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Forgive me if this question is off-topic as POB. But, I believe there is a language usage/philosophical question here.

My wife and I were having a discussion about politics this evening, and she claimed herself not to be a liberal, but rather an idealist.

My counter to this statement was that calling oneself an idealist carries the presupposition that one's personal preferences are ideal. And, hence, the term is actually arrogant.

(I realize, that out of context this sounds far more heated than the actual discussion that took place.)

So, in summary, can you describe yourself as an idealist without it being a form of arrogance? Does the term presuppose that your ideas are, in fact, ideal? Or does it allow that you would prefer an ideal world regardless of how it comes about?

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    From an AmE standpoint, the criticism that usually counters the label idealist is not arrogance but impracticality. When I have seen idealist used, the idealist's notions are typically universal ideals: even the non-idealist (sometimes realist) might agree they are ideal, representative of a perfect world. The non-idealist's criticisms of the idealist, then, would be along the lines of "That's not the way it/life is." I would use another term ("What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA") for arrogance.
    – user39720
    Mar 2, 2014 at 7:14
  • @dingo_dan I am specifically asking about when it is self-applied. I agree that in other usages, it wouldn't carry a sense of arrogance.
    – David M
    Mar 2, 2014 at 7:26

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The word 'idealist' can imply different things according to context. Very often it is a criticism, a suggestion of a lack of practicality and 'common sense'.

But it is difficult to think of a circumstance in which it would not be considered at least a bit narcissistic to describe yourself as an idealist, since you are imputing some higher motive to your views and actions.

But 'arrogance' is perhaps too strong a word to use in every case.

And in fairness to your wife, it is something we have all done, and what you say to your spouse is a different thing to what you say in public. I would not wish to be judged by the things I have claimed to my wife over 42 years!

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  • I struggled for 20 minutes (with my wife's help) to think of a better word. Can you make a suggestion?
    – David M
    Mar 2, 2014 at 13:13
  • I can't endorse that second paragraph - I see nothing inherently narcissistic or arrogant in self-identifying as an idealist. Perhaps US "standard political opinions" are different to those in the UK, but I'd tend to say that on average if a Brit says "I'm an idealist rather than a liberal" they're probably injecting a note of humility/self-deprecation (i.e. - the politics of practical "liberalism" are too complicated for me - I can only think of workable political systems in the context of an ideal citizenry). Mar 2, 2014 at 16:17
  • @Fumble She is Jewish (and a bit of a self-styled feminist) and would probably reject the premise before cracking the spine. ;-). As to the second paragraph, I think that we're suffering from a lack of appropriate term for this phenomenon. It's not quite narcissism or arrogance. It's a self-centered presupposition that your own belief is ideal, making you an idealist. Make sense?
    – David M
    Mar 2, 2014 at 16:44
  • @David: Depends what you mean by "make sense". Per my comment, I think it's perverse to interpret "idealist, one believing in idealism" as meaning "one who classifies his own beliefs as ideal". Maybe there's something of your sense in a rigid, or uncompromising idealist, but even there I think it's stretching a point to suppose that philosophical idealism connotes having the best possible perspective. And of course there's really no such thing as political idealism, since politics is the art of the possible. Mar 2, 2014 at 17:01

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