Philosophical realism

In metaphysics, realism about a given object is the view that this object exists in reality independently of our conceptual scheme. In philosophical terms, these objects are ontologically independent of someone's conceptual scheme, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.

Realism can be applied to many philosophically interesting objects and phenomena: other minds, the past or the future, universals, mathematical entities (such as natural numbers), moral categories, the physical world, and thought.

Realism can also be a view about the nature of reality in general, where it claims that the world exists independent of the mind, as opposed to non-realist views (like some forms of skepticism and solipsism, which question our ability to assert the world is independent of our mind). Philosophers who profess realism often claim that truth consists in a correspondence between cognitive representations and reality.[1]

Realists tend to believe that whatever we believe now is only an approximation of reality but that the accuracy and fullness of understanding can be improved.[2] In some contexts, realism is contrasted with idealism. Today it is more usually contrasted with anti-realism, for example in the philosophy of science.

The oldest use of the term "realism" appears in medieval scholastic interpretations and adaptations of ancient Greek philosophy.


Metaphysical realism

Metaphysical realism maintains that "whatever exists does so, and has the properties and relations it does, independently of deriving its existence or nature from being thought of or experienced."[3]

Naive or direct realism

Naive realism, also known as direct realism, is a philosophy of mind rooted in a common sense theory of perception that claims that the senses provide us with direct awareness of the external world. In contrast, some forms of idealism assert that no world exists apart from mind-dependent ideas and some forms of skepticism say we cannot trust our senses. The naive realist view is that objects have properties, such as texture, smell, taste and colour, that are usually perceived absolutely correctly. We perceive them as they really are.

Scientific realism

Scientific realism is, at the most general level, the view that the world described by science is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be. Within philosophy of science, it is often framed as an answer to the question "how is the success of science to be explained?" The debate over what the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists assert that one can make reliable claims about unobservables (viz., that they have the same ontological status) as observables. Analytic philosophers generally have a commitment to scientific realism, in the sense of regarding the scientific method as a reliable guide to the nature of reality. The main alternative to scientific realism is instrumentalism.[4]

Realism in physics

Realism in physics (especially quantum mechanics) is the claim that the world is in some sense mind-independent: that even if the results of a possible measurement do not pre-exist the act of measurement, that does not require that they are the creation of the observer (contrary to the "consciousness causes collapse" interpretation of quantum mechanics). That interpretation of quantum mechanics, on the other hand, states that the wave function is already the full description of reality. The different possible realities described by the wave function are equally true. The observer collapses the wave function into their own reality. One's reality can be mind-dependent under this interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Moral realism

Moral realism is the position that ethical sentences express propositions that refer to objective features of the world.

Aesthetic realism

Aesthetic realism (not to be confused with the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel, the philosophy that sees reality as the making one of opposites) may mean the claim that there are mind-independent aesthetic facts,[5][6] but in general discussions about art "realism" is a complex term that may have a number of different meanings.

History of metaphysical realism

Ancient Greek philosophy

Sanzio 01 Plato Aristotle
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. In Plato's metaphysics, ever unchanging Forms, or Ideas, exist apart from particular things, and are related to them as their prototype or exemplar. Aristotle's philosophy of reality also aims at the universal. Aristotle finds the universal, which he calls essence, in the commonalities of particular things.

In ancient Greek philosophy, realist doctrines about universals were proposed by Plato and Aristotle.[7]

Platonic realism is realism regarding the existence of universals or abstract objects. As universals were considered by Plato to be ideal forms, this stance is confusingly also called Platonic idealism. This should not be confused with Idealism, as presented by philosophers such as George Berkeley: as Platonic abstractions are not spatial, temporal, or mental, they are not compatible with the latter Idealism's emphasis on mental existence. Plato's Forms include numbers and geometrical figures, making them a theory of mathematical realism; they also include the Form of the Good, making them in addition a theory of ethical realism.

Aristotelian realism is the view that the existence of universals is dependent on the particulars that exemplify them.

Medieval philosophy

Medieval realism developed out of debates over the problem of universals.[8] Universals are terms or properties that can be applied to many things, such as "red", "beauty", "five", or "dog". Realism (also known as exaggerated realism) in this context, contrasted with conceptualism and nominalism, holds that such universals really exist, independently and somehow prior to the world. Moderate realism holds that they exist, but only insofar as they are instantiated in specific things; they do not exist separately from the specific thing. Conceptualism holds that they exist, but only in the mind, while nominalism holds that universals do not "exist" at all but are no more than words (flatus vocis) that describe specific objects.

