What is Idea
Dr. Golan Moshe Lahat
In the most direct of terms, the concept “idea” (idea in Greek as well) indicates a shape. A simple and ostensibly clear definition that does not expose its fundamental philosophic depths. After all, what is a shape? What makes it unique? To which fields does it pertain? And perhaps, above all, why is it so critical to man’s definition of himself?
By process of elimination, one can say that a shape is everything that a substance is not. While substance generally refers to what man can access via his senses: such as the taste of an apple, the sight of objects in his midst, a loving caress - the shape marks the fact that human intellect can successfully establish or organize itself, on its own: for example, the ability to calculate a mathematical equation, to establish ethical codes for ourselves, or define who and how our society will be run. While substance indicates the existence of sensory information that will, naturally, change, be instable or incorrect with respect to very specific times or places, many view the concept of the shape as a desire to reach certain, fixed and universal knowledge. Namely, knowledge that is correct in any situation, at all times, and for all people.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Apollo, who lived in the 4th Century BCE, claimed that the idea is the significance that exists on its own, without depending on our awareness (and awareness is the only means we have to be able to know that same idea), acts as a global fundamental for those concepts that surround us, and is capable, at most, to be considered an imitation that “takes part” in the idea. Take the discrepancy between “placing your thoughts on the table” versus “looking at your brown table/desk with its two legs and five drawers,” for example. This is just a small sample of the many possible ways of describing and defining the concept that we call a “table.”
Others, such as the 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, saw ideas as concepts within human understanding. While they will never be recognized as being part of our daily experience, they have been found to have a regulatory function within our daily lives. For example, the understanding that people are likely to consistently choose the “bad,” engage in a battle and discover endless stupidity and evil, and still leave room for an idea pertaining to eternal peace that will navigate through them and enable the possibility, even theoretically, for some sort of hope in the world.
Even if we don’t march along the idealistic path paved by Apollo or Kant, it is clear that if we accept the claim that man is an entity with the ability of understanding (even if only partially), that his understanding enables him to engage in logical thinking and action, and that the fundamentals of logic are concepts, namely ideas - we must infer that learning ideas and their derivatives (ideologies, perceptions, claims, assertions, etc.) carry much weight with respect to man’s capacity for understanding. Ideas serve as the conceptual foundation for all of our actions. For example, the manner in which we determine our political and cultural identities, or the way we feel about religion and beliefs, or, if we strive to engage in academic research, the assumptions we start out with, when we study all sorts of fields of knowledge. Youth who strive to get to know the off and interested entity one calls man, should first get to know the ideas that accompany and motivate his actions.
* Dr. Golan Moshe Lahat is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University (The Department of Political Science) and the Academic Principal of the Program’s Idea Program.