/ree"euh liz'euhm/, n.
1. interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.
2. the tendency to view or represent things as they really are.
3. Fine Arts.
a. treatment of forms, colors, space, etc., in such a manner as to emphasize their correspondence to actuality or to ordinary visual experience. Cf. idealism (def. 4), naturalism (def. 2).
b. (usually cap.) a style of painting and sculpture developed about the mid-19th century in which figures and scenes are depicted as they are experienced or might be experienced in everyday life.
4. Literature.
a. a manner of treating subject matter that presents a careful description of everyday life, usually of the lower and middle classes.
b. a theory of writing in which the ordinary, familiar, or mundane aspects of life are represented in a straightforward or matter-of-fact manner that is presumed to reflect life as it actually is. Cf. naturalism (def. 1b).
5. Philos.
a. the doctrine that universals have a real objective existence. Cf. conceptualism, nominalism.
b. the doctrine that objects of sense perception have an existence independent of the act of perception. Cf. idealism (def. 5a).
[1810-20; REAL1 + -ISM; cf. F réalisme]

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In literature, the theory or practice of fidelity to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization of everyday life.

The 18th-century works of Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Tobias Smollett are among the earliest examples of realism in English literature. It was consciously adopted as an aesthetic program in France in the mid-19th century, when interest arose in recording previously ignored aspects of contemporary life and society; Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857) established the movement in European literature. The realist emphasis on detachment and objectivity, along with lucid but restrained social criticism, became integral to the novel in the late 19th century. The word has also been used critically to denote excessive minuteness of detail or preoccupation with trivial, sordid, or squalid subjects. See also naturalism.
In philosophy, any viewpoint that accords to the objects of human knowledge an existence that is independent of whether they are being perceived or thought about.

In the metaphysical debate concerning universals, realism is opposed to nominalism, which denies that universals have any reality at all (except as words), and to conceptualism, which grants universals reality but only as concepts in the mind. Against idealism and phenomenalism, realism asserts the independent existence of material objects and their qualities. Similarly, moral realism holds that the moral qualities of things and actions (such as being good or bad, right or wrong) belong to the things or actions themselves and are not to be explained in terms of the subject's feelings of approval or disapproval. In opposition to conventionalism, realism holds that scientific theories are objectively true (or false) based on their correspondence (or lack of it) to an independently existing reality.
In the visual arts, an aesthetic that promotes accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life.

Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favour of close observation of outward appearances. It was a dominant current in French art between 1850 and 1880. In the early 1830s the painters of the Barbizon school espoused realism in their faithful reproduction of the landscape near their village. Gustave Courbet was the first artist to proclaim and practice the realist aesthetic; his Burial at Ornans and The Stone Breakers (1849) shocked the public and critics with their frank depiction of peasants and labourers. In his satirical caricatures, Honoré Daumier used an energetic linear style and bold detail to criticize the immorality he saw in French society. Realism emerged in the U.S. in the work of Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. In the 20th century German artists associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit worked in a realist style to express their disillusionment after World War I. The Depression-era movement known as Social Realism adopted a similarly harsh realism to depict the injustices of U.S. society. See also naturalism.
(as used in expressions)
magical realism
Photo Realism

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      in the arts, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favour of a close observation of outward appearances. As such, realism in its broad sense has comprised many artistic currents in different civilizations. In the visual arts, for example, realism can be found in ancient Hellenistic Greek sculptures accurately portraying boxers and decrepit old women. The works of such 17th-century painters as Caravaggio, the Dutch genre painters, the Spanish painters José de Ribera, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco de Zurbarán, and the Le Nain brothers in France are realist in approach. The works of the 18th-century English novelists Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Tobias Smollett may also be called realistic.

      Realism was not consciously adopted as an aesthetic program until the mid-19th century in France, however. Indeed, realism may be viewed as a major trend in French novels and paintings between 1850 and 1880. One of the first appearances of the term realism was in the Mercure français du XIXe siècle in 1826, in which the word is used to describe a doctrine based not upon imitating past artistic achievements but upon the truthful and accurate depiction of the models that nature and contemporary life offer the artist. The French proponents of realism were agreed in their rejection of the artificiality of both the Classicism and Romanticism of the academies and on the necessity for contemporaneity in an effective work of art. They attempted to portray the lives, appearances, problems, customs, and mores of the middle and lower classes, of the unexceptional, the ordinary, the humble, and the unadorned. Indeed, they conscientiously set themselves to reproducing all the hitherto-ignored aspects of contemporary life and society—its mental attitudes, physical settings, and material conditions.

      Realism was stimulated by several intellectual developments in the first half of the 19th century. Among these were the anti-Romantic movement in Germany, with its emphasis on the common man as an artistic subject; Auguste Comte's Positivist philosophy, in which sociology's importance as the scientific study of society was emphasized; the rise of professional journalism, with its accurate and dispassionate recording of current events; and the development of photography, with its capability of mechanically reproducing visual appearances with extreme accuracy. All these developments stimulated interest in accurately recording contemporary life and society.

      Gustave Courbet (Courbet, Gustave) was the first artist to self-consciously proclaim and practice the realist aesthetic. After his huge canvas “The Studio” (1854–55; Louvre, Paris) was rejected by the Exposition Universelle of 1855, the artist displayed it and other works under the label “Realism, G. Courbet” in a specially constructed pavilion. Courbet was strongly opposed to idealization in his art, and he urged other artists to instead make the commonplace and contemporary the focus of their art. He viewed the frank portrayal of scenes from everyday life as a truly democratic art. Such paintings as his “Burial at Ornans” (1849; Louvre) and the “Stone Breakers” (1849; private collection, Milan), which he had exhibited in the Salon of 1850–51, had already shocked the public and critics by the frank and unadorned factuality with which they depicted humble peasants and labourers. The fact that Courbet did not glorify his peasants but presented them boldly and starkly created a violent reaction in the art world.

