Silly Evidence "Against" Idealism

In the comments, someone stunningly proposed that antidepressants are good evidence against idealism! So, once again, here is perhaps the most famous idealist:

"What entertainment soever the reasoning or notional part may afford the mind, I will venture to say the other part seems so surely calculated to do good to the body that both must be gainers. For if the lute be not well tuned, the musicians fails in his harmony. And, in our present state, the operations of the mind so far depend on the right tone or good condition of its instrument that anything which greatly contributes to preserve or recover the health of the body is well worth the attention of the mind." -- George Berkeley, "Siris," Philosophical Writings, p. 315

Would Berkeley have been surprised by the possibility of anti-depressants? Obviously not: as he saw it, the operation of the mind was greatly dependent on the "right tone or good condition" of the body. No idealist of whom I am aware ever denied this reality, so citing it can't possibly be evidence against idealism; rather, it is a sign the person citing it just doesn't get what is being debated.


  1. Anonymous11:40 AM

    Dr. Callahan, is there any particular book you would recommend for someone who wants to learn about idealism? For context, I am an undergraduate student and have read several authors on political philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, etc.) but know very little about epistemology. Would reading Kant be a good starting point or would that be a leap for someone who hasn't so far read much about epistemology? Thank you!


    1. Experience and Its Modes, Oakeshott

    2. Kant is an epistemological idealist, but not a metaphysical idealist.

  2. It seems to me that the commenter offers a good example of a problem that honestly comes up going in both directions.

    When I read your post the other day about idealism and systems I thought "Well then what good is idealism? This describes everyone - everyone is an idealist. It sounds like a synonym for 'not stupid'." I would anticipate (although I'll leave it to you to validate) that the idealist would respond to me that a materialist wouldn't say this because materialists look at things in an atomized way.

    I think what you're getting here is the reverse of that, and your response is likewise "Well that's no proof against idealism - we're just fine with that. Everyone thinks that. There's nothing special about thinking that."

    If I say I'm a materialist I just mean I don't think there's anything supernatural (which is not to say we won't often interpret some phenomenon as supernatural). Granted, I'm not a philosopher. But I don't think it means that thinking in systems is a convenient way for thinking about how the world works.

    Then again, these "what really constitutes the real world" questions bother me anyway.

    1. 'Then again, these "what really constitutes the real world" questions bother me anyway.'

      That's cool: as Oakeshott would say, no one is forced to philosophize, and there is no shame in not doing so.

      But then if you don't care to think about this stuff, why comment on it?

    2. Also: the point is not that we don't all live in the real world or that some people are stupid: the point is that some people adopt a metaphysics, but then also accept things inconsistent with that metaphysics. Idealist metaphysics *always* accepted the reality of the world around us and the influence of the body on the mind. So new instances of that are no refutation of idealist metaphysics. But materialist metaphysics *often* denied the reality of these system-level phenomena. So the symmetry you propose is false.

    3. By the way, Daniel, do you know that your boy (hey, I live in Brooklyn, that's how we talk here) Richard Rorty said (I quote from memory) "Analytical philosophy is just now coming around to the conclusions the British Idealists reached a century ago: so analytical philosophy now appears to be a century long waste of time."


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