Proponents of moderate realism included Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus (cf. Scotist realism).[9]

Early modern philosophy

In early modern philosophy, Scottish Common Sense Realism was a school of philosophy that sought to defend naive realism against philosophical paradox and scepticism, arguing that matters of common sense are within the reach of common understanding and that common-sense beliefs even govern the lives and thoughts of those who hold non-commonsensical beliefs. It originated in the ideas of the most prominent members of the Scottish School of Common Sense, Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson and Dugald Stewart, during the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment and flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Scotland and America.

The roots of Scottish Common Sense Realism can be found in their hatred for the English, usually found within the national football sphere, and responses to such philosophers as John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume and David Beckham. The approach was a response to the "ideal system" that began with Descartes' concept of the limitations of sense experience and led Locke and Hume to a skepticism that called religion and the evidence of the senses equally into question. The common sense realists found skepticism to be absurd and so contrary to common experience that it had to be rejected. They taught that ordinary experiences provide intuitively certain assurance of the existence of the self, of real objects that could be seen and felt and of certain "first principles" upon which sound morality and religious beliefs could be established. Its basic principle was enunciated by its founder and greatest figure, Thomas Reid:[10]

If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them—these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.

Late modern philosophy

In late modern philosophy, a notable school of thought advocating metaphysical realism was Austrian realism. Its members included Franz Brentano,[11] Alexius Meinong,[11] Vittorio Benussi,[11] Ernst Mally,[12] and early Edmund Husserl.[11] These thinkers stressed the objectivity of truth and its independence of the nature of those who judge it.[13] (See also Graz School.)

Dialectical materialism, a philosophy of nature based on the writings of late modern philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, is interpreted to be a form of ontological realism.[14]

According to Michael Resnik, Gottlob Frege's work after 1891 can be interpreted as a contribution to realism.[15]

Contemporary philosophy

In contemporary analytic philosophy, Bertrand Russell,[16] Ludwig Wittgenstein,[17] J. L. Austin,[18] Karl Popper,[19][20] and Gustav Bergmann[21] espoused metaphysical realism. Hilary Putnam initially espoused metaphysical realism,[22] but he later embraced a form of anti-realism that he termed "internal realism."[23] Conceptualist realism (a view put forward by David Wiggins) is a form of realism, according to which our conceptual framework maps reality.[24]

Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary Continental-inspired philosophy[25] that defines itself loosely in its stance of metaphysical realism against the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy.[26]

See also


  1. ^ The statement veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus ("truth is the adequation of thought and thing") was defended by Thomas Aquinas.
  2. ^ Blackburn p. 188
  3. ^ Laird Addis, Greg Jesson, Erwin Tegtmeier (eds.), Ontology and Analysis: Essays and Recollections about Gustav Bergmann, Walter de Gruyter, 2007, p. 107.
  4. ^ Scientific Realism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  5. ^ Nick Zangwill, The Metaphysics of Beauty, Cornell University Press, 2001, p. 3.
  6. ^ Gavin McIntosh (2004). "Review: The Metaphysics of Beauty". Mind. 113 (449): 221–226. doi:10.1093/mind/113.449.221. (subscription required)
  7. ^ Realism – philosophy –
  8. ^ John Marenbon, Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 72.
  9. ^ Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism – Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)
  10. ^ Cuneo and Woudenberg, eds. The Cambridge companion to Thomas Reid (2004) p 85
  11. ^ a b c d Gestalt Theory: Official Journal of the Society for Gestalt Theory and Its Applications (GTA), 22, Steinkopff, 2000, p. 94: "Attention has varied between Continental Phenomenology (late Husserl, Merleau-Ponty) and Austrian Realism (Brentano, Meinong, Benussi, early Husserl)".
  12. ^ Liliana Albertazzi, Dale Jacquette, The School of Alexius Meinong, Routledge, 2017, p. 191.
  13. ^ Mark Textor, The Austrian Contribution to Analytic Philosophy, Routledge, 2006, pp. 170–1:
    "[Husserl argues in the Logical Investigations that the rightness of a judgement or proposition] shows itself in our experience of self-evidence (Evidenz), which term Husserl takes from Brentano, but makes criterial not of truth per se but of our most secure awareness that things are as we take them to be, when the object of judgement, the state of affairs, is given most fully or adequately. ... In his struggle to overcome relativism, especially psychologism, Husserl stressed the objectivity of truth and its independence of the nature of those who judge it ... A proposition is true not because of some fact about a thinker but because of an objectively existing abstract proposition's relation to something that is not a proposition, namely a state of affairs."
  14. ^ Sean Creaven, Marxism and Realism: A Materialistic Application of Realism in the Social Sciences, Routledge, 2012, p. 33.
  15. ^ Michael Resnik, "II. Frege as Idealist and then Realist," Inquiry 22 (1–4):350–357 (1979).
  16. ^ Bertrand Russell, Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Open Court, 1998 [1918].
  17. ^ Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Routledge 2001 [1921].
  18. ^ Austin, J. L., 1950, "Truth", reprinted in Philosophical Papers, 3rd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1979, 117–33.
  19. ^ Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 1963.
  20. ^ Thornton, Stephen (2015-01-01). Zalta, Edward N., ed. Karl Popper (Winter 2015 ed.). ("Popper professes to be anti-conventionalist, and his commitment to the correspondence theory of truth places him firmly within the realist's camp.")
  21. ^ Gustav Bergmann, Logic and Reality, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964; Gustav Bergmann, Realism: A Critique of Brentano and Meinong, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.
  22. ^ Putnam, H., Realism and Reason. Philosophical Papers, vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  23. ^ Putnam, H. Realism with a Human Face. Edited by James Conant. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1990, p. vii.
  24. ^ A. M. Ferner, Organisms and Personal Identity: Individuation and the Work of David Wiggins, Routledge, 2016, p. 28.
  25. ^ Paul John Ennis, Post-continental Voices: Selected Interviews, John Hunt Publishing, 2010, p. 18.
  26. ^ Mackay, Robin (March 2007). "Editorial Introduction". Collapse. 2 (1): 3–13.


