Sociology Index


Idealism is a perspective that asserts the independent causal influence of intellectual ideas on social organization and culture. Idealism generally suggests the priority of ideals, principles, values, and goals over concrete realities. Idealism is metaphysical philosophies that assert reality, or reality as humans can know it. Idealsim is mentally constructed. 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. 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 emphasizes how human ideas, like belief and values, shape society.

As an ontological doctrine, idealism asserts that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism rejects those physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind. Idealists are understood to represent the world as it might or should be. Idealism theories are mainly divided into two groups. Subjective idealism and Objective idealism. Subjective idealism is human consciousness seeing the existing world as a combination of sensation. Objective idealism posits the existence of an objective consciousness independently of human ones.

Idealism is contrasted with materialism, which focuses on concrete aspects of social organization as causative of particular intellectual ideas and values. Max Weber can be said to have given an idealistic explanation of the growth of capitalism by linking it to the emergence of a Protestant Ethic. The most influential critics of both epistemological and ontological idealism were G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell. Though they were influential many aspects and paradigms of idealism still have a large influence on subsequent philosophy.

The conflict between materialism and idealism has often been inflated and/or obscured by conceptual strategies of specialization, eclecticism and reductionism. A metatheoretical approach to materialism and idealism is presented that clarifies the fundamental nature of the approaches and distinguishes areas of possible reconciliation from areas of irreducible conflict.

Idealism and the Sociology of Knowledge 
David Bloor, Science Studies Unit, Department of Sociology, University of Edinburgh.
The sociology of scientific knowledge is an empirical discipline, but occasionally it can be fruitful to reflect on its methodological basis. Critics have sometimes claimed that it is committed to a form of 'idealism,' that is, to discounting or playing down the input of the material world. This arises because sociologists often sum up their conclusions by saying that `knowledge is a social institution', or that 'concepts are institutions'. If we think of social institutions according to the self-referential or performative model outlined by Barry Barnes, this may at first seem to reinforce and justify the charge of idealism.

Materialism and Idealism in Organizational Research - Paul S. Adler, Bryan Borys, Organization Studies, Vol. 14, No. 5, (1993).
Organization theory needs a framework that can elucidate the technological, economic, political and symbolic forces that are at work in and on organizations. Much organizational research can be seen as materialist, by virtue of its granting primary causal efficacy to technical-economic forces, or idealist by virtue of privileging political, symbolic forces.

The Conception of Wealth among the Merchants in Late Imperial China - Weber's Idealism Revisited, Tak Sing Cheung, Tak Sing Cheung is at the Sociology Department, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Jie Hou, Jie Hou is at the School of History, Nankai University, Journal of Human Values, Vol. 12, No. 1, 41-53. This article reassesses Weber's position on the influence of Confucianism on China's failure to develop the modern form of capitalism by focusing on the conception of wealth among the merchants in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Space for Idealism? Politics and Education in the United Kingdom - Philip A. Woods 
Educational Policy, Vol. 16, No. 1, 118-138 (2002).
This article discusses the political changes that have occurred in the United Kingdom during the past quarter century. Education as an electoral issue is placed in the context of the political philosophies of the Conservative and Labour governments and the move from a predominantly neo-liberalism focus to a third way approach. It is suggested that despite these, it is possible to discern in this latest phase of the long dialogue between politicians and people the revitalization of ideals that have persisted in an evolving tradition of political liberalism that began with 19th century British Idealism.