      The style and subject matter of Courbet's work were built on ground already broken by the painters of the Barbizon school. Théodore Rousseau, Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-François Millet, and others in the early 1830s settled in the French village of Barbizon with the aim of faithfully reproducing the local character of the landscape. Though each Barbizon painter had his own style and specific interests, they all emphasized in their works the simple and ordinary rather than the grandiose and monumental aspects of nature. They turned away from melodramatic picturesqueness and painted solid, detailed forms that were the result of close observation. In such works as “The Winnower” (1848), Millet (Millet, Jean-François) was one of the first artists to portray peasant labourers with a grandeur and monumentality hitherto reserved for more important persons.

 Another major French artist often associated with the realist tradition, Honoré Daumier (Daumier, Honoré), drew satirical caricatures of French society and politics. He found his working-class heroes and heroines and his villainous lawyers (see photograph—>) and politicians in the slums and streets of Paris. Like Courbet he was an ardent democrat, and he used his skill as a caricaturist directly in the service of political aims. Daumier used energetic linear style, boldly accentuated realistic detail, and an almost sculptural treatment of form to criticize the immorality and ugliness he saw in French society.

      Pictorial realism outside of France was perhaps best-represented in the 19th century in the United States. There, Winslow Homer's powerful and expressive paintings of marine subjects and Thomas Eakins' portraits, boating scenes, and other works are frank, unsentimental, and acutely observed records of contemporary life.

      Realism was a distinct current in 20th-century art and usually stemmed either from artists' desire to present more honest, searching, and unidealized views of everyday life or from their attempts to use art as a vehicle for social and political criticism. The rough, sketchy, almost journalistic scenes of seamy urban life by the group of American painters known as The Eight (Eight, The) fall into the former category. The German art movement known as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), on the other hand, worked in a realist style to express the cynicism and disillusionment of the post-World War I period in Germany. The Depression-era movement known as Social Realism adopted a similarly harsh and direct realism in its depictions of the injustices and evils of American society during that period.

       Socialist Realism, which was the officially sponsored Marxist aesthetic in the Soviet Union from the early 1930s until that country's dissolution in 1991, actually had little to do with realism, though it purported to be a faithful and objective mirror of life. Its “truthfulness” was required to serve the ideology and the propagandistic needs of the state. Socialist Realism generally used techniques of naturalistic idealization to create portraits of dauntless workers and engineers who were strikingly alike in both their heroic positivism and their lack of lifelike credibility.

The novel
      In literature, the novelist Honoré de Balzac (Balzac, Honoré de) was the chief precursor of realism, given his attempt to create a detailed, encyclopaedic portrait of the whole range of French society in his La comédie humaine. But a conscious program of literary realism did not appear until the 1850s, and then it was inspired by the painter Courbet's aesthetic stance. The French journalist Champfleury, who had popularized Courbet's painting style, transferred the latter's theories to literature in Le Réalisme (1857). In this influential critical manifesto Champfleury asserted that the hero of a novel should be an ordinary man rather than an exceptional figure. In 1857 Gustave Flaubert's (Flaubert, Gustave) novel Madame Bovary was published. This unrelentingly objective portrait of the bourgeois mentality, with its examination of every psychological nuance of an unhappy and adulterous middle-class wife, was both the principal masterpiece of realism and the work that established the movement on the European scene. Flaubert's L'Éducation sentimentale (1870), with its presentation of a vast panorama of France under Louis-Philippe, was another principal realist work. The brothers Jules and Edmond Goncourt were also important realist writers. In their masterpiece, Germinie Lacerteux (1864), and in other works they covered a variety of social and occupational milieus and frankly described social relations among both the upper and the lower classes.

      Realist tenets entered the mainstream of European literature during the 1860s and '70s. Realism's emphasis on detachment, objectivity, and accurate observation, its lucid but restrained criticism of social environment and mores, and the humane understanding that underlay its moral judgments became an integral part of the fabric of the modern novel during the height of that form's development. Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and George Eliot in England, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Russia, William Dean Howells in the United States, and Gottfried Keller and the early Thomas Mann in Germany all incorporated realist elements in their novels. A significant offshoot of literary realism was naturalism (q.v.), a late 19th- and early 20th-century movement that aimed at an even more faithful and unselective representation of reality. The French novelist Émile Zola (Zola, Émile) was the leading exponent of Naturalism.

      Realism in the theatre was a general movement in the later 19th century that steered theatrical texts and performances toward greater fidelity to real life. The realist dramatists Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg in Scandinavia and Anton Chekhov and Maksim Gorky in Russia, among others, rejected the complex and artificial plotting of the well-made play and instead treated themes and conflicts belonging to a real, contemporary society. They dispensed with poetic language and extravagant diction, instead using action and dialogue that looked and sounded like everyday behaviour and speech. Realism had no use for the declamatory delivery and the overblown virtuosity of past acting and replaced this style with one demanding natural movements, gestures, and speech. Realist drama also used stage settings that accurately reproduced ordinary surroundings.

