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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: February 2013

12 - Criticisms and persistent misconceptions of idealism

from IV - British idealism

In a 1994 review of Nicholas Rescher's System of Pragmatic Idealism entitled “Idealism contra Idealism”, the late T. L. S. Sprigge criticizes his author for insufficiently differentiating between realism and idealism. In so doing, Sprigge is continuing a debate that reached a peak of intensity in the 1930s, but which began in response to Moore's “Refutation of Idealism” (1903). Moore had sharply distinguished between a general or “ordinary” realism (ibid.: 434) and the “spiritualist” or “theological” Berkeleyan account he identified with idealism. The equation “idealism = Berkeleyanism” remained strong enough throughout the twentieth century for Burnyeat (1982) to use it to deny that any ancient philosophy might correspond to what is called “idealism” That there was a debate until the 1930s concerning its adequacy, however, demonstrates that Moore's equation cannot be regarded as an uncontroversial characterization of idealist philosophy. In fact, from the outset Moore's “Refutation” is fraught with interpretational problems. He gives three definitions of idealism at the start of his article, successively increasing in focus. All three, however, are problematic and insufficient to encapsulate the vast range of idealisms dominant in his day.

Moore's first definition is: “[Idealism] is certainly meant to assert (1) that the universe is very different from what it seems, and (2) that it has quite a large number of properties which it does not seem to have” (1903: 433). This first definition is exceptionally broad.

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