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Idealism vs. Realism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on November 29, 2023
Idealism is the belief in or pursuit of perfect or ideal principles, while realism is the acceptance of the reality of things as they are.

Key Differences

Idealism posits that reality is mentally constructed or immaterial, emphasizing the importance of ideas and ideals. Realism, on the other hand, asserts that reality exists independently of our thoughts, focusing on the tangible and concrete aspects of the world.
Idealism emphasizes the role of the mind in understanding the world, suggesting that our perception shapes reality. Realism, in contrast, relies on empirical evidence and observation, suggesting that reality can be understood through the senses and scientific investigation.
In the realm of art and literature, idealism often manifests in the portrayal of a perfected or utopian world, emphasizing themes of hope and aspiration. Realism, conversely, tends to present a more pragmatic and truthful representation of life, focusing on everyday experiences and the natural world.
Politically, idealism drives movements based on high ideals and moral principles, often aiming for radical changes or improvements in society. Realism in politics is more pragmatic, focusing on practical solutions and dealing with problems based on current realities rather than ideal outcomes.
In education, idealism promotes the teaching of moral and ethical values, and the development of character and virtue. Realism, however, advocates for a more practical education, emphasizing skills, facts, and experiences directly relevant to the real world.

Comparison Chart

Nature of Reality

Reality is subjective, shaped by perceptions and ideas.
Reality is objective and exists independently of our thoughts.

Approach to Knowledge

Emphasizes mental constructs and intuition.
Based on empirical evidence and sensory observation.

Art and Literature

Focuses on ideals, aspirations, and a perfected world.
Depicts everyday life and naturalistic details.

Political Stance

Advocates for high ideals and moral principles.
Prioritizes practical solutions and current realities.

Educational Philosophy

Emphasizes moral education and the development of character.
Focuses on practical skills and factual knowledge.

Idealism and Realism Definitions


The practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically.
Her idealism led her to believe that a perfect society was achievable.


The representation in art or literature of objects, actions, or social conditions as they actually are.
The novel's realism brought the characters' struggles to life.


A theory that the world is just a reflection of our perceptions and thoughts.
His idealism made him view challenges as opportunities for personal growth.


A philosophical viewpoint that entities exist independently of perception.
His commitment to realism shaped his scientific inquiries.


An approach that prioritizes ideals, values, and moral goodness.
His idealism was evident in his unwavering commitment to justice.


The attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.
His realism helped him navigate the complexities of real-world politics.


The tendency to envision things in their ideal form rather than as they are.
Her idealism often clashed with the harsh realities of business.


Acceptance of the necessity of dealing with life's practical demands.
Her realism balanced her partner's idealistic dreams.


A philosophical belief that reality is fundamentally mental or spiritual.
Her idealism influenced her interpretation of philosophical texts.


The quality of representing a person or situation accurately or in a way that is not exaggerated.
Her realism in budget planning prevented financial crises.


The act or practice of envisioning things in an ideal and often impractical form.


An inclination toward literal truth and pragmatism.


Pursuit of one's ideals, often without regard to practical ends.


The representation in art or literature of objects, actions, or social conditions as they actually are, without idealization or presentation in abstract form.


Idealized treatment of a subject in literature or art.


The scholastic doctrine, opposed to nominalism, that universals exist independently of their being thought.


How do idealism and realism differ in understanding reality?

Idealism views reality as a mental construct influenced by our perceptions and ideals, while realism sees reality as independent and objective.

What is realism?

Realism is a viewpoint in philosophy and art that suggests reality exists independently of our perception and emphasizes practical and factual representation.

How do idealism and realism influence personal goals?

Idealism might lead to setting lofty, aspirational goals, while realism would encourage more achievable, practical objectives.

Does idealism have a place in scientific research?

While scientific research is largely grounded in realism, idealism can play a role in driving the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

What is idealism?

Idealism is a philosophical and theoretical perspective that emphasizes the importance of mental, spiritual, or ideal factors in interpreting the world.

Can idealism and realism coexist in one's worldview?

Yes, some individuals and philosophies integrate aspects of both idealism and realism in their worldview.

Are idealism and realism mutually exclusive in education?

Not necessarily; educational philosophies can blend elements of both, focusing on character and moral education (idealism) and practical skills (realism).

Can literature be both idealistic and realistic?

Yes, some literary works blend idealistic themes with realistic portrayals, offering a comprehensive view of life and human experience.

How does idealism affect political beliefs?

Idealism in politics often leads to the pursuit of high moral and ethical standards and the desire for significant societal changes based on ideals.

In art, how are idealism and realism different?

Idealistic art tends to depict a perfected or idealized version of reality, while realistic art aims to depict life and scenes as they are, often including mundane details.

Can a person be both an idealist and a realist?

Yes, it's possible for someone to blend idealistic and realistic views, balancing aspirations with practical considerations.

How do idealism and realism impact one's approach to problem-solving?

Idealists might approach problems with a focus on what ought to be, while realists would focus on what is feasible given the current circumstances.

How does idealism shape one's perception of success?

Idealists may define success in terms of adherence to values and achieving high ideals, rather than material or practical achievements.

In terms of relationships, how do idealism and realism differ?

Idealists might focus on the ideal aspects of a relationship, while realists would pay more attention to practical and tangible elements.

How does realism influence political decisions?

Realism in politics focuses on practicality, dealing with issues based on current realities and pragmatic approaches.

How does realism affect one's career choices?

Realism might lead to choosing careers based on practicality, job market realities, and personal skills, rather than idealistic aspirations.

How do idealism and realism influence financial decisions?

Idealism may lead to financial decisions based on ethical considerations, while realism focuses on practical and material outcomes.

Is realism more practical than idealism?

In many scenarios, realism is considered more practical as it deals with the existing state of affairs; however, practicality can vary depending on context.

Is one philosophy better than the other?

Neither is inherently better; the effectiveness of idealism or realism depends on the context and individual perspective.

Can a society function purely on idealism or realism?

A balance of both is generally needed; a society based solely on idealism or realism may face challenges in addressing all aspects of human experience.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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