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Encyclopedia > Philosophical realism

Contemporary philosophical realism, also referred to as metaphysical realism, is the belief in a reality that is completely ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc. Philosophers who profess realism also typically believe that truth consists in a belief's correspondence to reality. However, some realist philosophers prefer deflationary theories of truth to more traditional correspondence accounts. In recent times, debates concerning realism have become quite contentious due mostly in part to the influence of postmodernism. Reality in everyday usage means the state of things as they actually exist. ... A common dictionary definition of truth is agreement with fact or reality.[1] There is no single definition of truth about which the majority of philosophers agree. ... The correspondence theory of truth states that something (for example, a proposition or statement or sentence) is rendered true by the existence of a fact with corresponding elements and a similar structure. ... The deflationary theory of truth is a family of theories which all have in common the belief that assertions that predicate truth of a statement do not provide any substantive information or insight into the nature of truth. ... The term Postmodernism (sometimes abbreviated Pomo[1]) was coined in 1949 to describe a dissatisfaction with modern architecture, founding the postmodern architecture. ...

Realists tend to believe that whatever we believe now is only an approximation of reality and that every new observation brings us closer to understanding reality.[1]


Debates about realism

Despite the seeming straightforwardness of the realist position, in the history of philosophy there has been continuous debate about what is real. In addition, there has been significant evolution in what is meant by the term "real".

The oldest use of the term comes from medieval interpretations and adaptations of Greek philosophy. In this medieval "scholastic" philosophy, however, "realism" meant something different -- indeed, in some ways almost opposite -- from what it means today. In medieval philosophy, realism is contrasted with "conceptualism" and "nominalism". The opposition of realism and nominalism developed out of debates over the problem of universals. Universals are terms or properties that can be applied to many things, rather than denoting a single specific individual--for example, red, beauty, five, or dog, as opposed to "Socrates" or "Athens". Realism in this context holds that universals really exist, independently and somehow prior to the world; it is associated with Plato. Conceptualism holds that they exist, but only insofar as they are instantiated in specific things; they do not exist separately. Nominalism holds that universals do not "exist" at all; they are no more than words we use to describe specific objects, they do not name anything. This particular dispute over realism is largely moot in contemporary philosophy, and has been for centuries. Philosophy seated between the seven liberal arts – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg (12th century) Medieval philosophy is the philosophy of Europe and the Middle East in the era now known as medieval or the Middle Ages, the period roughly extending from the fall of the Roman... Greek philosophy focused on the role of reason and inquiry. ... Conceptualism is a doctrine in philosophy intermediate between nominalism and realism, that universals exist only within the mind and have no external or substantial reality. ... In philosophy, nominalism is the theory that abstract terms, general terms, or universals do not represent objective real existents, but are merely names, words, or vocal utterances (flatus vocis). ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... Universals (used as a noun) are either properties, relations, or types, but not classes. ... Platonic realism is a philosophical term usually used to refer to the idea of realism regarding the existence of universals after the Greek philosopher Plato who lived between c. ...

In its modern sense, realism is contrasted with both idealism and materialism, and is considered synonymous with weak dualism. In still a third, and very contemporary sense, realism is contrasted with anti-realism, primarily in the philosophy of science. This section may require cleanup to meet Wikipedias quality standards. ... In philosophy, materialism is that form of physicalism which holds that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter; that fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. ... René Descartes illustration of dualism. ... In philosophy, the term anti-realism is used to describe any position involving either the denial of the objective reality of entities of a certain type or the insistence that we should be agnostic about their real existence. ... Philosophy of science is the study of assumptions, foundations, and implications of science, especially in the natural sciences and social sciences. ...

Both these disputes are often carried out relative to some specific area: one might, for example, be a realist about physical matter but an anti-realist about ethics. The high necessity of specifying the area in which the claim is made has been increasingly acknowledged in recent years.

Increasingly these last disputes, too, are rejected as misleading, and some philosophers prefer to call the kind of realism espoused there "metaphysical realism," and eschew the whole debate in favour of simple "naturalism" or "natural realism", which is not so much a theory as the position that these debates are ill-conceived if not incoherent, and that there is no more to deciding what is really real than simply taking our words at face value. Naturalism is any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism, that do not distinguish the supernatural (including strange entities like non-natural values, and universals as they are commonly conceived) from nature. ...

