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. Associated constructs and theories include
  • Epistemological Idealism – reality can only be known through ideas
  • Intellectualism – any perspective that prioritizes thought or the activity of the mind (i.e., the “intellect”). Among others, these include Idealism, Rationalism, and those theories in Psychology that emphasis cognitive states.
  • Logocentrism – the belief that words can represent presence, essence, truth, and/or reality, and thus act as the foundation of all human thought, language, and experience
  • Metaphysical Idealism – interpreted experience is all that is real
  • Naïve Idealism – the perspective that “reality” is one’s own mental creation (Contrast: Naïve Realism, under Realism.) (Note: The phrase Naïve Idealism is also used to describe over-optimistic, but unrealistic and/or under-considered, modes of thinking, often associated with adolescents and religious fanatics.)
  • Objective Idealism – an objective consciousness exists prior to and independent of human consciousness
  • Platonic Idealism (Theory of Forms) – abstracted ideas are more real than perceptions
  • Phenomenalism – physical objects exist only as sensory stimuli or perceptions
  • Reminiscence Theory of Knowledge (Plato, c. 400 BCE) – an elaboration of Platonic Idealism that presses into matters of learning. Built on the premise that all knowledge is always and already present in the ideal realm, the theory asserts that learning is a process of recollection or recovery of such knowledge –­ aided by processes such as the Socratic Method.
  • Subjective Idealism (Immaterialism) (George Berkeley, 1720s)– sensory experiences are more important than abstracted ideas


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
  • Intellectualism
  • Metaphysical Idealism
  • Naïve Idealism
  • Objective Idealism
  • Phenomenalism
  • Platonic Idealism (Theory of Forms)
  • Reminiscence Theory of Knowledge
  • Subjective Idealism (Immaterialism)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Idealism” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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