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idea

i·de·a / īˈdēə/ • n. 1. a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action: they don't think it's a very good idea. ∎  a concept or mental impression: our menu list will give you some idea of how interesting a low-fat diet can be. ∎  an opinion or belief: nineteenth-century ideas about drinking. ∎  a feeling that something is probable or possible: he had an idea that she must feel the same. 2. (the idea) the aim or purpose: I took a job with the idea of getting some money together. 3. Philos. (in Platonic thought) an eternally existing pattern of which individual things in any class are imperfect copies. ∎  (in Kantian thought) a concept of pure reason, not empirically based in experience. PHRASES: get (or give someone) ideas inf. become (or make someone) ambitious, bigheaded, or tempted to do something against someone else's will, esp. make a sexual advance: Mac began to get ideas about turning pro. have (got) no idea inf. not know at all: she had no idea where she was going. not someone's idea of inf. not what someone regards as: it's not my idea of a happy ending. put ideas into someone's head suggest ambitions or thoughts that a person would not otherwise have had. that's an idea inf. that suggestion or proposal is worth considering. that's the idea inf. used to confirm to someone that they have understood something or they are doing something correctly: “A sort of bodyguard?” “That's the idea.” the very idea! inf. an exclamation of disapproval or disagreement.

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idea

idea archetype (as in Platonic philosophy), conception, design; †form, figure; mental image, notion, XVI. — L. idea (in Platonic sense) — Gr. idéā look, form, nature, ideal form, f. *Fid- see (see WIT2).
So ideal adj. XVII, sb. XVIII. — F. idéal — late L. ideālis. Comb. form ideo-, as in ideologue XIX. — F.

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idea

ideaadhere, Agadir, appear, arrear, auctioneer, austere, balladeer, bandolier, Bashkir, beer, besmear, bier, blear, bombardier, brigadier, buccaneer, cameleer, career, cashier, cavalier, chandelier, charioteer, cheer, chevalier, chiffonier, clavier, clear, Coetzee, cohere, commandeer, conventioneer, Cordelier, corsetière, Crimea, dear, deer, diarrhoea (US diarrhea), domineer, Dorothea, drear, ear, electioneer, emir, endear, engineer, fear, fleer, Freer, fusilier, gadgeteer, Galatea, gazetteer, gear, gondolier, gonorrhoea (US gonorrhea), Greer, grenadier, hear, here, Hosea, idea, interfere, Izmir, jeer, Judaea, Kashmir, Keir, kir, Korea, Lear, leer, Maria, marketeer, Medea, Meir, Melilla, mere, Mia, Mir, mishear, mountaineer, muleteer, musketeer, mutineer, near, orienteer, pamphleteer, panacea, paneer, peer, persevere, pier, Pierre, pioneer, pistoleer, privateer, profiteer, puppeteer, queer, racketeer, ratafia, rear, revere, rhea, rocketeer, Sapir, scrutineer, sear, seer, sere, severe, Shamir, shear, sheer, sincere, smear, sneer, sonneteer, souvenir, spear, sphere, steer, stere, summiteer, Tangier, tear, tier, Trier, Tyr, veer, veneer, Vere, Vermeer, vizier, volunteer, Wear, weir, we're, year, Zaïre

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Idea

IDEA

Derived ultimately from the Greek verb δε[symbol omitted]ν, to see, to know; and proximately from the noun ε[symbol omitted]δος, that which is seen, the form, shape, or figure (Lat. species ). In current usage idea has acquired two meanings: (1) a conception or representation that is known; and (2) a pattern or plan according to which a thing is made.

Platonic Concept. The word idea has strong Platonic overtones, for it forms the keystone of Plato's philosophy. The poetic sage had been exposed to two apparently contradictory influences: heraclitus, who emphasized that the world was in a state of constant flux; and socra tes, who insisted that the goal of the philosopher's search was the attainment of fixed and eternal truth. The philosophy of plato may be called an attempt to counterbalance the teachings of Heraclitus and Socrates. Consequently, Plato held that determinate, universal knowledge could not be derived from the continually changing world of sense; at best one could derive only δόξα (opinion). Yet he experienced within himself an awareness of the fixed and the universal. "When returning into herself [the soul] reflects, then she passes into the other world, a region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom" (Phaedo 79D).

