Is Idealism incoherent as incapable of explaining activities without entities



Late YouTube philosopher Knownnomore had a 3-part video series explicating his arguments against Metaphysical Idealism.

One argument he had was this: that Idealism is incoherent because the notion of there being activities/abilities without existents/entities/things is unintelligible. In order for one to think, one must be something which can think. In order to be self aware, there must be a self to be aware of.

You are not "thought." Rather, you may or may not be an entity capable or thinking. You are not "seeing." Rather, you are a thing which may or may not see. Perception is not an object, but rather an ability, a process, something that happens.

Is this criticism of Idealism effective? How might a proponent of Idealism (all that exists is subjective perception) respond to this?


Posted 2018-03-17T21:05:17.360

Reputation: 131

1Title revised in order to bring out the point of the question more clearly. – Geoffrey Thomas – 2018-03-18T13:23:09.437

Idealism does not presuppose non-existence of entities, it just asserts that fundamental entities are ideal. But even if we replace priority of the ideal with priority of "activities" (which is associated more with pragmatism than idealism) it is unclear why that would be incoherent. That doing requires a doer is a common circumstance but hardly logical necessity. – Conifold – 2018-03-18T20:26:02.740

Sartre (loose citing as remembering): I'm counting cigarettes. If asked "what are you doing" I'll sure reply, "counting cigarettes". Of course there is consciousness of counting activity around the cigarretes (otherwise how could I perform the synthesis of elemenrtary addings up?). But does really I exist during the count? No, there is no any consciousness of I at that time... The very "you" in the question "what are you doing" is being appreciated as an empty form, not an entity, and will stay empty throughout the counting process. [So generally you don't have to be something at thinking] – ttnphns – 2018-03-19T07:52:52.173

Do you have links to the three videos? I think I found two of them, but not the last one. The ones I found are mirrored by ThePolyMath. It also looks like Knownomore is challenging InspiringPhilsophy. Which video(s) by InspiringPhilosophy are being challenged? It would be good to see both sides. – Frank Hubeny – 2018-03-20T04:46:15.887

@Frank Hubeny - Sadly, KNM seems to have given up making videos and jettisoned all of his own content. Only 2/3 of his Idealism series now exists in mirrors. The missing video was where he presented the argument in this thread, which is unfortunate because he gave the argument much better justice. KNM is challenging the following Youtubers - "Johanan Raatz" + "Inspiring Philosophy" - Challenging the following videos - "I am a Process - and so can you!" - but primarily: "Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism" + "The Introspective Argument" - all videos by these Youtube Channels. – Jdog1998 – 2018-03-20T13:54:08.270

@Jdog1998 Then I have the two videos by KNM. I will see if I can make sense of the arguments after watching these other videos. – Frank Hubeny – 2018-03-22T04:51:13.643




'Idealism' is a term of wide latitude. I take it provisionally as the view that all that exist are (a) ideas in (b) a subject's mind. Generally a plurality of minds is assumed. If any philosophy matches this description it is Berkeley's Idealism.


Then consider Berkelian Idealism. For Berkeley all that exist are minds and their ideas. Minds are entities, just not material entities - they are immaterial substances. They exist but are purely thinking or perceiving things. What they think or perceive are ideas. There is not just a single, conscious, immaterial substance : there is a plurality of such substances, namely all the separate immaterial minds.

Immaterial substances do not co-exist with material substances. For Berkeley there is no such thing as material substance. What we regard as material or physical entities or objects are nothing but collections of ideas. It's weird, probably wrong, but it's what Berkeley believed and what he argued for with considerable ingenuity.


Berkeley is clear that minds and ideas are distinct. Neither is reducible to the other. Minds perceive ideas; ideas are perceived. Take Principles, §2 :

  1. MIND--SPIRIT--SOUL.--But, besides all that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them, and exercises divers operations, as willing, imagining, remembering, about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call MIND, SPIRIT, SOUL, or MYSELF. By which words I do not denote any one of my ideas, but a thing entirely distinct from them, WHEREIN THEY EXIST, or, which is the same thing, whereby they are perceived...


Minds, or mental substances, are perfectly capable of activity. Berkeley spells this out in Principles, §28 :

  1. I find I can arouse ideas in my mind at will, and vary and shift the mental scene whenever I want to. I need only to will, and straight away this or that idea arises in my mind; and by willing again I can obliterate it and bring on another.It is because the mind makes and unmakes ideas in this way that it can properly be called active. It certainly is active; we know this from experience. But anyone who talks of ‘unthinking agents’ or of ‘arousing ideas without the use of volition’ is merely letting himself be led astray by words.


If Berkeley held that reality consisted purely of ideas, he would be in trouble. How could ideas exist independently of minds that have them ? (This rules out the account of Idealism as the view that all that exist are ideas and that ideas exist by themselves.) But he holds no such view. Look at the quote from para 28 : 'I find I can arouse ideas in my mind at will'. In my mind - how could he arouse ideas in his mind if there were no minds but only ideas ?


I am not trying to sell Berkeleian Idealism to you but to explain how and why your source, which aims to refute Idealism by 'showing' that Idealism cannot accommodate activity because it does not recognise entities that can be active, is mistaken.

Berkeleian Idealism runs into endless difficulties but this is not one of them. It's possible to argue, of course, that Berkeleian Idealism cannot really accommodate activity because there are no such things as immaterial substances to be active. But this is circular reasoning : it assumes that Berkeleian Idealism is false in order to refute Berkeleian Idealism. It has first to be proved that there are no immaterial substances before their non-existence can be used against Berkeley to show that he cannot accommodate activity.


G. Berkeley, 'A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge', 1710 : permanently in print and available online.

Geoffrey Thomas

Posted 2018-03-17T21:05:17.360

Reputation: 34 276

As I understand it, Metaphysical Idealism (especially Berkeleyan Idealism) posits that mental activity literally is all there is. There are no physical underlying substances, let alone "immaterial" substances upon which mental states supervene. All there literally is is mental activity, or qualia. Is it not this? - that Berkeleyan Idealism is not about there being immaterial substances called "minds" that have experiences, but rather than there are literally "thoughts," and that's it. – Jdog1998 – 2018-03-17T22:56:05.520

Geoffrey, but let me ask you to explain, what's the difference between mind and idea (its thought). "Immaterial substance" - is its defining property the subjectivity, the constant idea of the self? Or of God? Or what? – ttnphns – 2018-03-18T07:44:48.027

@ttnphns this is mainly where idealism is separated to different sub-views. I'd like to suggest Chalmers' article on idealism where he carefully distinguish between the general subfields and their pros/cons.

– Yechiam Weiss – 2018-03-19T20:06:03.113

@Jdog1998 I'd like to suggest that you read that article too, and if you still have questions please be more specific with your terms. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-03-19T20:07:45.963