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.

George Berkeley by John Smibert
George Berkeley is credited with the development of subjective idealism.


Subjective idealism is a fusion of phenomenalism or empiricism, which confers special status upon the immediately perceived, with idealism, which confers special status upon the mental. Idealism denies the knowability or existence of the non-mental, while phenomenalism serves to restrict the mental to the empirical. Subjective idealism thus identifies its mental reality with the world of ordinary experience, rather than appealing to the unitary world-spirit of pantheism or absolute idealism. This form of idealism is "subjective" not because it denies that there is an objective reality, but because it asserts that this reality is completely dependent upon the minds of the subjects that perceive it.

The earliest thinkers identifiable as subjective idealists were certain members of the Yogācāra school of Indian Buddhism, who reduced the world of experience to a stream of subjective perceptions. Subjective idealism made its mark in Europe in the 18th-century writings of George Berkeley, who argued that the idea of mind-independent reality is incoherent, concluding that the world consists of the minds of humans and of God. Subsequent writers have continuously grappled with Berkeley's skeptical arguments. Immanuel Kant responded by rejecting Berkeley's immaterialism and replacing it with transcendental idealism, which views the mind-independent world as existent but incognizable in itself. Since Kant, true immaterialism has remained a rarity, but is survived by partly overlapping movements such as phenomenalism, subjectivism, and perspectivism.


Thinkers such as Plato, Plotinus and Augustine of Hippo anticipated idealism's antimaterialism with their views of the inferior or derivative reality of matter. However, these Platonists did not make Berkeley's turn toward subjectivity. Indeed, Plato rationalistically condemned sense-experience, whereas subjective idealism presupposed empiricism and the irreducible reality of sense data. A more subjectivist methodology could be found in the Pyrrhonists' emphasis on the world of appearance, but their skepticism precluded the drawing of any ontological conclusions from the epistemic primacy of phenomena.

The first mature articulations of idealism arise in Yogacarin thinkers such as the 7th-century epistemologist Dharmakīrti, who identified ultimate reality with sense-perception. The most famous proponent of subjective idealism in the Western world was the 18th-century Irish philosopher George Berkeley, although Berkeley's term for his theory was immaterialism. From the point of view of subjective idealism, the material world does not exist, and the phenomenal world is dependent on humans. Hence the fundamental idea of this philosophical system (as represented by Berkeley or Mach) is that things are complexes of ideas or sensations, and only subjects and objects of perceptions exist. Berkeley summarized his theory with the motto "esse est percipi" ("To be is to be perceived"), but went on to elaborate it with God as the source of consensus reality and other particulars.

Berkeley believes that all material is a construction by the human mind. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy his argument is: “(1) We perceive ordinary objects (houses, mountains, etc.). (2) We perceive only ideas. Therefore, (3) Ordinary objects are ideas.” [1]

Berkeley makes such a radical claim that matter does not exist as a reaction to the materialists. He says “if there were external bodies, we couldn’t possibly come to know this; and if there weren’t, we might have the very same reasons to think there were that we have now” [2]: “a thinking being might, without the help of external bodies, be affected with the same series of sensations or ideas as you have.” [3] Berkeley believes that people cannot know that what they think to be matter is not simply a creation in their mind.

People have contested that premise (2) is false, claiming that people don’t perceive ideas but instead, “distinguishing two sorts of perception” [4] they perceive objects and then have ideas about them, effectively cutting down the equality. This might seem to obviously be the case, but in fact it is contestable. Many psychologists believe that what people actually perceive are tools, impediments, and threats. The famous gorilla psychological study, where people were asked to watch a video and count the number of basketball passess made, showed that people do not actually see everything in front of them, even a gorilla that marches across a high school gym. [5] Similarly, it is believed that human reaction to snakes is faster than it should physically be if it were consciously driven. Therefore, it is not unfair to say that objects go straight to the mind.

Berkeley even pointed out that it is not obvious how motion in the physical world could translate to emotion in the mind. Even the materialists had difficulty explaining this; Locke believed that to explain the transfer from physical object to mental image one must “attribute it wholly to the good pleasure of our Maker.” [6] Newton's laws of physics say that all movement comes from the inverse change in another motion, and materialists believe that what humans do is fundamentally move their parts. Then how you explain the correlation between objects existing, and the completely other realm of regular ideas is not obvious. The fact “that the existence of matter does not help to explain the occurrence of our ideas” [7] seems to Berkeley to undermine the reason for believing in matter at all. If the materialists have no way of knowing that matter exists, it seems best to not assume that it exists.

