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Differences Between Idealism and Realism Essay

Philosophers say the key to understanding human life is answering the really philosophical questions such as why are we here? Where did we come from? Where will we go? And so on and so forth. This has truly been a debate for the ages in philosophy, one that has stimulated thinkers, philosophers, theologists and scientists for thousands of years, hence led emergence of idealism and realism as two major traditional philosophical schools of thought in the realm of philosophy. So this paper projects the meaning of idealism and meaning of realism then discusses in detail the basic assumptions of idealism and those of realism and how these two traditional schools of thought differ and their implications within the educational setting.

Meaning of idealism

Idealism is one of the traditional philosophical schools of thought, idealism as describe by Ishumi and nyirenda (2002) that it is the traditional philosophy where by ideas are primarily and matter is the derivative of ideas, matter exist only in the form of ideas. Idealism, in philosophy, a theory of reality and of knowledge that attributes to consciousness, or the immaterial mind, a primary role in the constitution of the world, Idealism is the view that all physical objects are mind-dependent and can have no existence apart from a mind that is conscious of them. Chandra and Sharma (2002) show that idealism is opposed to realism, the view that mind-independent physical objects exist that can be known through the senses and has thereby provided an important basis for theories of idealism, which contend that reality is mind-dependent and that true knowledge of reality is gained by relying upon a spiritual or conscious source.

Leading proponents of Idealism was Plato a Greek philosopher Considered father of idealism while Descartes, Kant and Hegel are the prominent idealists in 19th c. Idealism falls into three categories which are platonic idealism, religious idealism and modern idealism Platonic idealism, this category of the idealism based on the Plato Theory of Forms. In the 5th and 4th centuries BC, Plato postulated the existence of a realm of Ideas that the varied objects of common experience imperfectly reflect. He maintained that these ideal Forms are not only more clearly intelligible but also more real than the transient and essentially illusory objects themselves.

Another category is Religious idealism, in this Idealism was considered as dominant movement of modern German philosophy that had a profound effect on Lutheran theological thought Lutheran theology, during the 18th century, reflected the rationalism of the Enlightenment. During the 19th century, the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, who emphasized universal religious experience. While modern idealism was influenced by George Berkeley (1685-1753), Irish philosopher and clergyman, generally regarded as the founder of the modern school of idealism. He held that matter cannot be conceived to exist independent of the mind; the phenomena of sense can be explained only by supposing a deity that continually evokes perception in the human mind (Popkin, 2008).

Consequently the Idealism said that mind is superior to matter in the sense that mind is material and therefore superior to material substances. They believed that the universe is the product of intelligence and will. They said that the order or harmony which we witness in our world is originated by a spiritual and eternal reality. The idealists do not deny the existence of the physical world. But what they are saying is that the material things of the world like houses, trees, or animals are not the ultimate reality because they are constantly changing (Annick , 2001).

Meaning of Realism

Realism in philosophy is a term used for two distinct doctrines of epistemology. In modern philosophy, it is applied to the doctrine that ordinary objects of sense perception, such as tables and chairs, have an existence independent of their being perceived (Encarta, 2009). Oroka (1990) defines realism as philosophical thought in which reality is the material world, that study of the outer world is the only reliable way to find truth; the world is an objective phenomenon which our minds must adhere to. We achieve greater and greater knowledge through proper study of the world. In Realism, a person is an empty vessel for knowledge which can only come from outside of the self, through observation. Aristotle is an exponent of realism. He asserts that matter has an objective reality and that matter is the underlying principle of all things. Philosophers like Herbert Spencer and John Locke postulated that matter is the ultimate reality.

They say that things we experience with our senses such as hills, trees, animals, sand, water and man are simply not ideas in the mind of the observing individuals or even in the mind of an external observer. Rather they exist in themselves independent of the mind. Realism categorized in Religious realism, Aristotle Realism and Scientific realism Religious realism represented by Thomas Aquinas asserts that mind and matter form the composite. Man is a composite of body and soul. The spirit is more important and higher than the body. He argues that this is proved through revelation and reasoning. Seetharamu (1989) argues that Aristotle Realism was proposed by Aristotle who was Plato’s student where by Aristotle believed that the world could be understood at a fundamental level through the detailed observation and cataloguing of phenomenon.

That is knowledge, which is what the word science means, is fundamentally empirical. Also Aristotle was the first person to assert that nature is understandable. This tradition, opposed to the idea that nature is under the control of changeable divinity which are to be appeared rather than understood, is one of the roots of science. Aristotle also provides a good example of the way in which what one knows or believes influences the way one understands new information. Luke (2008) gives explanations on the scientific realism that is holds the view that the world portrayed by science (especial ideal science) is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be.

Within philosophy of science, it is often framed as an answer to the question “how is the success of science to be explained?” The debate over what the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists assert that one can make reliable claims about unobservable as observables, as opposed to instrumentalism. Leading proponents of Realism are Aristotle- father of realism Student of Plato, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Amos Comenius, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Thomas Aquinas.