Motion pictures
      Like 20th-century drama and literature, the art of cinema has depended heavily on the 19th-century realist tradition for thematic material and often for structure. The nature of film, however, has lent itself to a kind of realism halfway between life and fiction. Such films, called Neorealism in Italy and sometimes cinéma vérité in France, tried to achieve a documentary-like objectivity by using non-actors in leading roles and incorporating segments of actual documentary footage into the story. The post-World War II films of Roberto Rossellini (Rossellini, Roberto) (such as Open City and Paisan) and Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief) best exemplify this genre.


      in philosophy, the viewpoint which accords to things which are known (cognition) or perceived (perception) an existence or nature which is independent of whether anyone is thinking about or perceiving them.

Varieties of philosophical realism
      The history of Western philosophy (philosophy, Western) is checkered with disputes between those who have defended forms of realism and those who have opposed them. While there are certainly significant similarities linking the variety of positions commonly described as realist, there are also important differences which obstruct any straightforward general characterization of realism. Many, if not all, of these disputes may be seen as concerned in one way or another with the relations between, on the one hand, human beings as thinkers and subjects of experience and, on the other hand, the objects of their knowledge, belief, and experience. Do sense perception and other forms of cognition, and the scientific theorizing which attempts to make sense of their deliverances, provide knowledge of things which exist and are as they are independently of people's cognitive or investigative activities? It is at least roughly true to say that philosophical realists are those who defend an affirmative answer to the question, either across the board or with respect to certain areas of knowledge or belief—e.g., the external world, scientific theories, mathematics, or morality.

      The affirmative answer may seem no more than the merest common sense, because the vast majority of one's beliefs are certainly most naturally taken to concern mind-independent objects whose existence is an entirely objective matter. And this seems to be so whether the beliefs in question are about mundane matters such as one's immediate surroundings or about theoretical scientific entities such as subatomic particles, fundamental forces, and so on. Nevertheless, much argument and clarification of the issues and concepts involved (e.g., objectivity and mind-independence) is required if the realism favoured by common sense is to be sustained as a philosophical position.

      Any general statement of realism, however, inevitably obscures the great variation in focus in controversies between realists and antirealists from antiquity to the present day. In some controversies, what is primarily at issue is a question of ontology, concerning the existence of entities of some problematic kind. In others, the opposition, while still broadly ontological in character, concerns rather the ultimate nature of reality as a whole, a historically important example being the controversies generated by various forms of Idealism. In yet others the dispute, while not entirely divorced from questions of ontology, is primarily concerned with the notion of truth, either in general or in application to statements of some particular type, such as moral judgments or theoretical scientific claims about unobservable entities.

Realism in ontology
      In application to matters of ontology, realism is standardly applied to doctrines which assert the existence of entities of some problematic or controversial kind. Even under this more restricted heading, however, realism and opposition to it have taken significantly different forms, as illustrated in the following three examples.

Universals (universal)
 One of the earliest and most famous realist doctrines is Plato's theory of Forms (form), which asserts that things such as “the Beautiful” (or “Beauty”) and “the Just” (or “Justice”) exist over and above the particular beautiful objects and just acts in which they are instantiated and more or less imperfectly exemplified; the Forms themselves are thought of as located neither in space nor in time. Although Plato's usual term for them (eido) is often translated in English as Idea, it is clear that he does not think of them as mental but rather as abstract, existing independently both of mental activity and of sensible particulars. As such, they lie beyond the reach of sense perception, which Plato regards as providing only beliefs about appearances as opposed to knowledge of what is truly real. Indeed, the Forms are knowable only by the philosophically schooled intellect.

 Although the interpretation of Plato's theory remains a matter of scholarly controversy, there is no doubt that his promulgation of it initiated an enduring dispute about the existence of universals (universal)—often conceived, in opposition to particulars, as entities, such as general properties, which may be wholly present at different times and places or instantiated by many distinct particular objects. Plato's pupil Aristotle reacted against the extreme realism which he took Plato to be endorsing: the thesis of universalia ante res (Latin: “universals before things”), according to which universals exist in their own right, prior to and independently of their instantiation by sensible particulars. He advocated instead a more moderate realism of universalia in rebus (“universals in things”): While there are universals, they can have no freestanding, independent existence. They exist only in the particulars that instantiate them.

      In the medieval period, defenders of a broadly Aristotelian realism, including William of Shyreswood and Peter of Spain, were opposed by both nominalists (nominalism) and conceptualists. Nominalists, notably William of Ockham (Ockham, William of), insisted that everything in the nonlinguistic world is particular. They argued that universals are merely words which have a general application—an application which is sufficiently explained by reference to the similarities among the various particulars to which the words are applied. Conceptualists agreed with the nominalists that everything is particular but held that words which have general application do so by virtue of standing for mental intermediaries, usually called general ideas or concepts.

      Although medieval in origin, the latter view found its best-known implementation in the English philosopher John Locke (Locke, John)'s theory of abstract ideas, so called because they are supposed to be formed from the wholly particular ideas supplied in experience by “abstracting” from their differences to leave only what is common to all of them. Locke's doctrine was vigorously criticized in the 18th century by his empiricist successors, George Berkeley (Berkeley, George) and David Hume (Hume, David), who argued that ideas corresponding to general words are fully determinate and particular and that their generality of application is achieved by making one particular idea stand indifferently as a representative of many.

      The problem of universals remains an important focus of metaphysical discussion. Although Plato's extreme realism has found few advocates, in the later 20th century there was a revival of interest in Aristotle's moderate realism, a version of which has been defended—with important modifications—by the Australian philosopher David Armstrong.

