Naturalism and Idealism Term Paper

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Idealism refers to the people who claim to be idealists in the popular sense are often convinced that the world is beautiful, everybody is good and you can adopt high ideas and adhere to them. It is also a theory that asserts that reality is ideas, though, mind or selves rather than material forces. There may be a single or absolute Mind or a plurality of minds. It also stresses the mental or spiritual aspects of experience. Naturalism on the other hand is the view of reality that nature alone is real. There is no supernatural source of nature. It implies that man's values and ideas are the product of evolution and therefore, only an expression of the needs of the human species in the world of here and now.

The contrast between naturalism and idealism and also the meaning of this words cause many a misunderstanding and only through laziness do we put up with such catchwords. But their inadequacy cannot hide the great contrast which lies behind them and which sharply divides men. This contrast concerns our attitude to the whole of reality and the resulting task that dominates our life. The question whether man is entirely determined by nature or whether, he can somehow or indeed essentially rise above it.

We are all agreed on the very close ties between man and nature, which he should not abandon. But it has been argued and is still being argued strongly whether his whole being, his actions and sufferings, are determined by these ties or whether he possesses life of another kind, which introduces a new stage of reality. The one attitude characterizes naturalism, the other idealism, and these two creeds differ fundamentally both in their goals and in their pursuits of them. If the additional life of man exists only in his imagination, we should eradicate all traces of it from human opinions and institutions. Instead, we should aim at the closest ties with nature and develop to a pure state the natural character of human life; for thus life would restore the ties with its true origins, which it severed unjustly and to its lasting damage. But if one recognizes in man a new element beyond nature, the task will consist in giving it the strongest possible support and contrasting it clearly with nature. In this case life will take up its main position in the new element and look at nature from that point-of-view. This contrast in attitudes emerges nowhere as clearly as in the place of the soul in the two systems.

Nature has its share in the life of the soul and in numerous manifestations deeply influences human life. But this natural life of the soul is peripheral, mere appendix to the material phenomena of nature. Its only purpose is the preservation of physical life, for men higher psychological development, his cleverness and resourcefulness, compensate for the brute strength, swiftness of movement, or sharpness of the senses in which animals excel. But even in its extreme form this life has neither purpose nor content in itself; it remains a conglomeration of disparate points. It does not unite in an inner community of life, nor does it constitute an inner world peculiar to itself. Thus action is never directed toward an inner purpose but toward the utilitarian purpose of preserving life. Naturalism, if it remains true to its purpose, reduces human life to that norm. Idealism, on the other hand, maintains the liberation of inwardness. According to it the disparate phenomena of life unite in an all, embracing inner world. At the same time, idealism demands that human life should be governed by its peculiar values and goals, the true, the good, and the beautiful. In its view the subordination of all human aspiration to the goal of usefulness appears an impossible humiliation and a complete betrayal of the greatness and dignity of man. Such different and even contradictory attitudes seem to be irreconcilable; we have to choose between harsh alternatives.

With regard to this choice the present time is undeniably divided against itself, particularly since profound changes in the setup of life have brought new aspects of the problem to light. Centuries of tradition had accustomed us to striving primarily for an invisible world and to valuing the visible world only to the degree of its relation to the invisible world. To the medieval mind man's home is a transcendental world; in this world we are merely travelers abroad. We cannot penetrate it, nor does it give us any scope for achievements or hold us by any roots. In such a conception nature easily appears as a lower sphere which one approaches at one's own danger.

Technological progress becomes even more exciting when it enters into the service of the social idea, which demands not only a small elite but also humanity at large should profit by it. This demand creates an entirely new challenge, requiring tremendous energy but also giving rise to new complications and harsh contrasts which, in turn, intensify the passion of man's work in this world and enrich its meaning. The transformation of environment has become the purpose of human life; life seems real only insofar as it deals with things. Man no longer needs to escape to an invisible world in order to find and realize exalted goals. These facts are indisputable. Our material environment and our relation to it have assumed tremendous importance. Any philosophy and any course of action based on it must think with this fact. But naturalism goes beyond this fact, for it maintains that man is completely defined by his relationship with the world, that he is only a piece of the natural process. That is a different contention, which requires careful examination. For history has taught us that our judgment is easily confused and exaggerated when revolutionary changes upset the old balance of things. Man, who is helpless against error and passion, confuses facts and opinions. At such a time, it becomes an urgent task to separate the facts from the interpretations given to them. Naturalism, too, is subject to such scrutiny when it turns a fact into a principle, sees the totality of human life determined by man's closer relation to nature, and adjusts all values accordingly.

The chief argument against such a limitation of human life is the result not of subjective reflection but of an analysis of the modern movement itself. The emergence and the progress of that movement reveal an intellectual capacity which, whether it manifests itself as intellectual and technical mastery of nature or as practical social work, proves the existence of a way of life that cannot be accounted for, if man is understood as a mere natural being. For in coming closer to nature man shows himself superior to it. As a mere part of nature, man's existence would be a series of isolated phenomena. All life would proceed from and depend on contact with the outside world. There would be no way of transcending the limitation of the senses. There would be no place at all for any activity governed by a totality or superior unity, nor for any inner coherence of life. All values and goals would disappear and reality would be reduced to mere actuality. But the experience of human work shows a very different picture.

Modern science has not been the result of a gradual accumulation of sensual perceptions but a deliberate break with the entire stock of traditional knowledge. Such a break was deemed necessary because the old concepts had been too anthropomorphic, whereas a scientific understanding of nature presupposed an acknowledgment of its complete independence from man. But our concepts could not have formulated the independence of nature unless thought had emancipated itself from sensual impressions, and through analysis and new synthesis created a new view of nature. This re-creation was caused by the search for truth and the desire to identify with things as they are and thus to bring about an inner expansion of life. But how could nature be conceived in such a manner without the element of chance and distortion, inherent in the perspective of the individual, unless thought could operate independently of sensual perception? Logical thought, striving for a unified conception of the universe, transformed the immediate sensual perception; it provided the sensual existence with the foundation of a world of thought.

Man's tremendous intellectual achievement of a conception of nature in its totality proves his superiority over the natural world and the existence of another level of reality. Thus we may say that naturalism with its emphasis on nature is refuted nowhere with more cogency than in modern science as it transformed nature into an intellectual conception. The more we recognize the intellectual achievement and inner structure of modern science; the clearer becomes the distance from naturalism.

The social movement, too, reveals man as not entirely limited by a given order, but as a being that perceives and judges a given situation and is…[continue]

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