Realism

General Information

Realism denotes two distinct sets of philosophical theories, one regarding the nature of universal concepts and the other dealing with knowledge of objects in the world.

In late - classical and medieval philosophy, realism was a development of the Platonic theory of Forms and held, generally, that universals such as "red" or "man" have an independent, objective existence, either in a realm of their own or in the mind of God. Medieval realism is usually contrasted with Nominalism, and the classic critiques of realism from this point of view were provided by Peter Abelard and William of Occam.

In modern philosophy realism is a broad term, encompassing several movements whose unity lies in a common rejection of philosophical Idealism. In its most general form realism asserts that objects in the external world exist independently of what is thought about them. The most straightforward of such theories is usually known as naive realism. It contends that in perception humans are made directly aware of objects and their attributes and thus have immediate access to the external world. This view fails, however, to explain perceptual mistakes and illusions, and most realists argue that causal processes in the mind mediate, or interpret, directly perceived appearances. Thus the objects remain in essence independent, although the causal mechanism may distort, or even wholly falsify, the individual's knowledge of them.

Text Font Face
.
Text Size
.
Background
Color
.
(for printing)
BELIEVE
Religious
Information
Source
web-site
BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
E-mail
Bibliography
A H Armstrong, The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (1967); D M Armstrong, Universals and Scientific Realism (1978); R M Chisholm, Realism and the Background of Phenomenology (1960); J Leplin, ed., Scientific Realism (1985); H Putnam, Meaning and the Moral Sciences (1978); R M Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979); J Smart, Philosophy and Scientific Realism (1963); P Smith, Realism and Progress of Science (1982); H Veatch, Realism and Nominalism Revisited (1954); J Wild, Introduction to Realistic Philosophy (1984).


Realism

Advanced Information

The theory of knowledge that maintains that "universals" (general concepts representing the common elements belonging to individuals of the same genus or species) have a separate existence apart from individual objects. It stands in contrast to nominalism, which held that universals had no reality apart from their existence in the though of an individual. Plato's insistence that there is a realm of universals above the material universe as real as individual objects themselves had a great influence on medieval thought.

Anselm's form of realism led him to the belief that by giving proper attention to universal concepts one could prove the truths of theology. He accepted revealed truth, but was convinced that one should exercise reason in apprehending the truth. For example, he was convinced that by "necessary reasons" he could demonstrate the existence of God. Because God is the greatest of beings, Anselm reasoned in his Proslogion, he must exist in reality as well as in thought, for if he existed in thought only, a greater being could be conceived of. Thus from consideration of an ideal or universal Anselm believed that he could derive truth about what actually exists.

Augustine had modified Plato's realism by holding that universals existed before the material universe in God's creative mind. This viewpoint was expanded by twelfth century ultrarealists, such as Duns Scotus, Odo of Tournai, and William of Champeaux (in his early years), to posit that the logical and real orders are exactly parallel. By proposing that universals come before individuals, the ultrarealists maintained that the reality of individuals came from the universal. Thus humanity as a universal preceded individual men. In this fashion they explained theological concepts such as transmission of original sin in the human race and the oneness of the Trinity: God comes first; Father, Son and Holy Spirit share together in God.

Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica amended this ultrarealist position by developing Aristotle's doctrine that universals have a being only in material objects. According to Aquinas we cannot assert that universals exist wholly apart from individual objects inasmuch as we know of them only through sensory impressions of individual objects. Thus universals are abstracted from the knowledge rooted in individual things. This "moderate realism" stressed that human reason could not totally grasp God's being. One could profitably use reason, then, to determine universals, and one could use reason in theology whenever it was concerned with the connection between universals and individual objects.

Realism had a great effect on the "natural theology" of medieval scholasticism. It affected both the method of demonstration and the shape of the theological dogmas which resulted. One notes its influence to a lesser extent after the Reformation in both Roman Catholic Neo - Thomist circles and among Protestants who emphasize the "unity" of the human race in the passing on of original sin (e.g., W G T Shedd).

D A Rausch

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
D M Armstrong, Universals and Scientific Realism: Nominalism and Realism, II; F Copleston, History of Philosophy, II; R Seeberg, Textbook of the History of Doctrines; M deWulf, History of Medieval Philosophy, I; W G T Shedd, Dogmatic Theology; E Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages.


An Additional Observation

I write to inform you that the well written article on 'Realism - Advanced Information' contains an error of fact which is incorrectly attributed to St. Anselm's ontological argument of the existence of God. The error is contained in the following quotation (bold type):

Anselm's form of realism led him to the belief that by giving proper attention to universal concepts one could prove the truths of theology. He accepted revealed truth, but was convinced that one should exercise reason in apprehending the truth. For example, he was convinced that by "necessary reasons" he could demonstrate the existence of God. Because God is the greatest of beings, Anselm reasoned in his Proslogion, he must exist in reality as well as in thought, for if he existed in thought only, a greater being could be conceived of. Thus from consideration of an ideal or universal Anselm believed that he could derive truth about what actually exists.

Anselm also stated 'rational considerations' as a means to understanding Holy Scripture:
If sometimes on the basis of rational considerations we sometimes make a statement which we cannot clearly exhibit in the words of Holy Scripture, or cannot prove by reference to these words, nonetheless in the following way we know by means of Scripture whether the statement ought to be accepted or rejected.

Even from this quotation 'necessary reasons' cannot be applied to demonstrate the existence of God. Anselm consistently shows that the application of reason can be given to explain why a thing is not impossible but necessary, but not to presume by reason to understand the cause of truth in itself.

Dr. Ciro Vecchione.


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -


Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet http://mb-soft.com/believe/indexaz.html