Thus to say to the Realism reality exists whether mind perceives it or not, in metaphysics reality composed of matter (body) and form (mind), knowledge comes through senses and in axiology values derived from nature. Assumptions put forward by the idealism vary from those put forward by the realism school of thought. In Chandra and Sharma (2002) discuss assumptions of the idealism and realism as follows:

Basic assumptions of the idealism

Assumptions of the idealism can be described in terms of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology.

Idealism in metaphysics

In metaphysics idealism based on the assumption that all of reality is reducible to one fundamental substance, Matter is not real, it is rather a notion, an abstraction of the mind. It is only the mind that is real. Therefore, all material things that seem to be real are reducible to mind or spirit. The chair you are sitting on is not material; it only seems material. It’s essential nature is spirit. On the universal level, finite minds live in a purposeful world produced by an infinite mind. It is as though the entire universe is made up of an infinite mind or spirit; which is, in effect, everything, and we are small bits and pieces of that mind. Because man is a part of this purposeful universe, he is an intelligent and purposeful being.

Idealism in epistemology

Basic assumption of Idealism in epistemology is that the act of knowing takes place within the mind. The mind is active and contains innate capacities for organizing and synthesizing the data derived through sensations. Man can know intuitively; that is to say, he can apprehend immediately some truth without utilizing any of his senses. Man can also know truth through the acts of reason by which an individual examines the logical consistency of his ideas. Some Idealists believe that all knowledge is a matter of recall. Plato was one who held this notion.

He based this conclusion upon the assumption that the spirit of man is eternal. Whatever he knows is already contained within his spirit. Objective Idealists, such as Plato, think that ideas are essences, which have an independent existence. Subjective Idealists, such as George Berkeley, reason that man is able to know only what he perceives. His only knowledge is of his mental states. Existence depends upon mind. Every stimulus received by the mind is derived ultimately from God. God is the Infinite Spirit.

Idealism in axiology

Here Idealists generally hold the view that all values are in God or in a personal spiritual force of nature. They all agree that values are everlasting. Theistic Idealists assert that eternal (everlasting) values exist in God. Good and evil, beauty and ugliness are known to the extent that the idea of good and the idea of beauty are consistent with the absolute good and the absolute beauty found in God. Pantheistic Idealists identify God with nature. Values are absolute and unchanging because they are a part of the determined order of nature.

Basic assumptions of the Realism

On other hand the assumptions of realism in term of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology vary with the idealism assumptions on those aspects. Realism holds the following assumption;

Realism in Metaphysics

Realism bases on the assumption that reality is determined by the same rules which govern physical artifacts and phenomena also realism identifies metaphysical reality with change and dynamism, and holds that change is not illusory or purely accidental to the substance, but rather the very cornerstone of reality or Being.

Realism in Epistemology:

Epistemologically Realism supports view that what you know about an object exists independently of your mind. It is directly related to the correspondence theory of truth (that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes, or corresponds with, that world) hence realists hold that truth can be determined by studying physical phenomena which conform to Natural Law — it is observable

Realism in Axiology

Within the ethics Realism holds supposition that values are determined by Natural Law, values are independent of our perception of them or our standpoint towards them. Therefore, moral judgments describe moral facts and so stable morality can be identified through the study of nature. Things are beautiful when they accurately reflect how things in nature are or how they can be. While in Aesthetics, Realism projects that reality, or the world has a structure that is beautiful, and that work of art should have. Differences between idealism school of thought and realism school of thought. After discussing the assumptions put forward by the idealism and those put forward by realism in aspects of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology. We are in safe position to show how the idealism school of thought differs from realism school of thought as summarized bellow The idealism holds the assumption that reality is beyond what you can see, notice or touch.

Ideas are real, of cosmic importance or significance and are the ultimate realities. They asserted that matter is possibly known through the senses but its principles can only be understood by the mind, while to the realism, matter is the ultimate reality and material things exist independent of the mind. It exists irrespective of being thought of. The world is governed by its own laws which the human mind has no control whatever. Matter is all things. It is the real and beyond it nothing else is or can be. Hence ideas exist only in so far as they are situated in matter. For idealism realities are fixed and unchanging in spiritual realms and hence the physical world of experience is a mere copy therefore, ideas are eternal and unchanging. On other hand Realism believes that the world is real. What you see and touch is real. Matter is therefore real.

This reality is not only fixed but also unchanging and is directed by definite laws. Plato and other idealists recognized the existence of ideas which is perfect world and the physical world which is the world of shadow. The former constitutes the ultimate and absolute reality, which is perfect, permanent and immortal, while later is imperfect manifestation of the real world or ultimate realities. While the rational realists like Thomas Aquinas who hold that material things exist only because of a spiritual being giving origin to it, while the scientific or natural realists like Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell emphasise the materiality of the real and reject either the idea of any spiritual being or affirm that such reality exists Idealism maintains that ultimate reality that is, the world of ideas is mental and spiritual.

