This article will help you to differentiate between materialism and idealism.
The use of the term materialism demands that there is something called idealism and a comprehensive discussion of both is essential. Materialist philosophy emphasizes that its core idea is neither idea nor idealism, but rather it is physical world. It stresses upon the master or material condition of society and day-to-day life.
Materialism does not recognize anything beyond the physical world. In materialism or materialist philosophy there is no place of divinity or supernatural phenomena or elements or force. Man constitutes the nucleus of materialism.
Along with man, the society enters into the materialist philosophy. But there are many philosophers who deny this. They assert that only mind, thought, spirit and ideas are primary. Nature or the physical world is secondary.
The physical world is derived from spirit, consciousness and ideas. Man thinks something first and out of that imagination or thought physical world emerges. Physical world is a piece of man’s imagination.
Hence the difference between materialism and idealism may be succinctly stated in the following words:
“Those who consider that the material bases nature is primary and regard thought, spirit as a property of matter, belong to the camp of materialism. Those who maintain that thought, spirit and idea existed before nature and that nature is, one way or another, the creation of spirit and dependent upon it comprise the camp of idealism.”
From the early days of civilization a controversy has been going on between idealism and materialism. If we look at the development of history of philosophy we shall find that a major part of it is covered by the conflict between materialism and idealism.
But towards the middle of the nineteenth century Marx and Engels, through consistent and unassailable logic asserted that the matter or material world is real and idealism has no real basis, it is simply an imagination and, hence, it cannot be taken as the subject of any serious analysis.
Materialism or materialist philosophy is practically a protest against idealism or spiritualism. It is a guide to actual life and action. Materialism helps us to understand the nature, functioning and development of society. It does not proceed to ascertain happiness and pleasure of heavenly life.
It teaches man to be practical. It further states that the change and development of society are the results of human efforts and not dictated by the wills or whims of supernatural power.
Engels has said:
“Modern materialism is not a philosophy but a simple conception of the world (Weltanschauung) which has to establish its validity and be applied not in a science of sciences standing apart, but within the actual sciences.”
An important aspect of materialism or materialist interpretation of history is that man with his intellectual capacity can enter into the deepest stage of matter and can know what the matter is.
In other words, it is man’s intellectual capacity that helps to un-fathom the secrets of nature as well as matter, So we can say that man is the sole determiner of everything in the society.
Idealism asserts that it is not man nor his intellectual power nor his consciousness which determines the happenings of the physical world. The ideal or the eternal spirit determines the movements of the physical world.
As a result of this, idealism glorifies the death and also a life after death. According to philosophical idealism the external world is a misnomer. The only reality is the spirit or ideal.
The simple difference between the two is idealism forcefully says that ideal is all-in-all and naturally it determines everything. The opposite view has been propagated by materialism.
Materialism is, in its essence, an optimistic, life-asserting and radiant philosophy. It is alien to pessimism.
Materialism is the world outlook of progressive social groups and classes. The advocates of materialism always look ahead for a bright and enlightened future. It is imbued with optimism. The supporters of idealism generally argue that in materialism there is no place of morality, ethics and value judgment. But this charge against materialism is absolutely unfounded and motivated.
“In their dialectical and historical materialism Marx and Engels, far from rejecting progressive ideas, moral principles and lofty ideas, lay great emphasis on them.”
The distinction between materialism and idealism is not simply theoretical but also practical. The idealist philosophers have advised us not to rely too much on science. Science deals with logic and realities of the world. But the real truth lies beyond this real world.
The unseen world is more important and higher than the world in which we live. It guides men to lay their faith on superstitions and supernatural beliefs.
The church in the Middle Ages did this. The clergymen ingrained apathy in the mind of men towards the real world. The press and other media followed the line.
The idealists, through their continuous propaganda, assert that there are many things in the world which cannot be solved by science and technology. Only an inner and invisible power and regeneration of faith on the heavenly force can save mankind or emancipate man from sorrows and sufferings. The raison d’etre of this propaganda is quite manifest.
The capitalists know it very well that if the mind of the common people become too much materialist the real nature of capitalism would be exposed to them and that will stand in the way of capitalist exploitation.
Hence the best way is to divert the mind of people from the material world and help them to focus on the other-worldly affairs and idealism. Mainly for that reason there is an unholy alliance between capitalism and idealism. Marx and Engels challenged this and exposed the unholy alliance.