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An Idea is the result of thinking. (aka Thought)

Idea is the term used in both popular and philosophical terminology with the general sense of "mental picture" or "understanding". Today many people believe that ideas are a new sort of intellectual property like a copyright or patent. There are some who believe that there is a realm in which ideas exist and that we only discover these ideas in much the same way that we discover the Wikiwiki world.

To "have no idea how a thing happened" is to be without a mental picture of an occurrence. In this general sense it is synonymous with the idea of concept in popular usage.

Table of contents
1 the Idea in Philosophy
2 the Idea as Property
3 Related Topics
4 Credits

the Idea in Philosophy

In philosophy, the term “idea” is common to all languages and periods, but there is scarcely any term which has been used with so many different shades of meaning.


John Locke

David Hume

Wilhelm Wundt

G. F. Stout & J. M. Baldwin

It should be observed that an idea, in the narrower and generally accepted sense of a mental reproduction, is frequently composite. That is, as in the example given above of the idea of chair, a great many objects, differing materially in detail, all call a single idea. When a man, for example, has obtained an idea of chairs in general by comparison with which he can say “This is a chair, that is a stool,” he has what is known as an “abstract idea” distinct from the reproduction in his mind of any particular chair (see abstraction). Furthermore a complex idea may not have any corresponding physical object, though its particular constituent elements may severally be the reproductions of actual perceptions. Thus the idea of a centaur is a complex mental picture composed of the ideas of man and horse, that of a mermaid of a woman and a fish.

the Idea as Property

Throughout the twentieth century the expression and fixation of ideas has become more commercialized as reproductive technologies have proliferated driving the cost of reproduction down. Capitalists see this as an opportunity to exploit the content of these reproductions and thus obtain state sanctioned monopolies to prevent the unauthorized reproduction of content. What started with Victor Hugo and the Berne Convention as a means of protecting the economic livelihood of authors and artists has turned into a faceless international propaganda machine that bombards individuals with an endless stream of product that is recycled to create more profits for corporate shareholders -- the individual artists and writers have lost the protection that was supposed to be guaranteed.

Copyrights & Patents

Patents are a scheme to protect a new idea that has a functional manifestation as invention or know-how. Copyright law is a scheme to protect the expression of ideas like books, videodiscs, and datastreams. There are other schemes to protect designs and even laws to protect integrated circuit patterns. Those types of law are aimed to protect the value of expression for a limited period of time so that the creators, authors, or their designated assignee can exploit those ideas -- a form of monopoly. This area of law is quite complex and the bucket of entitlements that refer to these types of incorporeal property have come to be referred to as intellectual property. With the development of digital reproduction the legal concept of fixation has become more an more ephemeral and it has become more difficult to control the reproduction of information that can exist in the digital domain. Some would say that this is the underpinning idea behind the open source and GNU movements. Software patents, which monopolize the pure idea, not the expression of it, are becoming a huge threat for these movements.

Related Topics