IDEALISM is the philosophical position that argues that the basic constituent of the cosmos is not matter, but mind. Keith Ward makes the case for it in his new book.
Aimed at a non-technical reader, the former holder of various philosophy and theology chairs at leading universities asks whether the universe is best regarded as blind, pitiless, and indifferent, as scientific materialism assumes, or whether reality is actually a tremendous expression of cosmic Mind.
His argument incorporates relatively recent science, from Darwinian evolution to the failure to account for the existence of consciousness, and derives a rich and succinctly expressed defence of what he calls “personal idealism”. This version of idealism gives priority not only to the nature of experience and mind, but to the type of mind that values beauty and love, purpose and freedom, while also attempting to make sense of the pervasive, grim existence of suffering.
Ward has wit, in both senses. He is good at spotting ironies, like the highly motivated, truth-loving scientist who posits a theory of existence devoid of motivation and meaning. He also wonders which contemporary religion would fully support his views. For example, he is sceptical of the traditional notion of divine omnipotence.
I felt that he could be more sceptical about the assumed scientific consensus, too. For instance, his case that the universe exists to realise what is good draws on the so-called Big Bang, which, I understand, is routinely questioned among physicists nowadays. This revision could, in turn, lend support to the ultimate purpose of the universe’s being direct participation in the life of the cosmic Mind rather than the emergence of myriad minds akin to it, which for Ward is a central explanatory principle.
But this is also to say that Ward is an excellent conversation partner. He is a distinguished author who has long worked to free religious discourse from the constraints of ill-founded assumptions.
Dr Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist and writer. His latest book is Dante’s “Divine Comedy”: A guide for the spiritual journey (Angelico Press, 2021).
The Priority of Mind
Cascade Books £11
Church Times Bookshop £9.90