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What is Ideology?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Ideology translates to the science or study of ideas. However, ideology tends to refer to the way in which people think about the world and their ideal concept of how to live in the world. This is slightly different from philosophy in the sense that ideology encompasses the concept that one’s ideals are the best way.

Philosophy on the other hand may examine the way ideology affects others from a more distant perspective. Philosophy however may become ideology when a philosopher sets forth ideal concepts for the way people should live. Plato’s Republic, for example, is his ideology of the best way to proceed in life.

The term ideology also may be used to describe the shared beliefs of a group of people, for example a nation, a sect of a religion, or a group of theorists. The term was most likely coined first by the French philosopher, Count Destutt de Tracy, who used the term in the 1700s to describe the more specific definition of the science of ideas.

Today the term ideology is used in so many ways, that it is often difficult to know how to describe it. In some ways, the common, shared beliefs of a community may be considered its common sense ideology. For example, a group of people living near the wilderness might share the ideology that it is not wise to venture into the bush alone and at night. Conversely, city people, for the most part, might believe that it make sense to look both ways before crossing a street. Common sense ideology often concerns the protection of the individual and community as a whole.

Ideology can be used in a more specific sense to differentiate between different groups of thought. The ideological differences between Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam are a subject of great debate. Understanding these competing ideologies allows one more insight into how to address cultures with which one has either hostile or peaceful contact.

In US politics, the term ideology may separate the difference between Democrat and Republican, and those sharing the ideology of one group over another are likely to vote accordingly. Usually a culture has multiple political ideologies, with some less popular than others. Many have difficulty seeing past the two competing ideologies to examine other political ideologies present in the culture. For example, few Libertarians, Green Party Members, or Peace and Freedom ideologists are elected, since most think in terms of democrat and republican candidates only.

Within ideology, there is normally a range of beliefs. Some Catholics, for example, believe strongly in all church teachings, while others believe that issues like birth control, the freedom for priests to get married, or concepts on sin in general are outdated. These more liberal Catholics feel as much a part of the church as do more fundamental Catholics. Thus examination of an ideology must account for variation.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon312082 — On Jan 05, 2013

Without ideology, a nation would not perish, but would at a particular point in time be pushed here and there, leading to a state of peril.

By anon290534 — On Sep 10, 2012

Ideological ideas are the basis for the West's tyranny over the East. We are driven by our thoughts and feelings to pursue actions beyond our own capabilities as we believe this to be the ideal scenario.

By OlaSalako — On Mar 03, 2012

Regarding the ideological content of a television program. Can somebody please help me explain what that would be (in terms of media)?

By anon241459 — On Jan 18, 2012

Ideology is any mode of feeling, valuing and perceiving affected by social power. It controls people mentally, emotionally, politically, and socially.

By anon239365 — On Jan 08, 2012

Actually, I want to know about the origin of the concept of ideology.

By anon163166 — On Mar 26, 2011

Actually I found your paper as a postmodern one. You did not mention a brief and clear definition for ideology, however, thanks for the new things it taught me.

By anon78269 — On Apr 17, 2010

This article is so-so, but even though it seems that it deeply influenced the people. So, nice job!

By anon65225 — On Feb 11, 2010

Catapult43 makes a well thought statement. This is true. I am ashamed to say i eat out more than once and a while. Eating out adds up. The media has deteriorated over time. Now that news stations are so competitive, they just care about how good their ratings are.

The media will often cover stories on Micheal Jackson very extensively, while in fact, there may have possibly been a more important story in the nation. The media knows viewers will tune in to see all the gossip on celebrities, but as far as i know, celebrities aren't the ones making all the important decisions for our country/states.

Unless of course you are the governator of California, in which case you are a celebrity and have made important decisions. This leads me to say, we left Arnold (a celebrity) in office to make decisions and look at the state that California is in!

Anon4515: If one thing needs to be said about changes to be made, i have a few things i would like to share. Their are huge numbers of unemployment in America and they are rising. Schools are getting cut on funding and many people aren't covered by health care. How are the youth who were told to get an education going to accomplish this with cuts in school funding?

A college education has a very very high price on its head in America right now. I hate to compare the Socialist groups of Europe to our democracy, but the health care is covered for every person there. Every student receives a college education for free!

I'd say a change we need to make is to get our nation on its feet and working for the reconstruction of society. The plan as of today for the average American just won't make the cut anymore. Especially if we want our luxuries as mentioned up top.

By anon42061 — On Aug 19, 2009

Useful article, thanks.

By catapult43 — On May 04, 2008

Anon4515 -- I think an ideological change in what Americans view to be "necessities" versus what are "luxuries" could drastically change the ideological configuration in America -- not to mention the economic status of Americans. I suppose this would require changes, in part, in the what the media runs stories on. I think heavy marketing and media focus on certain things has caused a shift in what Americans today think are necessities. Today, more and more people seem to think that things that aren't *really* necessities, like cable tv, cell phones, and eating out often, are normal things. And, I think this helps contribute to the financial difficulties that many Americans refer to today. A change in what the media focuses on and how goods are marketed (which I realize is unlikely because it's the job of businesses to try to make more money) could help effectuate this change -- a change, in my opinion, for the better.

By anon4515 — On Oct 21, 2007

Which current or future changes in the family, schools, media and the workplace might affect the ideological configuration in America?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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