Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan recognizes that the term “idealism” needs definition. It is clear that he is not a subjective idealist of the mode of the early George Berkeley. Nor does he much concern himself with Hegelian rationalistic Idealism. Rather, his emphasis is on the relation of value to reality. The truly real is replete with value. The alignment is with the Upanishads in India and the outlook of the Platonists, especially that of Plotinus, the father of the Western tradition of mysticism.
The book reflects the meeting of the East and the West. The broad sweep of Radhakrishnan’s thought brings together Hindu classic thinkers with the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, and with the Anglo-American idealists Francis Herbert Bradley and Josiah Royce. Less attention is paid to Western naturalism and realism. That is both the strength and the weakness of the book. It stands out as an excellent example of its perspective, and it has both scope and verve.
Radhakrishnan’s general argument is that the ideal world, which alone is real, lies beyond the phenomenal one of appearance yet is tied in with it and dominates it. Spirit is working in matter that matter may serve spirit. In a sense, matter is an abstraction and not a concrete reality, such as spirit. That is why materialism can be absorbed and transcended. It is doubtful whether Western materialists would accept this thesis, but it goes quite logically with the author’s outlook. For him, the center of the universe is the transcendent, the Absolute, Brahma, that which has aseity, being. However, despite this assurance—rather, because of it—he is sympathetic with other points of view because they have their partial truth.