Abstract entities and modern nominalism
      In the second half of the 20th century the term nominalism took on a somewhat broader sense than the one it had in the medieval dispute about universals. It is now used as a name for any position which denies the existence of abstract entities of any sort, including not only universals but also numbers, sets, and other abstracta which form the apparent subject matter of mathematical theories. In their classic nominalist manifesto, Steps Toward a Constructive Nominalism (1947), the American philosophers Nelson Goodman and W.V.O. Quine (Quine, Willard Van Orman) declared:

We do not believe in abstract entities. No one supposes that abstract entities—classes, relations, properties, etc.—exist in space-time; but we mean more than this. We renounce them altogether.…Any system that countenances abstract entities we deem unsatisfactory as a final philosophy.

      The term “ Platonism” has often been used, especially in the philosophy of mathematics (mathematics, philosophy of), as an alternative to the correspondingly wider use of “realism” to denote ontological views to which such nominalism stands opposed. Nominalists have often recommended their rejection of abstracta on grounds of ontological economy, invoking the methodological maxim known as Ockham's razor—Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (“Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity”). The maxim is problematic, however, for at least two reasons. First, it gives a clear directive only when accompanied by some answer to the obvious question, “Necessary for what?” Although the answer—“Necessary to account for all the (agreed upon) facts”—is equally obvious, it is doubtful that there is sufficient agreement between the nominalist and the realist to enable the former to cut away abstracta as unnecessary. The realist is likely to suppose that the relevant facts include the facts of mathematics, which, taken at face value, do require the existence of numbers, sets, and so on.

      But second, even if the facts could be restricted, without begging the question, to facts about what is concrete, it is still unclear that the nominalist will be in a position to wield the razor to his advantage, because it may be argued that such facts admit of no satisfactory explanation without the aid of scientific (and especially physical) theories which make indispensable use of mathematics. Indispensability arguments of this kind were advanced by the American philosopher Hilary Putnam (Putnam, Hilary) and (relinquishing his earlier nominalism) by Quine.

      Other, perhaps weightier, arguments for nominalism appeal to the broadly epistemological problems confronting realism. Given that numbers, sets, and other abstracta could, by their very nature, stand in no spatiotemporal (and therefore no causal) relation to human beings, there can be no satisfactory explanation of how humans are able to think about and refer to abstracta or come to know truths about them.

      Whether or not these problems are insuperable, it is clear that, because theories (especially mathematical theories) ostensibly involving reference to abstracta appear to play an indispensable role in the human intellectual economy, nominalists can scarcely afford simply to reject them outright; they must explain how such theories may be justifiably retained, consistently with nominalistic scruples.

      Attempts by orthodox nominalists to reinterpret or reconstruct mathematical theories in ways which avoid reference to abstracta have not met with conspicuous success. Following a more radical course, the American philosopher Hartry Field has argued that nominalists can accept mathematical theories under certain conditions while denying that they are true. They can be accepted provided that they are conservative—i.e., provided that their conjunction with nonmathematical (scientific and especially physical) theories entails no claims about nonmathematical entities which are not logical consequences of the nonmathematical theories themselves. Conservativeness is thus a strong form of logical consistency. Because consistency in general does not require truth, a mathematical theory can be conservative without being true.

Possible worlds
 One kind of modal realism holds that there is a distinctive class of truths essentially involving the modal notions of necessity and possibility. Since the mid-20th century, however, advances in modal logic—in particular the development of possible-world semantics—have given rise to a further, distinctively ontological dispute concerning whether that semantics gives a literally correct account of the “truth-conditions” of modal propositions. According to possible-world semantics, (1) a proposition is necessarily true if (and only if) it is true not only in the actual world but in all possible worlds; and (2) a proposition is possibly true if and only if it is true in at least one possible world, perhaps distinct from the actual world. If statements 1 and 2 are literally correct descriptions of the truth-conditions of modal propositions, then, if any truths are nontrivially necessary or correctly assert unrealized possibilities, there must exist, in addition to the actual world, many other merely possible worlds. Modal realism, in the uncompromising form defended by the American philosopher David Lewis (Lewis, David Kellogg), is the view that there exists a (very large) plurality of worlds, each of which is a spatiotemporally (and therefore causally) closed system, disjoint from all others and comprising its own distinctive collection of concrete particulars, replete with all their properties and relations to each other.

      Although Lewis's worlds are not, as he conceived them, abstract entities, it is clear that his realism faces epistemological objections similar to those mentioned in connection with abstracta. These, along with other considerations, led some philosophers to propose alternatives designed to secure the benefits of possible-world semantics without the costs of full-blooded realism. The alternatives included a more moderate realism propounded by the American philosopher Robert Stalnaker which denies Lewis's homogeneity thesis (the claim that merely possible worlds are entities of the same kind as the actual world), as well as fictionalism, the view that possible-world theory is literally false but useful.

Realism and Idealism
      The opposition between idealism and realism, although undeniably ontological in a broad sense, is distinct both from general disputes about realism in ontology and from disputes which turn upon the notion of truth or its applicability to statements of some specified type (see below Realism and truth (realism)). In its most straightforward and, arguably, basic sense, Idealism not only asserts the existence of “ideas” (and perhaps other mental entities) but also advances a restrictive claim about the nature or composition of reality as whole: there is nothing in reality other than ideas and the minds whose ideas they are. So understood, idealism is a form of monism, which is opposed both to other forms of monism (e.g., Materialism) and to pluralism (pluralism and monism), which posits two or more irreducibly distinct kinds of stuff or things (e.g., mental and physical, as in various versions of dualism).

