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An ideology is a collection of ideas. The word ideology was first used in the late 18th century to define a "science of ideas." An ideology can be thought of as a vision, as a way of looking at things (compare Weltanschauung), as in common sense (cf Ideology in everyday society, below) and several philosphical tendencies (cf. Political ideologies below), or as a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society as in Marxian thought (Ideology as an instrument of reproduction of society below).

Ideology in everyday society

Every society has an ideology that forms the basis of the "public opinion" or common sense, a basis that usually remains invisible to most people within the society. This dominant ideology appears as "neutral", all others differ from the norm and are often seen as radical, no matter what the actual vision may be. The philosopher Michel Foucault wrote about this concept of apparent ideological neutrality.

Organisations that strive for power influence the ideology of a society to become what they want it to be. Political organisations (governments included) and other groups (e.g. lobbyists) try to influence people by broadcasting their opinions, which is the reason why so often many people in a society seem to "think alike".

When most people in a society think alike about certain matters, or even forget that there are alternatives to the current state of affairs, we arrive at the concept of Hegemony, about which the philosopher Gramsci wrote. The much smaller-scale concept of groupthink also owes something to his work.

Modern linguists study the mechanism of conceptual metaphor, by which this 'thinking alike' is thought to be transmitted.

Political ideologies

There are many different kinds of ideology: political, social, epistemological, ethical, and so on.

In social studies, a political ideology is a doctrine that explains how the society should work and offers the blueprint for a certain social order. A political ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends it should be used. For example, one of the most influential and well-defined political ideologies during the 20th century was communism, based on the original formulations of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Other examples of ideologies include: anarchism, capitalism, communitarianism, corporate liberalism, Christian democracy, fascism, liberalism, monarchism, nationalism, nazism, Neo-nazism or neofascism, socialism, and social-democracy. Ideology studied as ideology (rather than examples of specific ideologies) has been carried out under the name systematic ideology. See also "capitalism as an ideology", a section of the page on capitalism.

The popularity of an ideology is in part due to the influence of moral entrepeneurs, who sometimes act in their own interests. A political ideology is the body of doctrine, myth, or symbol of a social movement, institution, class, or large group that references some political and cultural plan. It can be a construct of political thought, often defining political parties and their policy.

A certain ethic usually forms the basis of an ideology.

Epistemological ideologies

Even when there is a discipline of challenging beliefs, as in science, the dominant paradigm or mindset can prevent certain challenges, theories or experiments from being advanced. The philosophy of science mostly concerns itself with reducing the impact of these prior ideologies so that science can proceed with its primary task (according to science) of creating knowledge.

There are critics who view science as an ideology in itself, called scientism. Some scientists respond that, while the scientific method is itself an ideology, as it is a collection of ideas, that there is nothing particularly wrong or bad about it.

Other critics point out that while science itself is not a misleading ideology, there are some fields of study within science that are misleading. Two examples discussed here are in the fields of ecology and economics.

A special and critical case of science adopted as ideology is that of ecology, which studies the relationships between living things on Earth. Perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson believed that human perception of ecological relationships was the basis of self-awareness and cognition itself. Linguist George Lakoff has proposed a cognitive science of mathematics wherein even the most fundamental ideas of arithmetic would be seen as consequences or products of human perception - which is itself necessarily evolved within an ecology.

Deep ecology and the modern ecology movement (and, to a lesser degree, Green parties) appear to have adopted ecological sciences as a positive ideology.

Some accuse ecological economics of likewise turning scientific theory into political economy, although theses in that science can often be tested. The modern practice of green economics fuses both approaches and seems to be part science, part ideology.

It is far from the only theory of economics to be raised to ideology status - some notable economically-based ideologies include mercantilism, social darwinism, communism, laissez-faire economics, and "free trade". There are likewise current theories of safe trade and fair trade that are difficult to distinguish from ideological positions.

Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction

In Marxian thinking ideology is a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society in order to make their interests appear to be collective interest and thereby achieve hegemony.

To achieve this, ideology makes use of a special type of discourse: the lacunar discourse, as discussed by Althusser. In this a number of propositions, which are never untrue, suggest a number of other propositions, which are. In this way, the essence of the lacunar discourse is what is not told (but is suggested).

Example: 'All are equal before the law' (true in a bourgeois society) suggests that all are equal or have equal 'opportunities' (which is not, because of the private property of the means of production).

Forms of ideology and stages of development in capitalism:

social democracy and
are the main forms of bourgeois ideology (the ideology of capitalist society), and correspond to the stages of development of capitalism:
extensive stage
intensive stage
contemporary capitalism (or current crisis)

Althusser, Louis Reading Capital ('Pour lire le Capital')
Gramsci, Antonio Prison notebooks

See also