The physical world of our everyday experience is a shadow of the real. They maintain that values are absolute and constant no matter the situation. They assert that idea is inborn; this inborn idea is to be illuminated by education. While on other hand realism holds that values are absolute, fixed and unchanging. The realists believe that the mind at birth is blank or empty (tabula rasa) but as the child grows various sense impressions are made to his mind. The sense experience is emphasized as the major source of knowledge. Therefore, it is an individual responsibility to discover thing or truth, hence they believe in fundamental scientific discoveries.

Differences between idealism and realism school of thought in educational setting. In Educational setting idealism differ from the realism in aspect like in setting their educational aims, education curriculum, methodologies, subject content, teacher and student. In aims of education (Chakraborty, 2003) argues that the Idealists greatly believe that education should not only be a process of developing the individual consciousness but also the spiritual self, education should encourage people to focus attention on lasting values or universal values. As far as moral order is fixed or universal, education must be for character development, the search for truth demands personal discipline. Idealists emphasize self realization through educational process. Education should eliminate the impediments for the possession of truths and goodness. It is the process of illuminating that which the child’s mind already possesses.

While argues that Realism is in education because of the need for factual data and subject matter hence realist agree that the technicians and scientists should be developed. Their emphasis in aims of education is that education is placed in the acquisition of good habits and to live according to moral order, maintaining absolute moral value. All educational enterprise should try to polish and write on the tabula rasa or blank mind with the real things. Education therefore, should introduce knowledge got from without not within. The mind of the learner is like an empty tank in a new motor car which must be filled with fuel from a filling station with bundles of knowledge by education (Taneja, 2000). On the side of the teacher the idealist believe that the teacher carefully presides over the birth of ideas without really introducing any new idea but illuminates the minds.

The teacher guides in bringing to light the ideas already inborn in the child. He is mature and nearer to the perfect ideal of personality by the virtue of his position, experience and knowledge and, therefore worthy of emulation. Teacher is rightly regarded as a model of all that is sound, good and upright. While to the realism the teacher transmits and transports knowledge into the learner. Education is to transmit accumulated and verified body of knowledge as subject matter through the teacher who transmits it to the pupils to assimilate (Chandra and Sharma, 2002). Idealism views on the teacher-students relationship based on participatory manner as the learners considered as not empty slate rather than they have something to share with teachers in the process of learning while realism opposing this view as the learner considered as blank slate hence education is discipline centred and teacher oriented.

The teacher is the representative of culture, the custodian of knowledge and hence the transmitter of basic truth to the child. Moreover the idealists recommended dialectic method of learning, which emphasises effective and critical thinking. This should encourage in depth knowledge, and understanding. It encourages activity method for the development of self realization. The child is expected to participate in all learning activities and ask questions about society, people, events and ideas (Nyirenda and Ishumi, 2002). While the realists recommend authoritative method of teaching and learning. The child is meant to cultivate self discipline in his attitude to enable him absorb the truths contained in the subjects taught by the teachers.

Chakraborty (2003) shows the idealist curriculum is that embodies those subjects that can improve the learner’s intelligence and understanding and also enable him realize his spiritual potentialities also idealism recommends subjects, which include, Mathematics, Creative arts, Language skills, Scientific skills, Normative skills and Aesthetic skills, therefore the curriculum is child-oriented. On other hand to the realism the curriculum is society-centred because realists believed that social interest and general needs are more vital than the individual interests and needs. They emphasised broad based curriculum with some core subjects to which children are required to offer. These core subjects should be the same at all levels of education except in the progression of basic principles from the known to the unknown and simple to the complex.

Generally these two philosophical doctrines reveal the differences in their assumptions put forward and the resulting arguments that would necessarily arise out of a debate between the two. As Idealists are of the opinion that the world, and everything in it, is but a creation of our minds and there is no objective reality While Realists makes clear that reality existed in form and matter much before the mind of man evolved to an extent where it could hypothesize about the nature of the world. Though both idealism and realism can be applied in educational setting as the educators may take either idealism or realism in setting their educational aims, curriculum, methodologies, subject content and even the relation between teacher and student in the class room setting.

REFERENCES
Annick M. B. (2001). Philosophy of Education. Retrieved from www.soencouragement.org Chakraborty, A. K. (2003). Principles and Practices of Education. Meerut: Lal Book Depot. Chandra, S., & Sharma, R. (2002). Philosophy of Education. New Delhi: Allantic Publishers.

Luke M, (2008). Idealism – By Branch / Doctrine – The Basics of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_idealism.html Nyirenda, S. D., & Ishumi, A.G. (2002). Philosophy of Education: An introduction to concepts, principles and practice. Dar es Salaam: Dar es Salaam University Press Ltd Oroka, O. (1990), The philosophy of education: An introduction. Warri: International

Publishers.

Popkin, R, H. “George Berkeley.” Microsoft® Student 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA:

Microsoft Corporation, 2008.
Seetharamu, A. S. (1989). Philosophy of Education. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House. Taneja, V. R. (2000). ” Educational Thought and Practice.” New Delhi: Sterling.


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