Platonic Idealism
Platonic Realism


Positioning the ideational and spiritual as the only truths

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of all ideas
  • Knowing is … holding ideas
  • Learner is … idea-haver (individual)
  • Learning is … realizing/developing ideas
  • Teaching is … urging


Ancient (first formally described by ancient Greeks)


Idealism might perhaps be better dubbed “idea-ism.” It refers to a range of perspectives that assert that ideas are the only true reality. Most Idealisms accept that there is a material world, but that world is seen to be lesser ­– subject to change, unstable, uncertain, and corruptible. Prominent branches of Idealism include
  • Metaphysical Idealism – interpreted experience is all that is real
  • Platonic Idealism – abstracted ideas are more real than perceptions
  • Subjective Idealism – sensory experiences are more important than abstracted ideas
  • Objective Idealism – an objective consciousness exists prior to and independent of human consciousness
  • Epistemological Idealism – reality can only be known through ideas
  • Phenomenalism – physical objects exist only as sensory stimuli or perceptions
  • Skepticism – an umbrella notion applied to an array of discourses that, to varying extents, question the possibility of factual knowledge. Positions range from advice to suspend judgment to denying the very possibility of knowledge. Types of Skepticism vary according to scope, method, and associated philosophy


Idealism was largely discounted and dismissed through the 20th century. Even so, many of its principles and assumptions permeate everyday sensibilities – evident in the overwhelming dominance of Mentalisms in popular discussions of learning and teaching.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Ancient Greeks

Status as a Theory of Learning

Idealism is a theory of existence and knowledge that infuses many popular beliefs and assumptions about learning. As such, it can be described as highly influential of common perspective of learning, if not a proper learning theory itself.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Idealism is not a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Idealism is not a scientific theory.


  • Epistemological Idealism
  • Metaphysical Idealism
  • Objective Idealism
  • Phenomenalism
  • Skepticism
  • Subjective Idealism

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Idealism” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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