Skeptical Idealist

The Contradiction in Being Me?

I was idly wondering the other day how many of us have ever gone through the exercise of trying to sum up our orientation to the world, our sense of what reality is, in as few words as possible — a sentence or less. It is quite a stimulating exercise and I recommend giving it a go.  For instance,…

I am a skeptical idealist. ( Sound of fanfare played with trumpets,slightly out of tune.)

Now skeptic and idealist are not usually found together on the same page of your average philosophy 101 text.  An idealist believes that the world can be comprehended at least well enough to be changed for the better if we give it a concerted push. In a more technical philosophical sense an idealist believes that the world is more than merely material, that consciousness cannot be reduced to a set of molecular motions, and that spirit may indeed be what ultimately shapes the cosmos.

Yet I am also a skeptic, someone who distrusts the predictability of things and even what our senses seem to tell us about reality.  A skeptic would never be caught out like the turkey who on the thousandth day looks back on his experience of life and says, “I have waxed plump and pleased on the beneficence of these kind two-legged creatures, the world is a fine place.” Unfortunately his pronouncement occurs on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  A skeptic goes through life with slightly hunched shoulders, and somewhat narrowed eyes convinced that life is far more random than most people realize, that the only constant is change and suffering occasional bouts of existential panic quite sure that he or or she is Daffy Duck and somewhere over head an anvil is suspended and the Cosmic Cartoonist has a very fey sense of humour.

So how do I reconcile these seemingly incompatible attitudes? Well I’m not sure I have quite yet. To quote the noted Gen Z philosopher Billie Eilish, “This shit is hard.”

Perhaps I am not ready to take up my position between Plato and Aristotle in that famous “School of Athens.” by reconciling this conflict. Perhaps it is irreconcilable. 

The world as I experience it lends constant fuel to my skepticism; yet my idealism, my sense of the beautiful mystery of things remains. A confession of faith from an agnostic? Who knows.

Have you ever tried this exercise, gentle readers? Give it a go. But remember, this shit is hard.