Bakewell on idealism and realism

"In so far as realism is merely a protest against subjectivism we can all be realists. If it means to affirm the existence of independent reals outside the realm of experience, and therefore wholly independent of consciousness, it is the old hypothetical realism whose absurdities have so often been shown up in the history of philosophy...

"No criticism of idealism has any value which starts out with the assumption that we have, to begin with, two separate orders, called mental phenomena and physical phenomena, or a ' world without ' and a ' world within' and then proceeds to put ideas into the class mental phenomena, the so-called world within, and then to rule idealism out because it has taken the half of reality for the whole. It has no value because it simply begs the question at issue; for idealism is one continued protest against the finality of any such divisions of realities. If one could make any such division of experience into two mutually exclusive orders of existence, it is plain that ideas could not be confined to either group, for the simple reason that ideas live, move, and have their being in the facts of experience, and in the facts of both orders. Of course, we can and must distinguish physical phenomena from mental phenomena; and the growth of the natural sciences and the science of psychology clearly attest both the possibility and the utility of the distinction. These sciences, however, keep in their separate provinces not by dividing actual concrete objects of experience into separate groups, but by adopting and maintaining distinct points of view with regard to all possible objects of experience. The objects themselves may overlap, and furnish material for several sciences, and all objects may serve as material for the psychologist. The separate sciences seek to unify experience, so far as this is possible, from the standpoint of certain deliberately chosen aspects of experience. They deal, not with reality in all the fullness that it has in actual experience, but with abstractions, or, if this term is odious, with reality in so far as it may be conceived or unified by means of certain selected, and selective, principles and categories...

"When one thus turns to one's own experience, one simply does not find any such dualism. Subject and object turn out to be always correlative terms, mutually implied and organically related in all data of experience that have any significance whatsoever.

"But, in the attempt to master and control experience, and to comprehend it, a new meaning of subject and object appears. Subject comes to stand for the transient, private, idiosyncratic; object for the permanent, the common, the universal. The physical experiences are then isolated and assumed to be objects in the strict sense of the word, because, at first sight, they seem to possess these characteristics, and to give us something to tie to; whereas sensations, feelings, volitions, and perhaps ideas, which, again at first sight, appear to lack these characteristics, are referred to the subject. But it takes very little reflection to see that this simple-minded distinction cannot be carried out. Objects, cut off from those subjective factors, lose all the significance which they possess in concrete experience; and the subject, regarded as independent of these objective factors, loses all definiteness. Moreover, when we take the object to be the immediate impression, the thing-as-immediately-apprehended, it turns out to be tantalizingly subjective. Objectivity proves to be not something handed over as a gift in the direct impression, but rather a characteristic which the impression acquires in being thought." -- C. M. Bakewell, "Realism and Idealism," The Philosophical Review, Vol. 18, No. 5, 1909.


  1. Gene: thanks for this. I found Bakewell's essay on a philosophy site, and printed it to read. It is, in my humble opinion, an excellent essay.


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