Subjective idealism

Subjective idealism

Subjective idealism is a theory in the philosophy of perception. The theory describes a relationship between human experience of the external world, and that world itself, in which objects are nothing more than collections (or bundles) of sense data in those who perceive them. This theory has much in common with phenomenalism, the view that physical objects, properties, events, etc. (whatever is physical) are reducible to mental objects, properties, events, etc. Thus reality is ultimately made up of only Mind and mental objects, properties, events, etc.

Subjective idealism is monist, because it states that only the Mind exists (matter is then empirically unprovable as an independently objective reality external to subjective perceptions).


A famous proponent of subjective idealism was 18th century Irish philosopher George Berkeley. He began the theory of subjective idealism in response to John Locke's materialism. He believed that existence was tied to experience, and that objects existed as perception, but not as matter separate of perception. A quotation from his Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, demonstrates his ideas.

Subjective Idealism in the Arts

Subjective idealism is featured prominently in the Norwegian novel Sophie's World, in which "Sophie's world" exists in fact only in the pages of a book. A parable of Subjective Idealism can be found in Jorge Luis Borges' short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, which specifically mentions Berkeley.

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