According to Berkeley, an object has real being as long as it is perceived by a mind. God, being omniscient perceives everything perceivable, thus all real beings exist in the mind of God. However, it is also evident that each of us has free will and understanding upon self-reflection, and our senses and ideas suggest that other people also possess these qualities as well. According to Berkeley there is no material universe, in fact he has absolutely no idea what that could possibly mean. To theorize about a universe that is composed of insensible matter is not a sensible thing to do. This matters because there is absolutely no positive account for a material universe, only speculation about things that are by fiat outside of our minds.

Berkeley's assessment of immaterialism was criticized by Samuel Johnson, as recorded by James Boswell. Responding to the theory, Dr. Johnson exclaimed "I refute it thus!" while kicking a rock with "mighty force". This episode is alluded to by Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's Ulysses, chapter three. Reflecting on the "ineluctable modality of the visible", Dedalus conjures the image of Johnson's refutation and carries it forth in conjunction with Aristotle's expositions on the nature of the senses as described in Sense and Sensibilia. Aristotle held that while visual perception suffered a compromised authenticity because it passed through the diaphanous liquid of the inner eye before being observed, sound and the experience of hearing were not thus similarly diluted. Dedalus experiments with the concept in the development of his aesthetic ideal.

In fiction

Subjective idealism is featured prominently in the Norwegian novel Sophie's World, in which "Sophie's world" exists in fact only in the pages of a book.

A parable of subjective idealism can be found in Jorge Luis Borges' short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, which specifically mentions Berkeley.

See also


  1. ^ Downing, Lisa. [ "George Berkeley"] Check |url= value (help). Stangord Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stangord Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  2. ^ Berkeley, John. "The Principles of Human Knowledge" (PDF). Early Modern Texts. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  3. ^ Berkeley, John. "The Principles of Human Knowledge" (PDF). Early Modern Texts. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  4. ^ Downing, Lisa. [ "George Berkeley"] Check |url= value (help). Stangord Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stangord Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  5. ^ Simons, Daniel. "Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events" (PDF). Charbis. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  6. ^ Locke, John. "Of the Extent of Human Knowledge". Enlightenment. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  7. ^ Downing, Lisa. [ "George Berkeley"] Check |url= value (help). Stangord Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stangord Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
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". 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) of Fichte and of the early Schelling.

Agape International Spiritual Center

The Agape International Spiritual Center is a transdenominational congregation currently holding Sunday services at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills California. California. Founded in 1986 by Michael Bernard Beckwith, Finley, S.C. and Alexander, T. (2009) African American religious Agape provides weekly services led by Beckwith, the Agape University of Transformational Studies and Leadership, and various ministries and outreach programs.

Association for Global New Thought

The Association for Global New Thought, or AGNT, is an organization of ministers, lay people, heads of other New Thought organizations, and people of all faiths dedicated to "conscious co-creation". Its New Thought member churches and centers number between 600 and 700, and include Unity churches, Religious Science, Divine Science centers, and nondenominational New Thought spiritual communities.


Drishti-srishti-vada (Sanskrit: दृष्टिसृष्टिवाद) or 'the doctrine of creation through perception', is an offshoot of Advaita Vedanta, which doctrine maintains that the perceived phenomenal world comes into existence only in the process of man’s observation of the world which is seen as a world of his own mental construction; having no objective reality, it exists only in his mind. Thus, mind is the cause of the universe and not the subtle cosmic elements; mind which is consciousness creates the world. This doctrine is aligned with the doctrine of Ajatavada, that of 'non-causality'.Shankara did not see subjectivism as a natural consequence of Mayavada, but much later a kind of subjective idealism was introduced by Prakasananda. Prakasananda propounded his doctrine of Drishti-srishti-vada in his work titled, Siddhanta-Muktavali, on which Nana Dikshita had written a commentary called Siddhanta-pradipika. In so doing he denied the objective character of maya. According to him all phenomena are subjective or imagined, and exist so long as are perceived. In this context, Madhusudana in his Siddhanta-bindu explains that Ishvara is Pure consciousness Brahman afflicted by nescience, and the reflection of consciousness in nescience is the jiva who is himself thus the material and efficient cause of the universe through his own nescience.Ramana termed this concept as the 'doctrine of simultaneous creation' or as the 'theory of false appearance', which theory maintains that all objects depend for their apparent existence upon the seer; that the world only exists when it is perceived, i.e. with the appearance of I-thought.