      A paradigmatic example of an idealist position is Berkeley (Berkeley, George)'s rejection of “brute matter” as unintelligible and his accompanying doctrine that reality consists exclusively of “ideas”—for which esse est percipi (“to be is to be perceived”)—and “spirits,” including finite spirits corresponding to individual human beings and at least one infinite spirit, or God. If idealism in this sense is to be viewed as a kind of antirealism, the realism it opposes must be one which maintains the existence of material things independently of their being perceived or otherwise related to any mind, finite or otherwise.

 The 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant (Kant, Immanuel) recognized that Berkeley's “dogmatic idealism” involved denying the independent reality of space. Berkeley's arguments, he thought, were effective against metaphysical positions which assumed that space is a property of “things in themselves,” as opposed to their representations, or “appearances,” in the mind. Kant argued to the contrary that space as well as time are forms of “sensible intuition,” or the mode in which the mind is affected by sensible objects. Thus, the reality of objects external to the mind (objects in space) is guaranteed, because being in space and time is a condition of being an object of sensible experience at all. Kant's combination of transcendental idealism—the doctrine that what is given in experience are only appearances—with empirical realism—the view that there are objects external to the mind—allowed him to reject the conception of external objects as “lying behind” appearances and as knowable only (if at all) by a problematic and ultimately indefensible inference from what is given in experience to its hidden causes.

      The views of G.E. Moore (Moore, G E) (1873–1958) were appreciably closer to commonsense realism about the external world than were Kant's. Although reacting, especially in his early papers, primarily against the prevailing tradition of 19th-century British idealism, Moore criticized Berkeley's esse est percipi doctrine while at the same time rejecting Kant's transcendental idealism.

Realism and truth
      As suggested by the prevalence in philosophical discussion of composite labels such as scientific realism, moral realism, and modal realism, realism need not be a global thesis. A realist attitude with regard to one area of thought or discourse (e.g., science) is at least prima facie consistent with an antirealist view with regard to others (e.g., morality or mathematics). Such eclecticism is sometimes motivated by underlying beliefs about what kinds of objects should be accepted as genuinely existing, or as part of the ultimate “furniture of the universe.” But sometimes it is not. At least some realist-antirealist disagreements, including several contemporary ones, are better understood as primarily concerned with whether statements belonging to a certain area of discourse really are, as their surface grammar may indicate, capable of objective truth and so capable of recording genuine, mind-independent facts. It is a further question whether, if statements of a given kind are true or false as a matter of objective, mind-independent fact, those statements record facts of some special irreducible type, distinctive of that discourse. Satisfaction of the first of these conditions (objective and mind-independent truth) is generally accepted as essential to any position worth describing as a form of realism. Realism is widely, but not invariably, taken to require also satisfaction of the second (irreducibility) condition.

Reductionism, error theories, and projectivism
      If fulfillment of both of the conditions stated above is taken to be necessary for realism, reductionism in its various guises qualifies as an antirealist position. The reductionist about a given area of discourse (“A-discourse”) maintains that its characteristic statements (“A-statements”) are reducible to—analyzable or translatable without loss of content into—statements of some other type (“B-statements”), which are usually thought to be philosophically less problematic. The reductionist accepts that there are objective facts stated by A-statements but denies that such statements report any facts over and above those stated in B-statements. A-facts are just B-facts in disguise. An example of this approach is logical behaviourism, which maintains that statements about mental events and states are logically equivalent to statements which, while typically much more complicated, are wholly about observable behaviour in varying kinds of circumstances. Thus, there are no mental facts over and above physical facts. In this sense, logical behaviourism is a form of antirealism about psychological discourse.

       phenomenalism, the view that statements about material objects such as tables and chairs can be reduced to statements about sense experiences, amounts to a form of antirealism about the external world. The doctrine that all scientific language must acquire meaning via “operational definitions” in terms of measurement procedures and the like constitutes a reductionist form of scientific antirealism. Nominalist attempts to paraphrase or reinterpret mathematical statements so as to eliminate all apparent commitment to numbers, sets, or other abstracta may likewise be viewed as a species of reductive antirealism. Finally, ethical naturalism, which identifies the rightness or goodness of actions with, say, their tendency to promote happiness, thereby reduces moral facts to natural (e.g., psychological) ones. (It should be noted, however, that some contemporary ethical naturalists count their position as a form of realism—as indeed it is, at least in the weaker sense that it maintains the objective truth of ethical judgments.)

      In each of these cases, as already noted in relation to traditional nominalism, it is at best questionable that the requisite reductions can be carried through. But antirealists need not nail their colours to the reductionist mast. Somewhat more radically, they may reject the assumption, which reductionists do not question, that statements belonging to the area in dispute are ever objectively true at all. This may be done in either of two quite distinct ways.

      First, the antirealist may agree with the realist about the kind of meaning possessed by statements belonging to the problematic discourse—in particular, about the conditions required for their truth—but decline to accept that those conditions are ever met. If the antirealist goes so far as to deny that the requisite conditions are ever met, his position amounts to an “error theory,” according to which statements of the problematic kind are systematically false. If the claim is, rather, that one can never be justified in taking such statements to be true, the resultant antirealism is better described as a form of agnosticism.

