ide·​al·​ism | \ ī-ˈdē-(ə-)ˌliz-əm How to pronounce idealism (audio) , ˈī-(ˌ)dē- \

Definition of idealism

1a : the practice of forming ideals or living under their influence
b : something that is idealized
2a(1) : a theory that ultimate reality lies in a realm transcending phenomena
(2) : a theory that the essential nature of reality lies in consciousness or reason
b(1) : a theory that only the perceptible is real
(2) : a theory that only mental states or entities are knowable
3 : literary or artistic theory or practice that affirms the preeminent value of imagination as compared with faithful copying of nature — compare realism

Examples of idealism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Her longtime girlfriend Sophie (Rosanny Zayas) produces Alice's show, matching her boss' idealism and effervescence every step of the way. NBC News, "'The L Word: Generation Q' pushes boundaries, while honoring original series," 26 Nov. 2019 For all his intelligence and sensitivity, Lopez dodges that particular challenge, letting the productive conflict between Eric’s idealism and Henry’s grizzled, cynical pragmatism dissipate, rather than resolve. Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker, "“The Inheritance” Is a Tribute to E. M. Forster and an Audacious Work of Its Own," 25 Nov. 2019 Williams registers plenty with her tightened features, from contempt for the moneyed security around her to defensive worry that her long-nurtured idealism is crumbling. Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore face off in the melodramatic ‘After the Wedding’," 8 Aug. 2019 Group dynamics will energize your idealism and competition revs up your enthusiasms. Tribune Content Agency,, "Horoscope for July 3, 2019: Happy birthday Tom Cruise; Libra, business and pleasure don’t always mix," 3 July 2019 Very possibly the guiding ideology is a desire for absolute power, rather than Marxist idealism. The Economist, "Communists are fascinated by contradictions. China faces a big one," 2 Nov. 2019 The Woodstock era was a time of amateurism and idealism, Napier Bell wrote in an e-mail, and this is a time of professionalism and realism. Michael Hill,, "No chaos this time as Woodstock concert site preps for 50th," 11 Aug. 2019 There was also unchecked idealism, heavy rain, bad brown acid, virtually no security and insufficient sanitation. Charlie Brennan, The Denver Post, "50 years on, Woodstock memories still glow for those who were there," 10 Aug. 2019 But vigneron and co-owner François Morissette’s low-intervention vineyards make up just one element of a regenerative agriculture ecosystem aimed at increasing biodiversity, both for all-important soil health and sheer idealism. Aliza Abarbanel, Bon Appétit, "The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette Offers a Tasting Menu for the Climate-Conscious Era," 7 Nov. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'idealism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of idealism

circa 1743, in the meaning defined at sense 2a(1)

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about idealism

Time Traveler for idealism

Time Traveler

The first known use of idealism was circa 1743

See more words from the same year

Statistics for idealism

Last Updated

17 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Idealism.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 20 January 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for idealism


How to pronounce idealism (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of idealism

: the attitude of a person who believes that it is possible to live according to very high standards of behavior and honesty

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on idealism

What made you want to look up idealism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


not to be intimidated or subdued

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Eponym Quiz

  • rubens painting
  • Which is the best synonym of bowdlerize?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!