External links


In analytic philosophy, anti-realism is an epistemological position first articulated by British philosopher Michael Dummett. The term was coined as an argument against a form of realism Dummett saw as 'colorless reductionism'.In anti-realism, the truth of a statement rests on its demonstrability through internal logic mechanisms, such as the context principle or intuitionistic logic, in direct opposition to the realist notion that the truth of a statement rests on its correspondence to an external, independent reality. In anti-realism, this external reality is hypothetical and is not assumed.Because it encompasses statements containing abstract ideal objects (i.e. mathematical objects), anti-realism may apply to a wide range of philosophic topics, from material objects to the theoretical entities of science, mathematical statement, mental states, events and processes, the past and the future.

Constructive realism

Constructive realism is a branch of philosophy, specifically the philosophy of science. It was developed in the late 1950s by Jane Loevinger and elaborated in the 1980s by Friedrich Wallner (also Fritz Wallner) in Vienna. In his paper abstract on constructive realism, Wallner describes it as follows:

"Traditional convictions regarding science (such as universalism, necessity and eternal validity) are currently in doubt. Relativism seems to destroy scientific claims to rationality. This paper shows a way to keep the traditional convictions of scientific knowledge while acknowledging relativism. With reference to the practicing scientist, we replace descriptivism with constructivism; we modify relative validity with the claim to understanding; and, we offer methodological strategies for acquiring understanding. These strategies we call strangification, which means taking a scientific proposition system out of its context and putting it in another context. We can thus see the implicit presuppositions of the given proposition system by means of the problems arising out of the application of this procedure. Such a change in the understanding of science holds important consequences."Within the philosophy of measurement, Jane Loevinger described the relation between a construct (scientific model or construction of reality) and the reality itself. Now referred to as "Construct Realism", recognized chiefly in philosophy of measurement (psychometrics), Loevinger's view is expressed in the following quote in the context of real human traits (cognitive and/or behavioral patterns that tend to occur together):

"A dictionary (122) definition of construct is: "Something constructed; specif., Psychol., an intellectual synthesis." In the present paper both construct and trait are used in their general or dictionary meanings. Connotations of depth, level, or locus are specifically disclaimed. Traits exist in people; constructs (here usually about traits) exist in the minds and magazines of psychologists. People have constructs too, but that is outside the present scope. Construct connotes construction and artifice; yet what is at issue is validity with respect to exactly what the psychologist does not construct: the validity of the test as a measure of traits which exist prior to and independently of the psychologist's act of measuring. It is true that psychologists never know traits directly but only through the glass of their constructs, but the data to be judged are manifestations of traits, not manifestations of constructs. Cronbach and Meehl and their colleagues on the APA committee appear reluctant to assign reality to constructs or traits. Considering traits as real is, in the present view, a working stance and not a philosophical tenet." [Italics added]"That the distinction made here between traits and constructs is free of metaphysical implications is seen by comparing it to the familiar distinction between parameter and statistic. The parameter is what we aim to estimate; the corresponding statistic represents our current best estimate of it. Just so, the trait is what we aim to understand, and the corresponding construct represents our current best understanding of it. The distinction between trait and construct can be dispensed with no better than the distinction between parameter and statistic."