      Second, the antirealist may claim that the surface appearance of the problematic statements—their apparent recording of objective facts which obtain independently of human beings and their responses and attitudes to external reality—is misleading; properly understood, those statements discharge some quite different, nondescriptive role, such as expressing (typically noncognitive) attitudes, enjoining courses of action, or, perhaps, endorsing conventions or rules of language. Often, and especially when underpinned by an expressivist account of the problematic statements, antirealism of this second kind amounts to a version of “projectivism,” according to which, in making such statements, one is not seeking to correctly describe features of a mind-independent world but is merely projecting one's own responses and attitudes onto it.

      Such nonreductive forms of antirealism have been opposed to both moral realism and scientific realism and have been defended in several other areas besides. The nominalism of Hartry Field involves an error-theoretic treatment of pure mathematical discourse, as may other fictionalist approaches—e.g., to possible worlds. Hume (Hume, David)'s treatment of the idea of “necessary connection” in causality as deriving from the habitual expectation of the effect upon the observation of its cause is a classic example of projectivism, which some of his successors sought to extend to modality in general, including logical necessity. The German mathematician David Hilbert (Hilbert, David)'s differential treatment of the “real” or “contentful” statements of finitary arithmetic, in contrast to the “ideal” statements of transfinite mathematics, has been interpreted as a form of instrumentalism about the latter, broadly akin to that recommended by many thinkers in relation to the theoretical parts of science (see below Scientific realism and instrumentalism (realism)). And Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein, Ludwig), in his Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (1956), can be seen as recommending a noncognitivist approach to logical and mathematical statements, according to which they do not record truths of some special kind but rather express rules which regulate the use of more ordinary or empirical statements.

Moral realism
      According to moral realists, statements about what actions are morally required or permissible and statements about what dispositions or character traits are morally virtuous or vicious (and so on) are not mere expressions of subjective preferences but are objectively true or false according as they correspond with the facts of morality—just as historical or geographic statements are true or false according as they fit the historical or geographic facts. As with realism in other areas, moral realism faces challenges on two fronts. On the metaphysical front, there is obvious scope for Skepticism about whether there is, or even could be, a realm of distinctively moral facts, irreducible to and apparently inexplicable in terms of the facts of nature. On the epistemological front, it has seemed to be an insuperable obstacle to moral realism to explain how, if there really were such a realm of moral facts, human beings could possibly gain access to it. Although reason alone may seem to deliver knowledge of some kinds of nonempirical truths—e.g., of logic and mathematics—it does not seem to deliver the truths of morality, and there appears to be no other special faculty by which such truths may be detected. Talk of “moral sense” or “moral intuition,” though once popular, now seems merely to rename rather than to solve the problem.

      On the antirealist side, attempts to reduce moral properties to natural ones (by identifying right actions with, say, those which promote happiness) have found support, but they face difficulties of their own. Indeed, they seem particularly vulnerable to Moore's celebrated “open question” argument, which points out that, because it is always a substantive and not a tautological question whether some naturalistically specified property is morally good—one can always ask, for example, “Is happiness good?”—the meanings of moral terms like “good” cannot simply be identified with the property in question. Appealing to the intrinsic “queerness” of moral properties as contrasted with natural ones, some theorists, notably the Australian-born philosopher J.L. Mackie, have denied their existence altogether, propounding an error theory of moral discourse.

      Other antirealists have sought to rescue moral discourse by reinterpreting it along expressivist or projectivist lines. This approach, which may also be traced back to Hume, is exemplified in the theory of ethical emotivism, which was favoured by (among others) the logical positivists (Logical Positivism) in the first half of the 20th century. According to emotivism, moral statements such as “Lying is wrong” do not record (or misrecord) facts but serve other, nondescriptive purposes, such as expressing a feeling of disapproval of the behaviour or discouraging others from engaging in it. A sophisticated contemporary development of expressivism and projectivism, defended by the English philosopher Simon Blackburn and others under the title “quasi-realism,” seeks to explain how one can properly treat ethical propositions as true or false without presupposing a special domain of nonnatural facts.

Scientific realism and instrumentalism
      The dispute between scientific (science, philosophy of) realists and antirealists, though often associated with conflicting ontological attitudes toward the unobserved (and perhaps unobservable) entities ostensibly postulated by some scientific theories, primarily concerns the status of the theories themselves and what scientists should be seen as trying to accomplish in propounding them. Both sides are agreed that, to be acceptable, a scientific theory should “save the phenomena”—that is, it should at least be consistent with, and ideally facilitate correct prediction of, such matters of observable fact as may be recorded in reports of relevant observations and, where appropriate, experiments. The issue concerns whether theories can and should be seen as attempting more than this. Realists, notably including Karl Popper (Popper, Sir Karl), J.J.C. Smart, Ian Hacking, and Hilary Putnam, along with many others, have claimed that they should be so viewed: Science aims, in its theories, at a literally true account of what the world is like, and accepting those theories involves accepting their ingredient theoretical claims as true descriptions of aspects of reality—perhaps themselves not open to observation—additional to and underlying the phenomena.

      Against this, the doctrine of instrumentalism claims that scientific theories are no more than devices, or “instruments” (in effect, sets of inference rules) for generating predictions about observable phenomena from evidence about such phenomena. This claim can be understood in two ways. It could be that theoretical scientific statements are not, despite appearances, genuine statements at all but rules of inference in disguise, so that the question of their truth (or falsehood) simply does not arise. In this case, instrumentalism is akin to expressivism about ethical statements. Alternatively, it could be that, as far as the aims of science go, what matters when evaluating a scientific theory—given that it meets other desiderata such as simplicity, economy, generality of application, and so on—is only its inferential (or instrumental) reliability; its truth or falsehood is of no scientific concern. A notable development of the latter approach is the constructive empiricism of Bas van Fraassen, according to which science aims not at true theories but at theories which are “empirically adequate,” in the sense that they capture or predict relevant truths about observable matters.

