[ahy-dee-uh-liz-uh m]
See more synonyms for idealism on
  1. the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.
  2. the practice of idealizing.
  3. something idealized; an ideal representation.
  4. Fine Arts. treatment of subject matter in a work of art in which a mental conception of beauty or form is stressed, characterized usually by the selection of particular features of various models and their combination into a whole according to a standard of perfection.Compare naturalism(def 2), realism(def 3a).
  5. Philosophy.
    1. any system or theory that maintains that the real is of the nature of thought or that the object of external perception consists of ideas.
    2. the tendency to represent things in an ideal form, or as they might or should be rather than as they are, with emphasis on values.

Origin of idealism

1790–1800; ideal + -ism, probably modeled on German Idealismus
Related formsan·ti-i·de·al·ism, nouno·ver·i·de·al·ism, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for idealism


  1. belief in or pursuance of ideals
  2. the tendency to represent things in their ideal forms, rather than as they are
  3. any of a group of philosophical doctrines that share the monistic view that material objects and the external world do not exist in reality independently of the human mind but are variously creations of the mind or constructs of ideasCompare materialism (def. 2), dualism (def. 2)
Derived Formsidealist, nounidealistic, adjectiveidealistically, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for idealism

1796, in the abstract sense, originally "belief that reality is made up only of ideas," from ideal (adj.) + -ism; on model of French idéalisme. Meaning "representing things in an ideal form" is from 1829.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

idealism in Culture


An approach to philosophy that regards mind, spirit, or ideas as the most fundamental kinds of reality, or at least as governing our experience of the ordinary objects in the world. Idealism is opposed to materialism, naturalism, and realism. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was an idealist; so was Immanuel Kant.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.