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(The) Ideal

The ideal is those properties of an artefact which subsist only in their use in human activity, and not in of the physical or chemical properties of the artefact.


The ideal has a long history in philosophy, having generally been taken as a property of the (individual) human mind. Hegel was the first to give it meaning at all close that which it has in CHAT, which is owed to the Soviet philosopher Evald Ilyenkov. According to Ilyenkov the materialist concept of the ideal is owed to Marx (in his analysis of value in bourgeois society) and was introduced into Soviet psychology by S. L. Rubenstein.


Ilyenkov explained ideality as follows:

“Ideality, according to Marx, is nothing else but the form of social human activity represented in a thing. Or, conversely, the form of human activity represented as a thing, as an object.
“‘Ideality’ is a kind of stamp impressed on the substance of nature by social human life activity, a form of the functioning of the physical thing in the process of this activity. So all the things involved in the social process acquire a new ‘form of existence’ that is not included in their physical nature and differs from it completely – their ideal form.” (Ilyenkov, 2009, p. 280)

It is important to note that everything that is ideal is also material; conversely, almost every material thing we know has ideal properties – material and ideal are not opposites in that sense. Nonetheless, one and the same material object may have ideal properties (the value of a coin, the meaning of a word, the scale of a map) and material properties (the weight of the coin, the sound of the word, the size of the map). But the ideal properties are independent of the material properties which determined by natural processes, while the ideal properties are determined by social practices and norms of human social life.

If we were to look for an opposite to ‘ideal’ it would be ‘natural’. ‘Natural’ means not a product of human activity, whereas ‘ideal’ refers only to properties produced by human activity.


Ilyenkov, E. V. (1960). Dialectics of the Abstract & the Concrete in Marx’s Capital,

Ilyenkov, E. V. (1977). The Concept of the Ideal, InThe Ideal in Human Activity (2009),

-- AndyBlunden - 17 Nov 2013


Topic revision: r2 - 18 Nov 2013, AndyBlunden

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