      Antirealism about science, both in its earlier instrumentalist form and in van Fraassen's version, clearly relies upon a fundamental distinction between statements which are, and those which are not, wholly about observable entities or states of affairs. Realists frequently deny the tenability of this distinction, arguing that there is no “theory-neutral” language in which observations may be reported, or at any rate that there is no sharp, principled division between what is observable and what is not. Antirealists may acknowledge that a great deal of language, perhaps even all of it, is theory-laden but claim that this does not require acceptance of the theories with which it is infected; nor does it entail that statements involving theory-infected terms (e.g., “The Geiger counter is reading 7.3”) cannot be true solely in virtue of observable matters. Against the claim that there is no difference in principle between, say, detecting a passing jet airplane by seeing its vapour trail and detecting a subatomic particle by seeing its trace in a cloud chamber, they may reply that indeed there is. While the plane is an observable object—even though, in this case, only its effect is observed—there is no observing the particle itself, as distinct from its supposed effects.

      A further argument commonly advanced in support of realism is that it provides the best, or the only credible, explanation for the success of scientific theories. From an instrumentalist perspective, it is claimed, it must be quite mysterious or even miraculous that the world should behave as if the best scientific theories about it were true. Surely, realists argue, the obvious and best explanation is that the world behaves in this way because the theories about it are in fact true (or at least approximately true). Although this argument certainly presents antirealists with a serious challenge, it is not clear that they cannot meet it. In particular, van Fraassen argues that, in so far as the demand for an explanation of science's successes is legitimate, that success can be explained in terms of the idea that scientists aim to construct theories which are empirically adequate.

Metaphysical realism and objective truth
      Although several realist disputes seem to turn on whether statements of a certain kind are capable of being objectively true, it is far from obvious what being objectively true amounts to. The question of what it is for a statement to be objectively true has itself been a focus of realist-antirealist disagreement.

      Objective truth uncontroversially requires mind-independence, at least in the sense of being true independently of what anyone knows or believes. That is, if a proposition is to be “objectively” true, then it must be possible for it to be true without anyone knowing or believing that it is; conversely, believing the proposition should not be sufficient for its truth (except in a few very special cases, such as believing that one believes something). This notion of objectivity is clearly quite weak, and it falls well short of the kind of objectivity attributed to true statements in some strongly realist theories of truth.

Metaphysical realism and antirealism
      One such theory is metaphysical (or “external”) realism, as characterized (but not professed) by Putnam (Putnam, Hilary). According to this view, even an ideal scientific theory—one which is judged to be true by the best operational criteria for assessing scientific theories—may nevertheless in reality be false. The metaphysical realist's truth is, as Putnam also puts it, “radically nonepistemic,” potentially outstripping not only what scientists actually believe but also what they would believe were they to form their beliefs perfectly rationally under evidentially ideal conditions. In a similar vein, the realist as characterized by the English philosopher Michael Dummett holds that statements may be true (or false) independently of any possibility, even in principle, of their being recognized as such.

      Putnam and Dummett both reject the realist positions they characterize. Putnam argues that metaphysical realism faces insuperable problems in explaining how words and sentences can determinately refer or correspond to the world in the way apparently required if it is to be possible for even an ideal theory to be false. Dummett, for his part, presses two main challenges to realism: (1) to explain how humans could come to understand statements which are unrecognizably true, given that human linguistic training necessarily proceeds in terms of publicly accessible and recognizable aspects of use, and (2) to explain how such an alleged understanding could be manifested or displayed.

      Although neither Putnam nor Dummett is prepared to endorse verificationism (the view that a statement is cognitively meaningful only if it is possible in principle to verify it), both argue for positions which connect truth more closely than the realist does with evidence or with grounds for belief. In opposition to metaphysical or external realism, Putnam defends an “internal” realism which identifies truth with ideal rational acceptability; his view, as he points out, has significant affinities with Kant's transcendental idealism. Dummett argues that the meanings of statements must be explicated not in terms of potentially evidence-transcendent truth-conditions but by reference to conditions—such as those under which a statement counts as proved or justified—which can be recognized to obtain whenever they do.

      As Dummett emphasizes, the adoption of such an antirealist view of truth carries significant implications outside the theory of meaning, especially for logic and hence mathematics (mathematics, philosophy of). In particular, logical principles such as the law of excluded middle (for every proposition p, either p or its negation, not-p, is true, there being no “middle” true proposition between them) can no longer be justified if a strongly realist conception of truth is replaced by an antirealist one which restricts what is true to what can in principle be known. There is no guarantee, for example, that for an arbitrary mathematical proposition p, either p or not-p can be proved. Because many important theorems in classical mathematics depend for their proof upon the principles affected, large parts of classical mathematics are called into question. In this way, Dummett's antirealism about truth and meaning lends support to revisionary constructivist approaches to mathematics, such as intuitionism (mathematics, foundations of) (see also mathematics, philosophy of: Logicism, intuitionism, and formalism (mathematics, philosophy of).