Since Plato could not explain the origin of such experience from below, he tried to explain it from above, by positing a world of Ideas wherein man-himself, beauty-itself, health-itself existed as things. Each human soul had also previously existed in that blessed land, and had directly contemplated these Idea-things. After being imprisoned in the body, probably for some sin, on the occasion of sensing some object in the world below the soul recalls what it previously intuited in the world of Ideas (Phaedrus 249E).

Having thus arrived at the existence of a world of ideal types, and facing the fact that the perception of concrete things on earth at least occasioned the presence of certain thoughts in the mind, Plato posited some vague sort of influence of the archetypes on the corresponding imperfect reflections in the world of sense. "As to the manner, I am uncertain, but I stoutly contend that by beauty all beautiful things become beautiful" (Phaedo 100D).

Hence, through Plato, the word idea came to have two different but related meanings: (1) what the intellect knows; and (2) the pattern in imitation of which things come to be.

Reactions to Plato. Although aristotle was Plato's pupil, he was vigorously opposed to the notion of a world of Ideas. He regarded it as contradictory: a subsistent Idea would have to be simultaneously incommunicable (since it was singular) and communicable (since it was universal); it would have to be unchanging and changing. He stated summarily: "The Forms we can dispense with, for they are mere sound without sense" (Anal. post. 83a 33). Aristotle seldom, if ever, used the Platonic word δέα; even when discussing Plato's theory he would use ε[symbol omitted]δος (form). When speaking of human "ideas," Aristotle preferred to use πόληψις (conception) or παθήματα τ[symbol omitted]ς ψυχ[symbol omitted]ς (passions of the soul).

The Neoplatonists, seeing the difficulty in accepting a sphere of impersonal immaterial essences, interpreted

the Platonic Ideas as thoughts of God and placed them in the Nous, the divine mind that emanates from the One. St. augustine found this notion attractive for two reasons: it would avoid any contention that God had created unintelligently; and it would explain the fact that every man has some unchanging standards of beauty and truth. Hence Augustine posited exemplar ideas and eternal truths in the mind of God (see exemplarism). "The ideas are certain archetypal forms or stable and immutable essences of things, which have not themselves been formed but, existing eternally and without change, are contained in the divine intelligence" (Divers. quaest. 46.2). This doctrine forms the ultimate basis for his theory of knowledge based on illumination. Augustine held that just as the sunlight makes corporeal things visible to the human eye, so a divine illumination makes the eternal truths visible to the human mind (Trin. 12.15.24).

Aquinas's Synthesis. St. thomas aquinas synthesized the opinions of the two most prominent ancients. He agreed with Aristotle that the world of Ideas is contradictory and that all universals are derived from sense data. Yet he agreed with Plato (through Augustine) that there are eternal exemplars according to which all things are made; but these he regarded not as subsistent entities, but as objects of divine thought. Hence, in Aquinas and his followers, idea is used to refer to three quite different but interrelated data: (1) divine ideas, the eternal exemplars; (2) human practical concepts, the mental plans of an artisan; and (3) human speculative concepts, the subjective means by which man knows the universal and the abstract.

Divine Ideas. First, idea refers primarily to the divine ideas, the notions in the divine mind according to which all things were created. It would be inaccurate to say that, for Aquinas, the Platonic world of Ideas was simply transplanted to the divine mind. The divine ideas are not individual things, they are objects known. For St. Thomas these exemplars do not exist in God formally as things, but merely eminently as objects known. Thus, he wrote: "But the divine essence comprehends within itself the nobilities of all beings, not indeed compositely, but according to the mode of perfection. The intellectof God, therefore, can comprehend in His essence that which is proper to each thing by understanding wherein the divine essence is being imitated and wherein each thing falls short of its perfection. Thus, by understanding His essence as imitable in the mode of life and not of knowledge, God has the proper form of a plant; and if He knows His essence as imitable in the mode of knowledge and not of intellect, God has the proper form of animal, and so forth" (C. gent. 1.54). Consequently, the plurality of divine ideas is in no way opposed to God's simplicity, for there is no multiplication of concepts as entities (formal concepts) but merely a multiplicity of objects known (objective concepts).

