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Free «Compare and Contrast the Ancient Greek, Chinese and German Idealism» Essay Sample


Idealism is a term coined in the 18th century, and it is a notation for the integral philosophies aimed at interpreting the world order on the semantic and axiological spiritual domination. The first usage of the term known for the history has been revealed in 1702 by Leibniz in the evaluation of Plato's philosophy (as opposed to the materialistic philosophy of Epicurus). The distribution received in the late 18th century, after an explicit statement in the French materialism of the so called “fundamental question of philosophy” as a matter of the relationships between the being and consciousness (Bolender, 2001). The classic formulation of this problem due to Hegel is a resolution of the opposition between the being and thinking philosophy; and it “has two main forms of resolving this opposition - realistic and idealistic”. The historical origins of idealism are inherent in thinking of anthropomorphism and animation that have their driving force in the image of human behavior caused by consciousness and will. In the future sources, the concept of epistemological idealism will lead to the ability of abstract thinking. The formation of general concepts and an increasing degree of abstraction are the necessary moments of the theoretical thinking progress. However, the usage of the false abstraction entails hypostatization (rising to the rank of an existing object itself), abstract thinking, properties, relations and actions of real things in the isolation from their specific physical media and the attribution of these products as an abstraction of the independent existence. Consciousness, thought, value, shape, goodness, beauty, the conceivable outside and independent of material objects and beings that they have as well as the plants “in general” or persons “in general” (Joad, 1928).



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Thus, the concept of idealism took part in different countries all around the world, where there were their own representatives. Nevertheless, the concept was popular at the same time; and different countries have only some common features.

Ancient Greek Idealism

Ancient Greek has been popular giving the roots for the idealism concept. Thus, such philosophers as Aristotle, Plato and Parmenides have been working at this concept.

Ancient Greek idealism, previously submitted by the Pythagoreans and the Eleatics, in Plato's philosophy, is an opposite and hostile concept to materialism. Plato formulated the basis of idealism in general. Without hiding his views, he was the first, who had contrasted the fundamental question of the materialism philosophy. The creation of the objective idealism system, which was different to Socratic ethical idealism, Plato began with the critique on materialism and sensual exercises. In a number of conversations he sharply criticizes Milesian and Heraclitus, the materialists that attacked the materialism of atomists and opposed to the materialistic elements in the teachings of Profagora Antisthenes; he was fighting against the sensationalist theory of knowledge. Plato primarily disputed on the materialism of the things’ existence, the physical world outside and independent of consciousness and their sensuous bodily nature. He tried to belittle the world of things and the natural phenomena and created the non-self-generated world of spiritual beings. The true being, according to Plato, is a world of spiritual beings, a supernatural world of ideas being independent from the world of things and standing over people. The matter is nothing. A mixture of matters and ideas creates a sensual world, which is a pale mark of some supersensible ideas. Primarily, according to Plato, the ever existing is the world of ideas. Ideas produce the variety of things and natural phenomena. Ideas are the source and essence of the whole concrete reality, and each thing is individual. The world of sensible things is the secondary and arbitrary world of ideas, the so called “shadow” world of ideas (Butler, 2011).

According to Aristotle, the primary entity is an individual thing that has its basis in the matter. Throughout this discussion of the effect, on the one hand, it is the substance, which can exist by itself as the vague entity, but, on the other hand, all the time, there appears the statement that the substrate does not exist without any attributes. The idealism of Aristotle clearly appears in his doctrine of the “first drive”. The perpetual motion of planets, he says, are caused by some fixed and eternal essences, which are preceded by the fact that they are set in motion. According to Aristotle, one of the entities was ranked as the first one, while the other one took the second place. It's an idealistic argument that concludes with the statement that “the essence of being, which occupies the first place, does not matter.” He also writes, “The essence of having no matter what I call the essence of life to create things” (Brown, 1988).  

Chinese Idealism

The concept of idealism was not as vivid as in Ancient Greece, because many  philosophical schools existed. However, one of the representatives of this movement was Confucius. Confucius was interested in the position of a human being in the society. What is the human nature? Confucius was more inherently good or neutral. According to him, it is necessary to form each and all but within the caste of the layer. The fate puts a person in the specific layer that does not resist in for the man to reason with. He implemented into the practice a number of behavioral principles: humanity (jen), justice (yin), knowledge (ji), ceremonies(a), respect for parents (xiao), the principle of reverence for the older brother (DJ, inherited from the elder brother), the principle of reverence to Mr. Everything is controlled by the state basing on the sacred law. The judging norm seems to be unnecessary. This system is developed: the students Myung-tzu (the nature of man-kind NATURE), Xun Zi (distorted vision - human nature - the nature of evil). According to the philosopher, everything can be sold due to the education and upbringing (McTaggart, 1968).