George Berkeley

George Berkeley (; 12 March 1685 – 14 January 1753) – known as Bishop Berkeley (Bishop of Cloyne) – was an Irish philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism" (later referred to as "subjective idealism" by others). This theory denies the existence of material substance and instead contends that familiar objects like tables and chairs are only ideas in the minds of perceivers and, as a result, cannot exist without being perceived. Berkeley is also known for his critique of abstraction, an important premise in his argument for immaterialism.

Berkeley was the namesake of the city of Berkeley, California, which is most famous as the home of the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1709, Berkeley published his first major work, An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, in which he discussed the limitations of human vision and advanced the theory that the proper objects of sight are not material objects, but light and colour. This foreshadowed his chief philosophical work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, in 1710, which, after its poor reception, he rewrote in dialogue form and published under the title Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in 1713.In this book, Berkeley's views were represented by Philonous (Greek: "lover of mind"), while Hylas (Greek: "matter") embodies the Irish thinker's opponents, in particular John Locke.

Berkeley argued against Isaac Newton's doctrine of absolute space, time and motion in De Motu (On Motion), published 1721. His arguments were a precursor to the views of Mach and Einstein. In 1732, he published Alciphron, a Christian apologetic against the free-thinkers, and in 1734, he published The Analyst, a critique of the foundations of calculus, which was influential in the development of mathematics.

His last major philosophical work, Siris (1744), begins by advocating the medicinal use of tar water and then continues to discuss a wide range of topics, including science, philosophy, and theology. Interest in Berkeley's work increased after World War II because he tackled many of the issues of paramount interest to philosophy in the 20th century, such as the problems of perception, the difference between primary and secondary qualities, and the importance of language.

Home of Truth

The Home of Truth is a New Thought denomination founded in San Francisco, California founded by Annie Rix Militz.


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.


Immaterial may refer to:

The opposite of matter, material, materialism, or materialistic

Maya (illusion), a concept in all Indian religions, that all matter is a grand illusion


Immaterialism, or subjective idealism

Immaterial financial matters, in accounting and auditing terms

Immaterial (collection), a 2002 short story collection by Robert Hood

Immaterial labor

It's Immaterial, British pop music band

Index of philosophy of mind articles

This is a list of philosophy of mind articles.

Alan Turing

Alexius Meinong

Anomalous monism

Anthony Kenny

Arnold Geulincx

Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness

Australian materialism

Baruch Spinoza

Biological naturalism

Brain in a vat

C. D. Broad

Chinese room



Consciousness Explained

Critical realism (philosophy of perception)

Daniel Dennett

David Hartley (philosopher)

David Kellogg Lewis

David Malet Armstrong

Direct realism

Direction of fit

Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit

Donald Davidson (philosopher)

Dream argument

Dualism (philosophy of mind)

Duration (Bergson)

Edmund Husserl

Eliminative materialism

Embodied philosophy

Emergent materialism

Evil demon

Exclusion principle (philosophy)

Frank Cameron Jackson

Fred Dretske

Functionalism (philosophy of mind)

G. E. M. Anscombe

Georg Henrik von Wright

George Edward Moore

Gilbert Harman

Gilbert Ryle

Gottfried Leibniz

Hard problem of consciousness

Henri Bergson

Hilary Putnam



Indefinite monism


Internalism and externalism

Intuition pump

J. J. C. Smart

Jaegwon Kim

Jerry Fodor

John Perry (philosopher)

John Searle

Karl Popper

Kendall Walton

Kenneth Allen Taylor

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mad pain and Martian pain

Mental property

Methodological solipsism

Michael Tye (philosopher)


Mind-body dichotomy


Multiple Drafts Model

Multiple realizability

Naming and Necessity

Naïve realism


Neutral monism

Noam Chomsky

Parallelism (philosophy)

Personal identity


Philosophy of artificial intelligence

Philosophy of mind

Philosophy of perception


Pluralism (philosophy)

Privileged access

Problem of other minds

Property dualism

Psychological nominalism


Reflexive monism

René Descartes

Representational theory of mind

Richard Rorty

Ron McClamrock

Self (philosophy)

Society of Mind


Stephen Stich

Subjective idealism


Sydney Shoemaker

Tad Schmaltz

The Concept of Mind

The Meaning of Meaning

Thomas Nagel

Turing test

Type physicalism

Unconscious mind

Wilfrid Sellars

William Hirstein

William James

Ladislav Klíma

Ladislav Klíma (22 August 1878 – 19 April 1928), was a Czech philosopher and novelist influenced by George Berkeley, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. His philosophy is referred to varyingly as existentialism and subjective idealism.

