Have you ever wondered if half a glass of water as half-full or half-empty? Or you believe it’s just a glass of water, how does it matter if it is half full or half empty. If not, think about it now for you’ll know if you are an idealist or a realist.
These philosophical concepts are often used on the opposite end, standing against each other. While one envisions the pursuit of perfection, based on the ideology that reality is mental and everything is a creation of mind or otherwise immaterial, the other holds a more pragmatic and actual view of the situation.
Let me put it more easily, Idealism perceives what can be the situation, whereas realism perceives what the situation is. If you are an idealist, you’ll find yourself cherishing noble principles, purposes, goals, thought of the mind, all with an optimistic attitude. If you are a realist, you’ll often act practically and rationally, prudently weighing the options before taking any action.
Now, let us see how these two philosophies are contrasting in our everyday life. Starting with education, the teachings we receive by a teacher may often be dominated by an idealist’s approach or a realist approach. Promoted by Palato, the teachings in idealism focus on the intellect of the student and bring in latent ideas by Socratic Method where the teacher stimulates awareness by asking leading questions. The teacher does not act as an authority but a guide and the student learns by discussion and debate. They channelize their thoughts by giving logic and reasons for their arguments. On the other hand, realism is subject and discipline-oriented, consistent with behaviorism, which is a system of learning through punishment and reward. Being reliant solely on information from the external world, realism negates the original thought of the student and promotes the possession of knowledge of subjects such as history, language, science, and mathematics. The teacher, then, will be seen as the highest authority, a figure to which students must answer rather than a guide who can be questioned. They try to teach the world about reality, to teach truth rather than beauty, to understand the present practical life. The purpose of education, according to social realists, is to prepare the practical man of the world. Based on this explanation of the two can you answer which kind of education you receive? In my opinion, the current model of education is a combination of the two systems.
Another aspect which we should consider is how politics is shaped out of the idealistic and realistic behavior of the individuals. If we consider the ideologies of Aristotle, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Saul Alinsky, they are political realists. They layout strategies for leaders based on the way they are. They call for sacrificing a bit of virtue in the here and now to maintain power, not because they love vice but because they want to ensure the success of good leaders.
Plato, Marx, and Mises are, on the other hand, are closer to being political idealists. It’s not that they altogether dismissed the need to deal with things practically, or that say Marx and Mises shied away from diagnosing the ills of capitalism and socialism from a realist perspective respectively, it’s just that they believed in a utopian model of the society to solve issues despite their realistic diagnosis of life’s problems. In the present-day scenario, realism can be defined as contemporary policy stances of entrenched partisans and idealism as a policy of what ought to be. To explain further – realistic policy positions, for example, stretch from increasing the minimum wage, cutting taxes on the rich and middle class, to restricting the law on women receiving an abortion. Idealistic policy stances are similar to that of equal protection under the law and a government that works for all people and not just the wealthy. Idealistic policies are by nature more conceptual and promote a society following ideals of equality, peace, justice, social harmony, compassion, environmental protection. As political institutions and governments that practice politics have evolved and continue to evolve, there will be those who advocate both a realist view and those who counter with the idealist view.
Modern society often reacts to the thought of a morally ideal world by saying, ‘You are living in another world”, “That’s too idealistic, that is not how a society functions.” On one side we support an idealistic world but on the other, we nullify it by saying that it’s not possible. Consider the example of a woman choosing to wear a particular kind of clothes in a place where the society has stated that outfit to be “inappropriate”. Ideally one would say it is her own choice, she should not be stopped or be commented upon for wearing a particular dress. At the same time, in the facade of ‘her security’, we do not allow her to follow her choice by saying that society is not advanced on those grounds. We agree ideally but still state that the reality is different. “It should happen but it doesn’t.”
There’s no ultimate conclusion that whether idealism is better or realism. Both have their pros and cons. Both should move together to achieve our desired objective. If a goal is idealistic it will help inspire and motivate individuals to work harder to obtain life-changing results, at the same time realistic approach will measure the viability and achievability of the goal. So, now you answer the question, is the glass half full or half empty for you or just an ordinary glass of water?