Two comments on Chalmers classification of idealism


Interest in idealism has increased substantially since the publication of Sprigge’s Vindication of Absolute Idealism in 1984,1 and again with more vigor over the last decade in the context of the mind-body problem and panpsychism. This will probably not come as a surprise to objective idealists, among which Vittorio Hosle has proposed that philosophy cycles through stages with some form of idealism as end point of each cycle.2 More recently, David Chalmers mused about a corresponding development in the worldview of single individuals from materialism over dualism and panpsychism to idealism.3 Traditional accounts of idealism include for instance those of Plato, Plotinus, Leibniz, Berkeley, or Hegel. An overview of contemporary approaches is given in the article by Chalmers, where he mentions amongst others a recent collection of essays on idealism,4 but also for instance the (recently extended5) works of Philip Goff on Russellian monism.6 A more classically oriented collection of works on idealism was edited by Hosle and Suarez Muller.7 In his article ‘Idealism and the Mind-Body Problem’, David Chalmers presents a classification of possible versions of idealism with the goal of assessing the prospects of idealism in the context of the mind-body problem without having to pay too much attention to its ‘historical baggage’. This goal seems to me highly laudable and the resulting classification an important contribution to the contemporay discussion. In addition, the conclusions drawn from the subsequent analysis seem very plausible from the viewpoints of dualistic, panpsychistic and similar thinking. I nevertheless believe that the presented classification is not really adequate to capture the core of traditional idealistic thinking, which in turn leads to somewhat distorted conclusions about the opportunities for idealism to play a role for understanding the mind-body problem: First, the distinction between micro- macro- and cosmic idealism ist not fitting well into the idealistic venture. Instead, idealism is artificially reduced to a bad alternative to panpsychism. Secondly, the initially mentioned, but afterwards not discussed again difference between subjectinvolving and non-subject-involving idealism needs to be further extended, to account for the special role of subjects in traditional accounts of objective idealism. To elaborate on this, I will first give a short summary of Chalmers classification and some of the mentioned problems with idealism. Afterwards I will come back to my two objections in more detail.

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Martin Korth
University of Münster


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