5.5 Idealism

The last thing that needs to be discussed is why I haven’t put idealism into any of the categories. There are a few different factors that went into this decision, and while none of them are decisive, I think it is ultimately a defensible choice.

The first thing to note is that Idealism could go in any number of the categories. It’s a metaphysical view, and I thought about putting it in metaphysics. But it also involves distinctive takes on epistemology, and philosophy of mind. (Note that one of its distinctive words is “consciousness”.) And it has connections to philosophy of religion (though not always Christian religion), and to aesthetics. If there are so many things it could sort of go in, it feels arbitrary to put it in any one.

Now for other issues that it felt arbitrary to put in one place rather than another, I used binary sorts to split them into classifiable topics. But that didn’t work here. In fact, the binary sort I made for Idealism had the lowest proportion of articles the sort was confident about. I had a quick look at whether there was a three-way or four-way sort of these papers into more familiar topics, but that didn’t help. So any choice here would be arbitrary.

And it would be an arbitrary choice with huge ramifications for how several of the graphs look. If I draw the graphs from the last chapter with idealism in one or other category, that category looks like it spent most of the twentieth century in almost terminal decline. There are several small topics that were somewhat arbitrarily classified, but they typically didn’t affect the shape of the graphs that much. That’s in part because I tried to balance out the close calls. But idealism is too big for that; it dominates the early decades so much that nothing can make up for it. And recall that the point here is not to get some objectively correct classification of philosophical topics, it’s to tell a sensible story about twentieth century philosophy. Saying that idealism is part of metaphysics, and the story of twentieth century philosophy is the continuing retreat of metaphsyics, is really not a sensible story. And the same would be true anywhere else I put idealism. The story we get from the graphs is the continuing growth of realism, and that I think is a sensible story.

(As an aside, one aspiration I have for future versions of this book is that it will include a simple app where readers can see how the category graphs would look if they make different decisions about where the topics went. That is possible now with some coding skills, but I’d like to be able to make it easy for anyone to draw their own category graphs.)

Finally, Idealism would be a real outlier topic in any category it was in. To check whether this was true, I built binary sorts out if Idealism plus each of the other big categories, and looked at the average probability of being in topic 1 for every topic. In almost every case, Idealism was off on an island.

Idealism vs. Epistemology

Table 5.41: Comparing articles in idealism and epistemology.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Epistemology Formal epistemology 0.026
Epistemology Justification 0.080
Epistemology Knowledge 0.093
Epistemology Arguments 0.190
Idealism Idealism 0.975

Idealism vs. Ethics

Table 5.42: Comparing articles in idealism and ethics.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Ethics Forgiveness 0.040
Ethics Population ethics 0.044
Ethics Medical ethics 0.060
Ethics Duties 0.063
Ethics Frankfurt cases 0.075
Ethics Reasons 0.094
Ethics Abortion and self-defence 0.095
Ethics Decision theory 0.113
Ethics Moral norms 0.154
Ethics Free will 0.162
Ethics Promises and imperatives 0.183
Ethics Virtues 0.278
Ethics Moral conscience 0.366
Ethics Olp ethics 0.373
Ethics Value 0.540
Idealism Idealism 0.982

Idealism vs. History of philosophy

Table 5.43: Comparing articles in idealism and history of philosophy.
Category Subject Mean Probability
History of philosophy Social contract theory 0.134
History of philosophy Other history 0.144
History of philosophy Ancient 0.356
History of philosophy Heidegger and husserl 0.364
History of philosophy Dewey and pragmatism 0.401
History of philosophy Kant 0.568
History of philosophy Hume 0.596
Idealism Idealism 0.876
History of philosophy Early modern 0.907

