Today I enjoyed a conversation on Reddit with someone identifying as an atheist-empiricist. I think, in my attempts to get through to him, I managed to condense the principle of idealism down into an easily understandable summary. What’s going on here is just the meaning of the great Hegel, in the Science of Logic, when he writes that “The proposition that the finite is ideal [ideell] constitutes idealism.”1
Here is what I wrote:
Like many of those convinced of the modern science paradigm, you place a great deal of emphasis on “evidence”. The etymology of this word is revealing. It is ex-videre, meaning “see outward.” So this paradigm presupposes externality. Modern science supposes ex-ternality, ex-perimentation and ex-perience.
Now, I think this paradigm is fundamentally flawed, such that all of modern science is slightly wrong all the time. Science gets everything about the world slightly wrong because it remains in the paradigm of the externality of subject and object.
What gets missed by this paradigm is what Hegel calls the Idea, from the Greek word eidos, often translated as form. The eidos is neither inside nor outside, cannot be seen, smelled, or touched. It is the idea in the mind of God (and in a certain sense God just is this great idea) that holistically organizes all of the natural and spiritual world. This idea disseminates itself in the spiritual world in the form of demons and angels, which appropriate human individuals and make them go crazy, or make them into geniuses and Führers. These demons can appropriate or inhabit multiple people at once, as in cases of mass hysteria and mass psychosis. The crowd has a mental illness. Yet the crowd has no brain, no nervous system.
This is because the illness is not physical. It isn’t even in the crowd. It is in an eidos, a spiritual entity that holds sway over the crowd. These angelic or demonic eide can be known and understood. They have a history. They are connected with specific religious traditions and spiritual practices. They are mental objects which are not localized in any particular physical place (although they can be), but which draw matter up into themselves and organize it according to their purposes.
You, for example, are an eidos. Every plant and animal is. When you say the word, “I”, it refers to the eidos that appropriates your body, including your nervous system but also the gut and the heart. When one says “go with your gut”, or “follow your heart”, this may be taken literally. Your eidos is not = your brain. Your eidos is the “I” that suffuses every part of you and appropriates the matter that it organizes into your whole body. This eidos may be identified with the Freudian unconscious.
And this eidos is what Hegel calls the Concept or Begriff, the soul of the world. Each of us is the splintering of this Begriff, which is an eternal fire, into a divine spark, trapped within matter.
Following one of the densest sections of the Logic, Hegel “confines [him]self” to this helpful (and uncharacteristically clear) remark:
I will confine myself here to a remark which may help one to grasp the concepts here developed and may make it easier to find one’s bearings in them. The Concept [Begriff], when it has developed into a concrete existence that is itself free, is none other than the I or pure self-consciousness. True, I have concepts, that is to say, determinate concepts; but the I is the pure Concept itself which, as Concept, has come into existence.2
There you have it, folks. We are splinterings of the mind of God, all trying desperately to remember where we came from. And now you know.
This is the Truth of Being: we find ourselves surrounded by what Aristotle calls primary substances, each individuated by the fact that it has personality, meaning I could imagine to myself a fairy tale in which my consciousness, my “I”, is transferred into that Substance (e.g. the furniture that comes alive in The Beauty and the Beast). In other words, the Truth of Being is the equation given by Hegel: Substance = Subject. Substances are essential unities. When I develop a Concept of a Substance, I rediscover the Logos of my own “I” in its externality. Being = “I”. I am Being, the Divine Spark, the smoldering of the Eternal Fire.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Science of Logic. Translated by Arnold V. Miller, George Allen & Unwin Ltd; Humanities Press, 1969.