Idealism

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We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world. ~ Gautama Buddha

Idealism in relation to ontology refers to diverse forms of epistemological skepticism about the possibility of knowing any entirely mind-independent thing, and assertions that all discernible entities or aspects of reality or awareness which can be perceived, imagined or conceived are fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial aspects of mind, spirit, or essence, or in various monistic philosophies, of an ultimate unitive entity beyond all notions and descriptions. In sociological contexts it refers to a strong emphasis on ethical ideals, principles, values and patterns of behavior to be actively pursued or maintained.

Quotes[edit]

The highest point of democratic idealism and conviction was towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the American Republic was "dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal." ~ G. K. Chesterton
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. ~ G. K. Chesterton
You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm. ~ Sam Harris
Berkeley was... the first to treat the subjective starting-point really seriously and to demonstrate irrefutably its absolute necessity. He is the father of idealism. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
Ideal Beauty, Ideal Love, and a Dream World belong to the romanticist. And it is through his concepts of these terms and the exercise of his talents with them that James Branch Cabell overtops to-day all other romantic writers in America. ~ Blanche Colton Williams
Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. ~ Woodrow Wilson
  • Be these people either Conservatives or Socialists, Yellows or Reds, the most important thing is — and that is the point I want to stress — that all of them are right in the plain and moral sense of the word. … I ask whether it is not possible to see in the present social conflict of the world an analogous struggle between two, three, five equally serious verities and equally generous idealisms? I think it is possible, and that is the most dramatic element in modern civilization, that a human truth is opposed to another human truth no less human, ideal against ideal, positive worth against worth no less positive, instead of the struggle being as we are so often told, one between noble truth and vile selfish error.
    • Karel Čapek (1923) R.U.R. supplement in The Saturday Review
  • The highest point of democratic idealism and conviction was towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the American Republic was "dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal." It was then that the largest number of men had the most serious sort of conviction that the political problem could be solved by the vote of peoples instead of the arbitrary power of princes and privileged orders.
  • It is a common error, I think, among the Radical idealists of my own party and period to suggest that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they are so sordid or so materialistic. The truth is that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they can be sentimental about any sentiment, and idealistic about any ideal, any ideal that they find lying about, just as a boy who has not known much of women is apt too easily to take a woman for the woman, so these practical men, unaccustomed to causes, are always inclined to think that if a thing is proved to be an ideal it is proved to be the ideal. … Human nature simply cannot subsist without a hope and aim of some kind; as the sanity of the Old Testament truly said, where there is no vision the people perisheth. But it is precisely because an ideal is necessary to man that the man without ideals is in permanent danger of fanaticism.
    • G. K. Chesterton, in Heretics (1905), Ch. XX : Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy
  • The great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived (which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough. Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
    • G. K. Chesterton, in What's Wrong With The World (1910), Part One: The Homelessness Of Man, Ch. 5 : The Unfinished Temple
  • Torn between the ideal and the real, Cabellian man is forever thwarted in his quest for the ideal by the demands of the real. Cabell explores all the aspects of this human dilemma, perhaps reaching the conclusion that man can never achieve his ideals, simply because he must exist in the world of reality; and yet, for his self-preservation in that world he must, paradoxically, cling to these very ideals, unrealized, unrealizable. Even in the face of materialistic denial of spiritual value, man must believe in some kind of transcendent worth.
    Although the meaning of Cabellian comedy can be comprehended without the ability to recognize each learned allusion, the incidents of the novels are often based on classical, Russian, Hebrew, medieval, and even Aztec myths and legends.
    • William L. Godshalk, in "James Branch Cabell at William and Mary: the Education of a Novelist," in The William and Mary Review, 5 (1967)
  • You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.
  • An idealist believes the short run doesn't count. A cynic believes the long run doesn't matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.
    • Sidney Justin Harris, in "Thoughts at Large", Chicago Sun-Times; reprinted in Ann Landers's column, The Washington Post (November 12, 1979), p. B7
  • Man is born a predestined idealist, for he is born to act. To act is to affirm the worth of an end, and to persist in affirming the worth of an end is to make an ideal.
    • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "The Class of '61", speech delivered at the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (June 28, 1911); reported in Speeches by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1934), p. 96–97
  • A doctrine which, because of its little-circumspect idealism, offends not just faith, but reason itself.
    • Attributed to Immanuel Kant in Luigi Ferrarese (1838) Memorie Risguardanti la Dottrina Frenologica ("Thoughts Regarding the Doctrine of Phrenology", p. 16
  • All skepticism is a kind of idealism. Hence when the skeptic Zeno pursued the study of skepticism by endeavoring existentially to keep himself unaffected by whatever happened, so that when once he had gone out of his way to avoid a mad dog, he shamefacedly admitted that even a skeptical philosopher is also sometimes a man, I find nothing ridiculous in this. There is no contradiction, and the comical always lies in a contradiction. On the other hand, when one thinks of all the miserable idealistic lecture-witticisms, the jesting and coquetry in connection with playing the idealist while in the professorial chair, so that the lecturer is not really an idealist, but only plays the fashionable game of being an idealist; when one remembers the lecture-phrase about doubting everything, while occupying the lecture platform, aye, then it is impossible not to write a satire merely by recounting the facts. Through an existential attempt to be an idealist, one would learn in the course of half a year something very different from this game of hide-and-seek on the lecture platform. There is no special difficulty connected with being an idealist in the imagination; but to exist as an idealist is an extremely strenuous task, because existence itself constitutes a hindrance and an objection. To express existentially what one has understood about oneself, and in this manner to understand oneself, is in no way comical. But to understand everything except one’s own self is very comical.
    • Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments (1846), p. 315, as translated by David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (1941)
  • To speak of ideals and their significance as goals to be reached for is to put one's finger on an ever-recurring theme in Chesterton's productive life, the indignant rejection of pessimism in any and all of its forms. This is not to say that he was unaware that there is evil — a great deal of it — in this world. His life was one continuous campaign against the evils he perceived, one of the chief of which was the denial that there is good in the world, the denial that life is basically good.
    • Quentin Lauer, in G. K. Chesterton: Philosopher Without Portfolio (1988), p. 77
  • An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it is also more nourishing.
    • H. L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major (1916), p. 19; later altered to "concludes that it will also make better soup", in A Book of Burlesques (1924), p. 205 and A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949), p. 617
  • Berkeley was... the first to treat the subjective starting-point really seriously and to demonstrate irrefutably its absolute necessity. He is the father of idealism.
  • Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, if it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car and another television set.
    • Adlai Stevenson, in "Putting First Things First", Foreign Affairs (January 1960)
  • Ideal Beauty, Ideal Love, and a Dream World belong to the romanticist. And it is through his concepts of these terms and the exercise of his talents with them that James Branch Cabell overtops to-day all other romantic writers in America.
    To watch his progress, to trace it through his works, is to observe how he cast off shackle after shackle of limitation, to ultimate unhampered movement over the earth, in the zenith that is Heaven or the pit that is Hell.
  • Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America, my fellow citizens — I do not say it in disparagement of any other great people — America is the only idealistic nation in the world.
    • Woodrow Wilson, address supporting the League of Nations, Sioux Falls, South Dakota (September 8, 1919); reported in Albert Shaw, ed., The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson (1924), vol. 2, p. 822

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