An image of a hopeful person.
An image of a hopeful person.

Idealism can be defined as the belief system that privileges ideas over material objects, stating that ideas are the only true reality because of their enduring quality. Its philosophic roots trace back to Plato in Ancient Greece, who argued that truth is “perfect and eternal,” not connected to the material world. Idealism remains influential in Western civilization and within American philosophical thought. Certainly, the positive-minded viewpoint has advantages for individuals who assume this outlook.

Disconnecting from Materialism

By placing value on ideas and the pursuit of truth, idealism de-emphasizes the importance of materialism. Plato, for example, argued that people should spend their time learning about the world and seeking truth, rather than accumulating material or worldly goods. In this way, idealism discourages thoughtless consumption in favor of a more reflective way of living.

Exchanging Thoughts and Ideas

Because idealism urges individuals to discover the truth about the world through discussion and debate, another advantage related to idealism includes open-mindedness. True idealists remain interested in learning new information, discarding old thoughts and beliefs as evidence proves them inadequate. Encouraging individuals to discuss their views leads to better and more frequent communication, as people seek to affirm or discard their current beliefs about the world in favor of greater truths.

Valuing Education

Another positive aspect of idealism relates to its emphasis on education. Many American idealists, including Bronson Alcott, urged quality education practices for children that incorporated robust intellectual discussion and open examination of moral or societal problems. Idealism encourages children to seek education over material goods, and to value personal goodness in themselves and other people. Using literature as a lens to consider moral problems, for example, could help children draw applicable conclusions about morality or problem-solving in their own lives and the world around them.

Perks of Popular Idealism

The term “idealism” is popularly used to describe the worldview of thinking that the world and its people are “good,” and that there is much to be gained from establishing ideals and then adhering to them. This, too, has its advantages. Committing to a positive outlook helps people overcome struggles, worries or suspicions, when they adopt the belief that strong ideals will overcome temporary setbacks. Idealists, for example, would uphold that people are capable of cooperation and learn from their mistakes, rather than that people are naturally competitive and seek to take advantage of one another.

Affirming Contributions from All

In the United States, Thomas Jefferson contributed to idealism’s philosophical underpinnings by arguing that social and economic contributions from the rural population held great value. Jefferson felt that the rural poor had a “purity and goodness” not available in large, overpopulated cities because they often worked together for the common good, and valued honesty and hard work. An advantage to this form of idealism is that it led to greater political participation; the country’s early farmers banded together to ensure that their voices and interests were represented in the national arena.