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The most prominent follower of Confucius was Mencius (372-289 BC). Developing the idealistic views of Confucius, he argued that human life is subordinated to the “heavenly will”, the support of which is a wise emperor, the “son of heaven”. In his view, people are born with the best qualities. They have four main qualities from birth: compassion, shame, modesty, and the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. However, the innate qualities of the person due to bad influences of the society can be quickly lost. Mencius saw his task in educating and improving the individuals to protect people from the influence of the Confucianism opponents. According to him, only due to the education, China can be a developed country (Bolender, 2001)

Thus, the Chinese idealism was represented by the concept that people are born with all the needed qualities, however, in order not to lose them, the only way is to devote all the time to education and self-improvement.

German Idealism

The transcendental idealism or German idealism is a term of Kant's philosophy. In a broad sense, it is used as a synonym for the critical philosophy. In a narrower and more precise sense, the doctrine of the subjective nature of space and time as priori forms of sensibility. “Transcendental ideality” of space and time is the observation that the spatial and temporal quality of items that are not inherent in themselves (the term “transcendental” means in this case “referring to things in general”) (Barber, 1999). Transcendental idealism is one of the foundations of Kant's critical philosophy. It is the doctrine of the subjective nature of sensuality, and it is based on the distinction between the phenomena and things in themselves. At the same time, the concept of transcendental idealism does not exhaust the essence of Kant's critical philosophy as this concept is not directly related to the central question of criticism about the possibility of the priori synthetic judgments, especially when it comes to the cerebral judgments of this kind. In the preceding period Kant held the fundamentally different views of space and time assuming that they are constituted from relations between things (Desmond, Onnasch & Cruysberghs, 2004). The reason for the radical change is in the so called “noncongruent similarities”, the result of which was recognized by Kant in 1768, the reality of the absolute space previously denied to them. However, to avoid the difficulties of Newton's theory of the absolute space, Kant found it necessary to “move” him (as well as time) to the sphere of the subjective cognitive abilities. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant proposes a system of proving the concept of transcendental idealism. It includes a “metaphysical” (based on the direct subjective and contemplative nature of space and time) and “transcendental” (based on the fact that apart from space and time there are the priori forms of sensibility, it is impossible to explain the existence of strict mathematical knowledge) arguments (Barber, 1999). The indirect proof of the concept of loyalty by Kant admits the pure reason. One should avoid the destructive conflict of the mind can only recognize the distinction of phenomena and things in themselves (making it possible, for example, the spread of thesis and antithesis to different ontological spheres), which implies to the acceptance of the idea of transcendental idealism. Transcendent or “formal” is the material idealism, which can either be accepted in the reality of just human perceptions and, thereby, deny the distinction between things in themselves and phenomena, or dispute on the fact that objects of experience are the feelings directly, and, therefore, pose a doubt on the reality of things behind perceptions. This is the so called “problematic idealism”. The refutation of “material” and above all “problematic” idealism Kant saw as one of the merits of his critical philosophy (Koslowski, 2005).

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The Evaluation of Common and Different Features

To conclude, the concept of idealism has different opinions in the evaluated places due to the different views of thinking of philosophers. Thus, the ancient Greek idealism is the dualistic idealism. The dualistic type is based on the sharp contrast of two domains of life: the world ideas as eternal and true colors, and the world of sensory phenomena as the existence of this elusive, only apparent, devoid of inner strength and dignity for all the illusions to be visible; it has, however, an independent foundation that is free from the world of ideas, namely matter, representing a cross between being and nothingness. The German philosopher Kant undertook his critique of reason and represented the transcendental idealism. According to this idealism, the world phenomena is accessible to people, but it is determined as the knowable and internal conditions of the knowledge of the priori, namely the forms of sensibility (space and time), the categories of reason and the ideas of mind, so that all items are available to us only by this ideal essence determined by the features of our cognitive subject, self-same; the real basis of the phenomena is beyond the scope of knowledge. The Chinese aesthetic idealism, represented by Confucius and Mencius, made the focus on the person`s internal characteristics. According to these philosophers, every person has the inborn good qualities; however, they should be developed and improved. The only way to be happy is to find harmony between the internal being and the external society.

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Nevertheless, the concepts of idealism seem to be different, though all three of them have the same background positions. Each of them supports that actually there is only an idea and it is the idea of the primary being. All the surrounding reality is divided into “the world of ideas” and “world of things”: “the world of ideas” initially exists in the universal mind (God's plan, etc.); the “world of things” is the material world, which has no independent existence and is the embodiment of the “world of ideas”. Each individual thing is the embodiment of the idea of items. Secondly, each concept claims that the important role in the transformation of “pure ideas” in a particular thing has God as the Creator. Finally, the individual ideas (the “world of ideas”) objectively exist independently from our consciousness; that is why, the ideas appear from nowhere. 


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