Practical Concepts. Second, by analogy the term idea has been properly applied to human practical concepts, the subjective exemplars according to which an artisan intends to produce something. Aquinas wrote of the human analogue to the divine ideas: "The likeness of a house preexists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind" (ST 1a, 15.1). The noted commentator john of st. thom as took special pains to emphasize that such practical ideas must include not only the "whatness" of the thing, but also the practical plans for its production. He wrote: "For an idea it is required, not only that the thing be known absolutely in itself, but that it is formulated in considering the form as imitable in another, not by a natural propagation, but through an imitation directed by the intellect. [An idea] is a form as imitable, not by propagation, but by direction" (Curs. phil., phil. nat. 1.11.3). The truth or goodness of the practical order consists in the conformity of the thing produced to the practical concept of the artisan. Thus a work of art is not called good to the degree that it perfectly represents a thing in nature, but rather it is called good if it conforms to the artist's idea (cf. ST 1a2ae, 64.1; 2a2ae, 57.1 ad 2).

Speculative Concepts. Third, the term idea is most frequently but least precisely used for any notion or con cept; as when one says, "My idea about democracy is." St. Thomas himself acknowledged that ideacould signify either practical or speculative notions. He wrote: "The Greek word idea is in Latin forma. Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends; either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them" (ST 1a, 15.1). Here again an important distinction must be made between the subjective means by which something is known and the object that is thus immanently attained. The commentators distinguished these two aspects of the concept or idea, calling the one the formal concept and the other the objective concept. John of St. Thomas explained: "The concept is not known as an object except reflexly, when the very entity of the concept itself is known [and not when] only the object is known as constituted in its status as an object illumined and understood as an object . Forthus the mental word is not numerically identical with the internalized object, since a mental word is especially required for us, that the object be made spiritualized or illumined and formed in its status as an object, as a term intrinsically understood" (Curs. phil., phil. nat. 1.11.3).

Interrelation. The synthesizing mind of Aquinas saw a close interrelation in these various usages of idea. The divine ideas were the originating exemplars, which, in creation, implanted faithful exemplifications of themselves in creatures. Creatures, thus realizing the divine ideas in their structure, could impress themselves on the human mind and thereby enable man to form speculative ideas from the created exemplifications by which he knew not only the created thing but also something of the Creator. In imitation of Him of whom he is an image, man the maker forms his own practical ideas, to some degree based on divine artifacts, which direct his production of human artifacts.

Modern Views. The clear-cut and cohesive development of the term idea from Plato through Aristotle and Augustine to Aquinas has not been continued in modern thought. René descartes is commonly regarded as the father of modern philosophy, and he is the source of modern confusion about ideas. A classic example is to be found in his Meditations on First Philosophy: "And although it may be that one idea gives birth to another, this process cannot be carried back in an infinite series: we must eventually reach a first idea whose cause is, as it were, the archetype in which all the reality or perfection that is in the idea only objectively, or by representation, is contained formally or actually. Thus the natural light makes it evident to me that ideas are present in me like pictures or images which, although they may certainly fall short of the perfection of the things from which they are derived, can never contain anything greater or more perfect" (Med. 3). Two things are especially noteworthy in Descartes's statement. First, he still maintains the original Platonic notion of external archetypes, regarding these as somehow in the mind of God and yet containing the perfections of creatures formally and actually. Second, he regards the human idea as the thing known, missing entirely its intentional function.

The English philosopher, John locke, was vigorously opposed to Descartes's innatism, but he further accentuated the subjectivism implicit in Descartes. He ignored or rejected any divine exemplars influencing human conceptualization, even indirectly. But more clearly, he made the subjective modification, on whatever level, to be the object known. At the beginning of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding he stated that the word idea stands "for whatsoever is the object of understanding when a man thinks. I have used it to express whatever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking" (Introd. sec. 8).