Local skepticism

Local skepticism is the view that one cannot possess knowledge in some particular domain. It contrasts with global skepticism (also known as absolute skepticism or universal skepticism), the view that one cannot know anything at all.

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.

Paul Brunton

Paul Brunton is the pen name of Raphael Hurst (21 October 1898 – 27 July 1981), a British theosophist and spiritualist. He is best known as one of the early popularizers of Neo-Hindu spiritualism in western esotericism, notably via his bestselling A Search in Secret India (1934).

Brunton was a proponent of a doctrine of "Mentalism", or Oriental Mentalism to distinguish it from subjective idealism of the western tradition. Brunton expounds his doctrine of Mentalism in The Hidden Teachings Beyond Yoga (1941) and in The Wisdom of the Overself (1943).

Perry Joseph Green

Perry Joseph Green of Portland, Oregon was a philosopher and preacher of the New Thought Movement in the early 1900s.

Property dualism

Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is composed of just one kind of substance—the physical kind—there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties. In other words, it is the view that non-physical, mental properties (such as beliefs, desires and emotions) inhere in or supervene upon certain physical substances (namely brains). As a doctrine, 'property dualism' is epistemic, as distinct from ontic.

Substance dualism, on the other hand, is the view that there exist in the universe two fundamentally different kinds of substance: physical (matter) and non-physical (mind or consciousness), and subsequently also two kinds of properties which adhere in those respective substances. Substance dualism is thus more susceptible to the mind-body problem. Both substance and property dualism are opposed to reductive physicalism. As a doctrine, 'substance dualism' is ontic, as distinct from epistemic.

The Ashtray (Or the Man Who Denied Reality)

The Ashtray (Or the Man Who Denied Reality) is a book by Errol Morris in which he criticizes the philosophy of Thomas Kuhn. In the book, Morris argues that Kuhn was a relativist and a philosophical idealist, contrasting his interpretation of Kuhn's views with his own epistemology, drawing on Hilary Putnam and Saul Kripke, which he describes as "investigative realism", based on the belief that there is an objective reality whilst rejecting naïve realism. Morris accepts that investigation of truth involves considerable effort, with no guarantee of reaching the absolute truth, and that knowledge can be attained "through reason, through observation, through investigation, through thought, through science".In a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Philip Kitcher compared Morris' critique to Samuel Johnson's appeal to the stone regarding George Berkeley's belief in subjective idealism, stating that "Morris has no interest in considering what Kuhn might have had in mind", and rejecting his characterisation of Kuhn as a relativist and an irrealist.

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is a short story by the 20th-century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The story was first published in the Argentine journal Sur, May 1940. The "postscript" dated 1947 is intended to be anachronistic, set seven years in the future. The first English-language translation of the story was published in 1961.

Told in a first-person narrative, the story focuses on the author's discovery of the mysterious and apparently fictional world of Tlön, whose inhabitants believe a form of subjective idealism, denying the reality of the world, and speak in a language lacking nouns. Relatively long for Borges (approximately 5,600 words), the story is a work of speculative fiction.

The story alludes to many leading intellectual figures both in Argentina and in the world at large, and takes up a number of themes more typical of a novel of ideas. Most of the ideas engaged are in the areas of metaphysics, language, epistemology, and literary criticism.

Universal Foundation for Better Living

The Universal Foundation for Better Living, or UFBL, is a New Thought denomination that was founded in 1974 by Johnnie Colemon in Chicago, Illinois. Colemon founded the foundation as an association for African American New Thought ministers after breaking away from the Unity Church for "blatant racism". Rev. Colemon is often referred to as "the First Lady of New Thought".

Warren Felt Evans

Warren Felt Evans (December 23, 1817-1889) was an American author of the New Thought movement. He became a student of the movement in 1863, after seeking healing from its founder, Phineas P. Quimby. He was the founder of a mind-cure sanitarium in Salisbury, Massachusetts, and has been referred to as "the recording angel of metaphysics".

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