“Modest” objective truth
      Although some realist-antirealist disputes may, as illustrated, turn on the applicability of a strongly realist notion of truth to statements of a certain kind, it does not seem that this can be what is at issue in all cases in which realists assert, and their opponents deny, that statements of the problematic sort are capable of objective truth. Even in mathematics, there can be realist-antirealist disagreements over very elementary statements, such as 172 = 289, which cannot be true in a way which transcends all evidence, because they are effectively decidable by a routine computation. Again, whatever precisely is at issue between moral realists and their opponents, it is not plausible that they disagree about whether ethical statements can be true in a way which in principle eludes detection.

      The apparent implication of these examples is that there is some other, more modest notion of objective truth in play in such disputes. There is in fact a notion of truth—the minimal notion defined by the equivalence schema It is true that p if and only if p—which is guaranteed to apply to statements of any kind for which there are standards of proper or correct assertion (see semantics: Meaning and truth (semantics)).

      Because such standards undoubtedly exist for mathematical and ethical discourse, some assertions complying with them will be true in at least this minimal sense. If this is right, therefore, the disagreement between realists and antirealists, in at least some areas, must concern the truth or objectivity of the problematic statements in a more substantial sense, but one which is still less exacting than that of the metaphysical realist characterized by Putnam and Dummett.

      Whether there is any such notion of truth is controversial. Defenders of the “deflationary” or “redundancy” theory of truth—e.g., Frank P. Ramsey, A.J. Ayer (Ayer, Sir A.J.), and more recently Paul Horwich—deny that truth can be a substantial property, arguing that all there is to the notion of truth is captured by instances of the equivalence schema. Even if this is accepted, however, it does not follow that there cannot be a more substantial notion of objectivity. An improved understanding of issues about realism may thus depend on clarifying further the respects in which statements which are capable of minimal truth may differ—such as whether there is scope for persistent but faultless disagreement about them (as with matters of taste or humour) and whether the facts they record may play a significant role in explaining facts of other kinds. These and related questions have been pursued in work since the 1990s, especially by the English philosopher Crispin Wright.

Bob Hale

Additional Reading
D.M. Armstrong, Universals: An Opinionated Introduction (1989), is a useful introduction to the modern debate. Simon Blackburn, Essays in Quasi-Realism (1993), contains several papers by a leading exponent of projectivist antirealism in ethics and other areas. John P. Burgess and Gideon Rosen, A Subject with No Object (1997), is a useful survey of nominalistic approaches to mathematics.Stephen Darwall, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, Moral Discourse and Practice: Some Philosophical Approaches (1997), is an anthology which contains several important contributions to the modern debate over moral realism. Michael Dummett, Truth and Other Enigmas (1978), and The Seas of Language (1993), contain between them most of Dummett's papers about realism, including his seminal “Truth” and his much later “Realism and Anti-Realism,” which provides a useful retrospective account of his distinctive view of realism-antirealism disputes.Nelson Goodman and W.V. Quine, “Steps Toward a Constructive Nominalism,” Journal of Symbolic Logic, vol. 12:105–122 (1947), is a classic statement of modern nominalism. Hartry H. Field, Science Without Numbers (1980), is a more recent unorthodox defense of nominalism. Ian Hacking, Representing and Intervening (1983), argues strongly for scientific realism, emphasizing the importance of experiments. Bas C. van Fraassen, The Scientific Image (1980), is a forceful defense of constructive empiricism as an alternative to realism about science. Paul Horwich, Truth, 2nd ed. (1998), defends a deflationary view of truth.David Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds (1986, reissued 2001), argues for a strongly realist view of possible worlds. Robert Stalnaker, Ways a World Might Be (2003), includes his essay “Possible Worlds” (first published in 1976), which defends a moderate version of realism about worlds. E.J. Lowe, A Survey of Metaphysics (2002), is a clear and comprehensive general introduction which includes useful chapters on possible worlds and on the disagreement between nominalist and realists over universals. J.L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values,” chapter 1 in his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977), pp. 15–48, is a classic statement of an error theory of ethical discourse.D.H. Mellor and Alex Oliver (eds.), Properties (1997), is a useful collection bearing on the debate over universals and properties. G.E. Moore, Philosophical Studies (1922, reissued 2000), and Philosophical Papers (1959, reprinted 1977), include essays critical of idealism and defending commonsense realism. Karl R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, 5th ed. rev. (1989), especially chapters 1, 2, and 6, forcefully advocates scientific realism and criticizes instrumentalism. H.H. Price, Thinking and Experience, 2nd ed. (1962, reissued 1977), is a somewhat neglected but comprehensive and insightful study of the traditional issues concerning universals. Hilary Putnam, “Philosophy of Logic,” in his Mathematics, Matter, and Method, 2nd ed. (1979), pp. 323–357, develops the indispensability argument against nominalism. Putnam's critique of metaphysical realism is presented in “Models and Reality,” in his Realism and Reason (1983), pp. 1–25, and in his Reason, Truth, and History (1981), chapters 2 and 3. Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (1912, reprinted 1999), written for the nonspecialist, is still a good place to begin reading about the problem of universals and about idealism. J.J.C. Smart, Between Science and Philosophy (1968), is a defense of scientific realism; chapter 6 includes a useful critique of operationism and instrumentalism. Michael Smith, The Moral Problem (1994), provides an accessible introduction and contribution to the debate over moral realism. Crispin Wright, Realism, Meaning, and Truth, 2nd ed. (1993), contains papers developing the antirealist debate initiated by Dummett, with a helpful introductory overview, and Wright's Truth and Objectivity (1992) develops the idea that minimally true statements may differ in other respects relevant to objectivity.Bob Hale

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Universalium. 2010.

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