One crucial question of philosophy is: "What is the ultimate nature of reality? Is it mind or matter?" Reality seems to require both; mind is necessary to know the world as matter, and matter is necessary if mind is to have anything for the object of its thought. When we ask what the ultimate nature of reality is, we are not asking if it is mind or matter, but which is more fundamental, or has the greater reality. We must deal with the question of mind or matter because of the two opposing philosophical positions that result from it
When one holds that matter is primary, they are called a materialist or an empiricist. Because on this view mind is a product of matter; mental processes are a result of long ages of evolution of the physical organism. The mind is a receptacle for all the impressions of our sense experiences. John Locke, an English philosopher, said that: "The mind is a blank tablet upon which experience writes." 1 In other words, the mind is empty of all content before birth. David Hume, another British philosopher, said the mind is nothing more than a "bundle of nerves" that orders our perceptions of the world around us. This position has many strong supporters; skeptics and atheists tend to be materialists, and so do scientists. This is so because questions regarding the soul, or God, or immortality, that is, metaphysical questions, are considered fanciful and even meaningless.
Opposed to materialism is the philosophical position known as Idealism. A better word might be 'Ideaism' since the Idea or thought or mind is held to be fundamental. When Idealists state that mind or thought is the ultimate ground of all reality, they mean that ideas are permanent as opposed to things that are transitory. A thought cannot be destroyed, it is imperishable; it is forever and always. It is, as it were, eternal. If the universe has any reality at all, it must be in the thought that presupposes that reality. This is really the basis of all theology. Creation implies a creator in whose thought creation is realized. In this sense mind is prior to matter as opposed to the materialist's view that matter is prior to mind, and this precludes the idea of a creator or God. Plato was the first philosopher to work out the Ideal theory, or as it is usually called, the Theory of Forms.
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