Critical realism (philosophy of perception)

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 represent any external objects, properties, and events. Put simply, critical realism highlights a mind-dependent aspect of the world that reaches to understand (and comes to an understanding of) the mind-independent world.

Critical realism (philosophy of the social sciences)

Critical realism, a philosophical approach associated with Roy Bhaskar (1944–2014), combines a general philosophy of science (transcendental realism) with a philosophy of social science (critical naturalism) to describe an interface between the natural and social worlds.

Entity realism

Entity realism (also selective realism), sometimes equated with referential realism, is a philosophical position within the debate about scientific realism. It is a variation of realism (independently proposed by Stanford School philosophers Nancy Cartwright and Ian Hacking in 1983) that restricts warranted belief to only certain entities.

Epistemological realism

Epistemological realism is a philosophical position, a subcategory of objectivism, holding that what you know about an object exists independently of your mind. It opposes epistemological idealism.

Epistemological realism is related directly to the correspondence theory of truth, which claims that the world exists independently and innately to our perceptions of it. Our sensory data then reflect or correspond to the innate world.

Instantiation principle

The instantiation principle or principle of instantiation or principle of exemplification is the concept in metaphysics and logic (first put forward by David Malet Armstrong) that there can be no uninstantiated or unexemplified properties (or universals). In other words, it is impossible for a property to exist which is not had by some object.

Consider a chair. Presumably chairs did not exist 150,000 years ago. Thus, according to the principle of instantiation, the property of being a chair did not exist 150,000 years ago either. Similarly, if all red objects were to suddenly go out of existence, then the property of being red would likewise go out of existence.

To make the principle more plausible in the light of these examples, the existence of properties or universals is not tied to their actual existence now, but to their existence in space-time considered as a whole. Thus, any property which is, has been, or will be instantiated exists. The property of being red would exist even if all red things were to be destroyed, because it has been instantiated. This broadens the range of properties which exist if the principle is true.

Those who endorse the principle of instantiation are known as in re (in thing or in reality) realists or 'immanent realists'.

Intentional Logic

Intentional Logic: A Logic Based on Philosophical Realism is a book by Henry Babcock Veatch published in 1952.

Irrealism (philosophy)

Irrealism is a philosophical position first advanced by Nelson Goodman in "Ways of Worldmaking", encompassing epistemology, metaphysics, and aesthetics.

Moral realism

Moral realism (also ethical realism or moral Platonism) is the position that ethical sentences express propositions that refer to objective features of the world (that is, features independent of subjective opinion), some of which may be true to the extent that they report those features accurately. This makes moral realism a non-nihilist form of ethical cognitivism (which accepts that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be evaluated as true or false) with an ontological orientation, standing in opposition to all forms of moral anti-realism and moral skepticism, including ethical subjectivism (which denies that moral propositions refer to objective facts), error theory (which denies that any moral propositions are true); and non-cognitivism (which denies that moral sentences express propositions at all). Within moral realism, the two main subdivisions are ethical naturalism and ethical non-naturalism.

Many philosophers claim that moral realism may be dated back at least to Plato as a philosophical doctrine,

and that it is a fully defensible form of moral doctrine. A survey from 2009 involving 3,226 respondents found that 56% of philosophers accept or lean towards moral realism (28%: anti-realism; 16%: other). Some notable examples of robust moral realists include David Brink, John McDowell, Peter Railton, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Michael Smith, Terence Cuneo, Russ Shafer-Landau, G. E. Moore, John Finnis, Richard Boyd, Nicholas Sturgeon, Thomas Nagel and Derek Parfit. Norman Geras has argued that Karl Marx was a moral realist. Moral realism has been studied in the various philosophical and practical applications.

Platonic realism

Platonic realism is a philosophical term usually used to refer to the idea of realism regarding the existence of universals or abstract objects after the Greek philosopher Plato. As universals were considered by Plato to be ideal forms, this stance is ambiguously also called Platonic idealism. This should not be confused with idealism as presented by philosophers such as George Berkeley: as Platonic abstractions are not spatial, temporal, or mental, they are not compatible with the later idealism's emphasis on mental existence. Plato's Forms include numbers and geometrical figures, making them a theory of mathematical realism; they also include the Form of the Good, making them in addition a theory of ethical realism.

Plato expounded his own articulation of realism regarding the existence of universals in his dialogue The Republic and elsewhere, notably in the Phaedo, the Phaedrus, the Meno and the Parmenides.