Realism in physics

Main article: Principle of locality

Realism in physics refers to the fact that Bell's theorem proves that every quantum theory must either violate local realism or counterfactual definiteness. Physics up to the 19th century was always implicitly and sometimes explicitly taken to be based on philosophical realism. With the advent of quantum mechanics in the 20th century, it was noted that it is no longer possible to adhere local realism — that is, to both the principle of locality (that distant objects cannot affect local objects), and a form of ontological realism implicit in classical physics. This has given rise to a contentious debate of the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Although locality and 'realism' are jointly false, it is possible to retain one of them. The majority of working physicists discard 'realism' in favor of locality, since non-locality is held to be contrary to relativity. The implications of this stance are rarely discussed outside of the microscopic domain. See, however, Schrödinger's cat for an illustration of the difficulties presented. It can also be argued that the 'realism' of physics is a much more specific notion than general philosophical realism.[2] In physics, the principle of locality is that distant objects cannot have direct influence on one another: an object is influenced directly only by its immediate surroundings. ... Bells theorem is the most famous legacy of the late Irish phyisicist John Bell. ... Fig. ... In physics, the principle of locality is that distant objects cannot have direct influence on one another: an object is influenced directly only by its immediate surroundings. ... Counterfactual definiteness or CFD is a property of some interpretations of quantum mechanics but not others. ... A magnet levitating above a high-temperature superconductor demonstrates the Meissner effect. ... Fig. ... In physics, the principle of locality is that distant objects cannot have direct influence on one another: an object is influenced directly only by its immediate surroundings. ... It has been suggested that Quantum mechanics, philosophy and controversy be merged into this article or section. ... Schrödingers Cat: If the nucleus in the bottom left decays, the Geiger counter on its right will sense it and trigger the release of the gas. ...


  1. ^ Blackburn p. 188
  2. ^ "We examine the prevalent use of the phrase “local realism” in the context of Bell’s Theorem and associated experiments, with a focus on the question: what exactly is the ‘realism’ in ‘local realism’ supposed to mean?". Norsen, T.Against 'Realism'


  • Blackburn, Simon (2005). Truth: A Guide. Oxford University Press, Inc. ISBN 0-19-516824-0. 

Simon Blackburn (born 1944) is a British academic philosopher also known for his efforts to popularise philosophy. ...

See also

Legal realism is a family of theories about the nature of law developed in the first half of the 20th century in the United States (American Legal Realism) and Scandinavia (Scandinavian Legal Realism). ... Scientific realism is a view in the philosophy of science about the nature of scientific success, an answer to the question what does the success of science involve? The debate over what the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities (objects, process and events) apparently... Epistomological realism is a philosophical position, a subcategory of objectivism, holding that what you know about an object exists independently of your mind. ... In the philosophy of perception, critical realism is the theory that some of our sense-data (for example, those of primary qualities) can and do accurately represent external objects, properties, and events, while other of our sense-data (for example, those of secondary qualities and perceptual illusions) do not accurately... Naive realism is the common sense theory of perception. ... The principle of truth-value links is a concept in metaphysics discussed in debates between philosophical realism and anti-realism. ... Moderate realism as a position in the debate on the metaphysics of universals holds that there is no realm in which universals exist, but rather universals are located in space and time wherever they are manifest. ... Platonic realism is a philosophical term usually used to refer to the idea of realism regarding the existence of universals after the Greek philosopher Plato who lived between c. ...


Constructivism is a perspective in philosophy that views all of our knowledge as constructed, under the assumption that it does not necessarily reflect any external transcendent realities; it is contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience. ...

External links

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
  • An experimental test of non-local realism. Physics research paper in Nature which gives negative experimental results for certain classes of realism in the sense of physics.

  Results from FactBites:
Realism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (660 words)
Realism is commonly defined as a concern for fact or reality and a rejection of the impractical and visionary.
Philosophical realism is also referred to as Platonic realism or Scholastic realism, depending on the nuances of the particular variant in mind.
Realism holds that in pursuit of that security, states will attempt to amass resources, and that relations between states are determined by their relative level of power.
Theistic realism - CreationWiki (1492 words)
Real science, as opposed to philosophical scientific materialism, cannot be and does not claim to be a comprehensive or exclusive source of knowledge about reality.
Theistic realism has also been described by Gerald L. Gutek as the synthesis of the Greek rational philosophy of Aristotle and Christian theology that was systematized in Thomism.
According to Gutek, theistic realism draws from Christianity a belief in divine revelation, a divine creation of the world and humanity by God, and divine grace, while also drawing from the aristotelian ideas of teleology, empiricism, and rationality.
  More results at FactBites »



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