal experience. This turn toward the subjective anticipated empiricists such as George Berkeley, who revived idealism in 18th-century Europe by employing skeptical arguments against materialism. Beginning with Immanuel Kant, German idealists such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer dominated 19th-century philosophy. This tradition, which emphasized the mental or "ideal" character of all phenomena, gave birth to idealistic and subjectivist schools ranging from British idealism to phenomenalism to existentialism.

Idealism as a philosophy came under heavy attack in the West at the turn of the 20th century. The most influential critics of both epistemological and ontological idealism were G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, but its critics also included the New Realists. According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the attacks by Moore and Russell were so influential that even more than 100 years later "any acknowledgment of idealistic tendencies is viewed in the English-speaking world with reservation". However, many aspects and paradigms of idealism did still have a large influence on subsequent philosophy.

Index of metaphysics articles

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science. Cosmology and ontology are traditional branches of metaphysics. It is concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world. Someone who studies metaphysics can be called either a "metaphysician" or a "metaphysicist".

Jena Romanticism

Jena Romanticism (German: Jenaer Romantik; also the Jena Romantics or Early Romanticism (Frühromantik)) is the first phase of Romanticism in German literature represented by the work of a group centred in Jena from about 1798 to 1804. The movement is considered to have contributed to the development of German idealism in late modern philosophy.

Logical atomism

Logical atomism is a philosophy that originated in the early 20th century with the development of analytic philosophy. Its principal exponent was the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. It is also widely held that the early work (the Tractatus and pre-Tractatus writings) of his Austrian-born pupil and colleague, Ludwig Wittgenstein, defend a version of logical atomism. Some philosophers in the Vienna Circle were also influenced by logical atomism. Rudolf Carnap was also deeply sympathetic to some of the philosophical aims of logical atomism. Gustav Bergmann also developed a form of logical atomism that focused on an ideal phenomalistic language, particularly in his discussions of J.O. Urmson's work on analysis.The name for this kind of theory was coined in March 1911 by Russell, in a work published in French titled "Le Réalisme analytique" (published in translation as "Analytic Realism" in Volume 6 of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell). Russell was developing and responding to what he called "logical holism"—i.e., the belief that the world operates in such a way that no part can be known without the whole being known first. This belief is commonly called monism, and Russell (and G. E. Moore) criticized the absolute idealism dominant then in Britain and exemplified in works of F. H. Bradley and J. M. E. McTaggart. Logical atomism is partly understood as a developed alternative to logical holism, or the "monistic logic" of Idealists, on which logical analysis is a kind of falsification.

The theory holds that the world consists of ultimate logical "facts" (or "atoms") that cannot be broken down any further. Having originally propounded this stance in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein rejected it in his later Philosophical Investigations (§§46–49, §81, §91).

Objective idealism

Objective idealism is an idealistic metaphysics that postulates that there is in an important sense only one perceiver, and that this perceiver is one with that which is perceived. One important advocate of such a metaphysics, Josiah Royce (the founder of American idealism), wrote that he was indifferent "whether anybody calls all this Theism or Pantheism". It is distinct from the subjective idealism of George Berkeley, and it abandons the thing-in-itself of Kant's dualism.

Subjective idealism

Subjective idealism, or empirical idealism, is the monistic metaphysical doctrine that only minds and mental contents exist. It entails and is generally identified or associated with immaterialism, the doctrine that material things do not exist. Subjective idealism rejects dualism, neutral monism, and materialism; indeed, it is the contrary of eliminative materialism, the doctrine that all or some classes of mental phenomena (such as emotions, beliefs, or desires) do not exist, but are sheer illusions.

Synoptic philosophy

Synoptic philosophy comes from the Greek word συνοπτικός synoptikos ("seeing everything together") and together with the word philosophy, means the love of wisdom emerging from a coherent understanding of everything together.Phenomenology, attempting to bracket egocentrism, appears to be more synoptic than analytic philosophy, logical atomism and logical positivism. Wilfrid Sellars (1962) used the term 'synoptic'. The Anglo-American philosophy made a synoptic, synthetic turn explicitly during the last quarter of the last century, giving birth or rebirth to absolute idealism, phenomenology, poststructuralism, psychologism, historicism, contextualism, holism, and the like.

The Phenomenology of Spirit

The Phenomenology of Spirit (German: Phänomenologie des Geistes) (1807) is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's most widely discussed philosophical work; its German title can be translated as either The Phenomenology of Spirit or The Phenomenology of Mind. Hegel described the work as an “exposition of the coming to be of knowledge”. This is explicated through a necessary self-origination and dissolution of “the various shapes of spirit as stations on the way through which spirit becomes pure knowledge”.The book marked a significant development in German idealism after Immanuel Kant. Focusing on topics in metaphysics, epistemology, physics, ethics, history, religion, perception, consciousness, and political philosophy, it is where Hegel develops his concepts of dialectic (including the master–slave dialectic), absolute idealism, ethical life, and Aufhebung. It had a profound effect in Western philosophy, and "has been praised and blamed for the development of existentialism, communism, fascism, death of God theology, and historicist nihilism."

Timothy Sprigge

Timothy Lauro Squire Sprigge (14 January 1932 – 11 July 2007) was a British idealist philosopher who spent the latter portion of his career at the University of Edinburgh, where he was Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, and latterly an Emeritus Fellow.

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