16. Realism

Realism is the theory that holds that the existence of objects is real. For this reason it is also sometimes called objectivism. Both realism and objectivism are metaphysical theories concerned with the existence of things. In epistemology realism holds that in the process of knowledge things are independent of the existence and influence of the knower. Hence the main tenet of this theory in the epistemological field is that object and its qualities are independent of and uninfluenced by the knower and the process of knowledge.
Main tenets of realism
As a general rule the chief tenets of realism are the following:
Existence of objects is independent of knowledge: According to the native realists objects exist irrespective of our knowledge of them. Scientific realism accepts this notion but according to it thoughts concerning the objects are based on the mind.
Qualities are inherent in known objects : According to the naive realist the qualities that are experienced in the objects are part and parcel of the object while the scientific realist distinguishes between primary and secondary qualities, maintaining that primary qualities belong to the object while the secondary are attributed to the object by the mind in the process of knowing.
Knowledge does not effect the object or its qualities : According to the naive realist the object or its qualities do not suffer by becoming the subjects of knowledge but according toe the scientific realist this theory does not hold true for secondary qualities.
Knowledge of objects is direct : According to the naive realist, knowledge of the objects is direct and perceptual. According to representationalism, this is true of simple thoughts, for in complex thought knowledge is indirect since complex thoughts are compounded of simple ones.
Objects are common : According to the analytical realists objects are common while according to the representationalists objects are commonly available only for the purpose of primary or elementary thought. Scientific realism holds that the same object may be experienced different by different individuals.
Relation between object and thought : Naive realism holds that there is relation between object and its thought, but the scientific realist rejects this theory.
types of realism
The main types of realism are the followings:
Naive realism
This is propounded by common sense according to which objects are independent of mind whether they are known or not. Object possesses its own qualities. Knowledge does not affect the object. The object is precisely what it is seen to be. Objects are known directly and objects are common for all.
This theory is the product of Locke’s mind. It states that the object’s existence is independent of knowledge but metaphysical thought depends upon the mind. Primary, objective, individual and secondary qualities are inherent in the object. Knowledge does not impress upon the objects but it can influence metaphysical thought. Knowledge of objects is direct in the case of simple thoughts but indirect in the case of complex ones. In simple thoughts objects are common or universal but not so in complex thinking.
This is a novel approach to the Platonic theory of reality. In this theory it is believed that the total object is not the subject of knowledge but its aspects are, and they are independent of knowledge. The qualities of the object are its own and knowledge does not affect them. An object is what it is manifestly seen to be. Knowledge of the aspects of an object is direct while logical entities are universal.
Critical realism
The theory was first propounded in America and is critical in nature. It also believes that the existence of objects does not depend upon knowledge in any way. The object is possessed qualities and is directly known. Objects may or may not be universal. Critical realism does not hold that the object is previously what it is seen to be or that it is seen to be exactly what it is. When the object becomes object of knowledge it is influenced by knowledge. Knowledge can be direct as well as indirect. The relation between the knower and known is not direct but takes place through the medium of thought, which is the subject matter of knowledge. Different people can have different knowledge of an identical object.
These different theories of realism have been arranged in order of their historical appearance and none of them has been found to satisfy completely. Each and every one has been objected to and found wanting in some respect.
Comparison of idealism and realism
In the varies fields of epistemology, metaphysics and evolution, idealism and realism present two almost completely differing theories. They differ in the following respects:
According to idealism objects have no existence apart from their ideas, while according to realism, objects have an existence independent of any knowledge of them.
Idealism maintains that qualities are imposed on the object by the mind while realism holds that qualities are a part of the object.
The idealistic tenet is that knowledge influences the object and its qualities while the realist theory is that object cannot be affected in this way.
According to idealism objects are known indirectly through the medium of their ideas but realism holds that objects are known directly.
In idealism it is believed that different objects appear differently to different people but in realism it is believed that objects are universal.
According to idealism objects are not what they appear to be since their knowledge is indirect but realism maintains that objects are precisely what they appear to be.
Metaphysical differences
From the metaphysical standpoint realism and idealism differ in the following respects:
According to the idealists the universe exists within the mind while the realist are of the opinion that the natural world is independent of the mind.
The idealists believe in some kind of synthesis between man and nature while the realists deny the existence of any such synthesis.
Idealism states that man is the centre of the universe while realism does not attach the same importance to man with reference to universe.
Idealists are idealistic while the realists are realistic.
Difference on cosmology
Realism and idealism differ in the following respects on questions regarding cosmology:
According to idealism the mechanistic explanation of the universe is not adequate while realists propound this mechanistic explanation.
Idealism holds that creation of the universe is teleological while the realists do not believe in their being any purpose in creation.
In explaining creation the idealists lay the stress on normative and social while the realists rely more heavily on the natural science in their explanation of creation.
Idealism puts forth a value judgement of the creation while realism is more factual in this analysis.
According to the idealists the world is known through the mind while realists is not attach so much importance to the mind in understanding the universe.
Idealism stresses the mental and spiritual in its explanation of the world and realism the material and physical.
From the above analysis of idealism and realism it should be fairy obvious that the two theories are almost contradictory and mutually exclusive. In evaluating the two it must be said that idealism seems more appropriate for understanding the values of human life, which is, in fact, the aim of all out knowledge and science.
A more comprehensive standpoint on the other hand, will make it clear that both idealism and realism view the universe from different standpoint, and hence the difference in their respective metaphysics, epistemology and cosmology. To a liberal, dynamic philosopher with broad vision the two will appear to be comple-mentary. In their respective ways both show glimpses of truth and according to one’s standpoint one may be as satisfied with one as one may be with the other. It depends on one’s mental make up as to which will appeal to one. Nevertheless, it must be said that idealism, on the whole, is a philosophy that is more mature, refined, optimistic, comprehensive and it elevates the lot of mankind. Nothing can be gained denigrating realism but there cab be no denying superiority of idealism.

Shopping Cart


Click one of our contacts below to chat on WhatsApp

× How can I help you?