Idealism vs. Logic and mathematics

Table 5.44: Comparing articles in idealism and logic and mathematics.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Idealism Idealism 0.052
Logic and mathematics Universals and particulars 0.631
Logic and mathematics Definitions 0.679
Logic and mathematics Analytic/synthetic 0.695
Logic and mathematics Verification 0.779
Logic and mathematics Deduction 0.850
Logic and mathematics Propositions and implications 0.865
Logic and mathematics Mathematics 0.868
Logic and mathematics Vagueness 0.922
Logic and mathematics Sets 0.930
Logic and mathematics Truth 0.956

Idealism vs. Metaphysics

Table 5.45: Comparing articles in idealism and metaphysics.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Metaphysics Modality 0.074
Metaphysics Composition and constitution 0.086
Metaphysics Causation 0.106
Metaphysics Origin essentialism 0.109
Metaphysics Personal identity 0.128
Metaphysics Time 0.383
Metaphysics Classical space and time 0.708
Metaphysics Temporal paradoxes 0.783
Idealism Idealism 0.966

Idealism vs. Philosophy of language

Table 5.46: Comparing articles in idealism and philosophy of language.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Idealism Idealism 0.032
Philosophy of language Meaning and use 0.790
Philosophy of language Denoting 0.887
Philosophy of language Radical translation 0.891
Philosophy of language Language norms 0.903
Philosophy of language Speech acts 0.948
Philosophy of language Sense and reference 0.962
Philosophy of language Belief ascriptions 0.965

Idealism vs. Philosophy of mind

Table 5.47: Comparing articles in idealism and philosophy of mind.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Philosophy of mind Cognitive science 0.057
Philosophy of mind Wide content 0.060
Philosophy of mind Minds and machines 0.124
Philosophy of mind Freud 0.164
Philosophy of mind Intention 0.170
Philosophy of mind Concepts 0.184
Philosophy of mind Conceivability arguments 0.199
Philosophy of mind Color/colour 0.201
Philosophy of mind Perception 0.307
Philosophy of mind Olp mind 0.599
Philosophy of mind Emotions 0.639
Philosophy of mind Physicalism 0.653
Philosophy of mind Self-consciousness 0.669
Philosophy of mind Psychology 0.842
Idealism Idealism 0.978

Idealism vs. Philosophy of science

Table 5.48: Comparing articles in idealism and philosophy of science.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Philosophy of science Quantum physics 0.073
Philosophy of science Models 0.075
Philosophy of science Grue 0.078
Philosophy of science Thermodynamics 0.079
Philosophy of science Chance 0.123
Philosophy of science Dna 0.126
Philosophy of science Theory testing 0.129
Philosophy of science Space and time 0.132
Philosophy of science Explanation 0.190
Philosophy of science Functions 0.211
Philosophy of science Laws 0.281
Philosophy of science Theories and realism 0.287
Philosophy of science Evolutionary biology 0.294
Philosophy of science Game theory 0.327
Philosophy of science Chemistry 0.381
Philosophy of science Teleology 0.664
Philosophy of science Mechanisms 0.669
Philosophy of science Methodology of science 0.839
Idealism Idealism 0.976

Idealism vs. Social and political

Table 5.49: Comparing articles in idealism and social and political.
Category Subject Mean Probability
Idealism Idealism 0.016
Social and political Life and value 0.181
Social and political History and culture 0.223
Social and political Marx 0.658
Social and political Race 0.715
Social and political Law 0.823
Social and political Political freedom 0.834
Social and political Feminism 0.863
Social and political War 0.883
Social and political Liberal democracy 0.898
Social and political Egalitarianism 0.964

The only one that isn’t clearly ruled out is history of philosophy. And while there were historical elements to Idealism, they sure did talk about Hegel a lot, for example, it doesn’t feel like that’s primarily what they were doing.

Ultimately, I’m using the categories here from late twentieth century philosophy. And idealism just doesn’t map on to those particularly well. To some extent we can say the same thing for all of the topics that are centered around the first few decades of the study. But it is most striking for idealism. So I’ve given it its own category, rather than forcing it into a framework that it doesn’t belong in.