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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 06-Dec-15


Sunday 06-December-15

Idealism vs. reasonable uncertainty

Reality is messy. Really messy. There no black or white other than what we perceive. Yet seeing things in absolute terms makes life so much easier. There are good people and bad people. Religious or scientific texts are believed to be absolutely true. We listen to others and are sure we know just what they mean.

Living thoughtfully is harder when it means never wholly knowing what is right or wrong, good or bad. Knowing others may be for or against us, but not knowing which makes responding to ambiguous comments much more difficult. It means never quite feeling safe or right, even though knowing this is more truthful than the certainty of idealism.

Idealists and realists tend not to get on, each seeing the other as misguided at best and malign at worst. The idealist says 'this is true', to which the realist says 'well, not really'. The idealist says 'you are wrong' and the realist says 'possibly' but continues in the belief they are more right than the simplified position of the idealist.

Idealism and extremism often go hand in hand. Both left wing and right wing politicians can only sustain their views by ignoring inconvenient data, such as limited finances and the refusal of societies to blindly obey laws and commands they believe are wrong' or unfair. Religions can also tend towards moralistic idealism, where 'I am right so you are wrong' is a common simplification.

In the end, life is often best lived as a paradoxical combination of both realism and idealism, where we learn what we can, then use reasoned choice moderated by ideals to guide our actions.

Idealists should accept that two people can believe different things without one being wrong, while realists should forgive idealists their ignorance and accept that their beliefs are simply what works for them and are therefore valid.

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