Quasi-realism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

Ethical sentences do not express propositions.

Instead, ethical sentences project emotional attitudes as though they were real properties.This makes quasi-realism a form of non-cognitivism or expressivism. Quasi-realism stands in opposition to other forms of non-cognitivism (such as emotivism and universal prescriptivism), as well as to all forms of cognitivism (including both moral realism and ethical subjectivism).

Quentin Meillassoux

Quentin Meillassoux (; French: [mɛjasu]; born 1967) is a French philosopher. He teaches at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and is the son of the anthropologist Claude Meillassoux.

Ray Brassier

Raymond Brassier (; born 1965) is a member of the philosophy faculty at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, known for his work in philosophical realism. He was formerly Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University, London, England.

Brassier is the author of Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction and the translator of Alain Badiou's Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism and Theoretical Writings and Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. He first attained prominence as a leading authority on the works of François Laruelle.

Brassier is of mixed French-Scottish ancestry, and his family name is pronounced in the French manner.


Realism, Realistic, or Realists may refer to:

Philosophical realism, belief that reality exists independently of observers. Related positions include:

Aesthetic realism (metaphysics)

Agential realism (Barad)

Australian realism

Austrian realism

Conceptualist realism (Wiggins)

Critical realism (disambiguation)

Dialectical realism (Hacking)

Direct realism

Empirical realism

Entity realism

Hermeneutic realism (Heidegger)

Internal realism (Putnam)

Local realism, a term used by Einstein in the context of the principle of locality

Logical realism, the conviction the rules of logic are mind-independent

Metaphysical realism

Modal realism

Model-dependent realism (Hawking and Mlodinow)

Moderate realism

Moral realism

Naïve realism

New realism (philosophy)

Peircean realism

Platonic realism


Realistic rationalism (Katz)

Referential realism

Romantic realism

Scientific realism

Musgrave's scientific realism

Scotistic realism

Semantic realism (epistemology) (a position criticized by Dummett)

Semantic realism (philosophy of science) (Psillos)

Semirealism (Chakravartty)

Set-theoretic realism (Maddy)

Speculative realism

Structuralism (philosophy of science)

Transcendental realism (Schelling, Schopenhauer, Bhaskar)

Truth-value link realism (a position criticized by Dummett)Realist views in the social sciences include:

Ethnographic realism, a writing style that narrates the author's anthropological observations as if they were first-hand

Legal realism, the view that jurisprudence should emulate the methods of natural science, i.e., rely on empirical evidence

Realism (international relations), the view that world politics is driven by competitive self-interest

Neorealism (international relations)

Structural realism, in international relationsRealism (arts), the general attempt to depict subjects truthfully. Related movements include:

Literary realism, a movement from the mid 19th to the early 20th century

Neorealism (art)

Italian neorealism (film)

Indian neorealism (film)

New realism, a movement founded in 1960

Realism (art movement), 19th-century painting group

Theatrical realism, one of the many types of theatre such as Naturalism

Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, an art movement

Robert Alyngton

Robert Alyngton (a.k.a. Arlyngton; died September 1398), was an English philosopher who developed new logical, semantic, metaphysical, and ontological theories in 14th century thought. Alyngton is credited with creating the ideological foundation for the Oxford Realists by substituting reference to objective reality with reference to mental and linguistic reality.

Scientific realism

Scientific realism is the view that the universe described by science is real regardless of how it may be interpreted.

Within philosophy of science, this view is often an answer to the question "how is the success of science to be explained?" The discussion on the success of science in this context centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists assert that one can make valid claims about unobservables (viz., that they have the same ontological status) as observables, as opposed to instrumentalism.

Truth-value link

The principle of truth-value links is a concept in metaphysics discussed in debates between philosophical realism and anti-realism. Philosophers who appeal to truth-value links in order to explain how individuals can come to understand parts of the world that are apparently cognitively inaccessible (the past, the feelings of others, etc.) are called truth-value link realists.


Verisimilitude (or truthlikeness) is a philosophical concept that distinguishes between the relative and apparent (or seemingly so) truth and falsity of assertions and hypotheses. The problem of verisimilitude is the problem of articulating what it takes for one false theory to be closer to the truth than another false theory.This problem was central to the philosophy of Karl Popper, largely because Popper was among the first to affirm that truth is the aim of scientific inquiry while acknowledging that most of the greatest scientific theories in the history of science are, strictly speaking, false. If this long string of purportedly false theories is to constitute progress with respect to the goal of truth, then it must be at least possible for one false theory to be closer to the truth than others.

Critical thinking and
informal logic
Theories of deduction

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