ARE IDEALISTS FOOLS?
D. R. Khashaba
Someone asked: Is it foolish to be an idealist? Surely she did not have in mind any variety of metaphysical Idealism, that of Plato or Berkeley or Hegel. The question was about moral idealism.
What is it to be an idealist in morals and the practical walks of life? It is to believe with Socrates, the Buddha, Jesus, or the later Tolstoy that the best life for a human being is a life of giving, not of acquisition.
Socrates tells us that it is never right to harm anyone or to return injury for injury and that it is better to suffer wrong than to commit wrong (Crito, Gorgias). Jesus says, “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:30).
Perhaps throughout history and all over the world only a few exceptional individuals live fully up to those ideals. For us others made of poorer stuff to be an idealist is candidly to believe that the best life is indeed a life enlightened and governed by those ideals. An idealist in this sense is filled with joy and gladness on the not too many occasions when she or he lives up to that ideal and is genuinely perturbed when failing to do so.
An idealist in this sense takes in all seriousness the words of Tolstoy when he says that “as long as I have any superfluous food and someone else has none, and I have two coats and someone else has none, I share in a constantly repeated crime” (What Then Must We Do? Ch. II, tr. Aylmer Maude).
When we read of women, men, and children dying of hunger in Nigeria or Southern Sudan we should personally feel guilty. When we learn that half the food produced in the United States is thrown away while millions die of hunger and malnutrition elsewhere in the world we share in the guilt and should genuinely feel we share the guilt.
When rich countries get richer producing weapons that kill innocent people and producing life-saving pharmaceuticals that do not reach the needy because of the greed of the producers, we should be sincerely convinced that we are living under a world system that is cruel and unjust and must be changed.
This kind of idealism is not only sane and good but is absolutely necessary if humanity is to survive.
D. R. Khashaba
February 21, 2017
Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com