George berkeley accepted the Lockean interpretation of idea as something subjectively known, but went beyond Locke to hold what many regard as a type of subjective idealism. Berkeley maintained that there were only three existents: the Infinite Spirit, finite spirits, and their ideas. Hence Berkeley seems to have regarded ideas as purely subjective objects of thought without any counterpart in the world or in God. David hume, in a sense, went even a step beyond Berkeley. For him there was no Infinite Spirit and no finite spirits; there were merely disembodied and desubjectivized ideas and sense impressions. Hume held only a difference of degree between impressions and ideas, the latter being merely faint copies of the former. He wrote in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding: "By the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are less lively perceptions of which we are conscious when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned" (sec. 2).

Subjectivist Connotations. After Hume, the general significance of idea was well established as something purely subjective. While almost every dictionary in any modern language will give idea and concept as synonyms, philosophers are significantly more discriminate. The more subjectively inclined the philosopher, the more he tends to use idea; the more realistically inclined, the more he tends to use concept; the more undecided he is, the more he is inclined to use both indiscriminately, with a preference for a different word of his own choosing such as perception or intuition. As noted above, Descartes's subjectivist proclivities inclined to the use of idea; Berkeley's idealism and Hume's panphenomenalism are expressed in their exclusive use of idea. Significantly, the absolute idealist, G. W. F. hegel, called the manifestations of Reason idea; and A. schopenhauer entitled his main work The World as Will and Idea.

Realist Connotations. On the other hand, those who have some commitment to realism tend to use concept more frequently. Concept implies a passivity to an external force, as in animal and human conception. Thus Kant requires sense data for his a priori concepts to organize. The American pragmatists, who were not nearly so much concerned about ideogenesis as its practical effects, used both terms indiscriminately. William james is typical: "A glance at the history of the idea will show you still better what pragmatism means. Our conception ofthese effects, whether immediate or remote, is then for us the whole conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive significance at all" [Pragmatism, 7th ed. (New York 1960) 43]. As Gilbert Ryle has become less positivistic, he tends to use concept more frequently. For example, in his booksignificantly entitled The Concept of Mind Ryle used concept six times in a nine-sentence paragraph. To take a portion: "It does not, of course, follow from its being a technical concept that it is an illegitimate or useless concept. 'Ionisation' and 'off-side' are technical concepts, but both are legitimate and useful. 'Phlogiston' and 'animal spirits' were technical concepts, though they have no utility" (62).

Thus, it seems that idea is irrevocably a part of the vocabulary of mankind and that it will forever bear at least the overtones of its Platonic origins.

See Also: idealism; platonism; knowledge, theories of.

Bibliography: f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, Md. 1946). w. d. ross, Plato's Theory of Ideas (Oxford 1951). n. gulley, Plato's Theory of Knowledge (New York 1962). a. e. taylor, Aristotle (rev. ed. New York 1956). c. boyer, Christianisme et néo-platonisme dans la formation de saint Augustin (Paris 1920). É. h. gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, tr. l. e. m. lynch (New York 1960); The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, tr. a. h. c. downes (New York 1940); The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, tr. l. k. shook (New York 1956). j. maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge, tr. g. b. phelan et al. from 4th Fr. ed. (New York 1959). j. f. peifer, The Concept in Thomism (New York 1952). v. m. kuiper, "Pour ou contre l'idéeobjet," Angelicum 15 (1938) 121138. r. garrigou-lagrange, God: His Existence and His Nature, tr. b. rose from 5th Fr. ed., 2 v. (St. Louis 193436). m. de munnynck, "Notes on Intuition," Thomist 1 (1939) 143168. m. c. beardsley, ed., The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (New York 1960). e. a. burtt, ed., The English Philosophers from Bacon to Mill (New York 1939). w. barrett and h. d. aiken, eds., Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, 4 v. (New York 1962). g. ryle, The Concept of Mind (New York 1949).

[j. f. peifer]

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