Sunday, May 13, 2012

Realism Is a Crutch.

As I sit here grading my student’s papers, I note that the difference between some professional philosophers and my students on the topic of realism is how articulate they are.  I say this harsh thing, because I am tired of hearing the declaration “I’m a realist” as if it carried a lot of weight.  It does not.  Just about everyone is a realist if by that you mean “believes in the independent reality of the world as publicly accessible.”  It is almost impossible to find an idealist, and even “anti-realists” are almost always “realists” in the narrow sense.  My instincts are that many of these terms are being used without thinking through the binaries that they imply.  What is often implied in the chest-thumping—“I am a realist!” is the notion that truth is independent of human subjectivity, which is barely more informative.  What is truly informative is a description and explanation of what truth is, such that it is independent and generally accessible as such.

Do I reject realism?  No!  I am just tired of the proclamation of “Realism Really!” being taken as a monumental statement.


  1. I agree with you about the banality of realism. I would add that the attempt to declare an ontological realism by shortcircuiting the epistemological (or deconstructive) awareness that permits us to avoid the traps of one-sided monistic (non-pragmatic) realism is downright infuriating.

    1. Hear hear! (And to Jason's original post too). Too many straw men in contemporary mainstream philosophy ("We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men" - etc)

  2. Yes, most definitely, to the second article. I wrote the same thing here a few weeks ago. I've seen a trend in speculative realists to make ontological claims either without a clear explanation of the methods by which they make such claims, or worse, a recognition that their methods are insufficient to make those conclusions without bringing in abductive/transcendental criteria that re-anthropomorphize their claims.

  3. You forgot the competition to see who can be the most "anti-humanist" where what one means, really, is that reality is wider than the human and that we ought to take into consideration a more capacious view of nature (sound familiar?). While the non-human turn is laudable in its own right, who *in these philosophical circles* needs anymore to announce, "Down with correlationism!" In fact, when realism is brought up - and I mean the philosophically argued kind, as in scholastic realism - realist poseurs go running for the hills.

    Realism is all the rage no doubt, and so is casting a wider net than the human. But I've been arguing for these positions since I was born. And I am *not* convinced that *all* of the pragmatists were part of an idealistic anthropocentrist lump either.

    Anyways, I am not supposed to be arguing philosophically. It's all about ego adornment and how you look.

    In the end, my cry isn't just, "Who is afraid of realism?" but also, "Who is afraid of pragmatism?"

  4. Hmmmm.... sounds like Leon....

    I don't think we have to get too worked up about it. For me, one of my motivations to point out such things is my OCD-perfectionist aesthetic. I admit that I have a certain deep drive for "correctness" since I was a child, except unlike most with that drive, I am highly pluralistic about it. Hence, I prefer internal rather than external forms of argument; that is, I prefer showing how a position violates its own principles or is not what it claims rather than pit my own position against it. The latter, if it is ever appropriate, is a task for a more aggressive scholar. Besides, I'm too junior a scholar to be playing those games.

  5. Forgot to sign . Yes, who else would be talking trash against no one in particular when grades are due.

    I am just wondering also whether idealism has been accurately portrayed in recent debates. Afterall, one can easily be both realist and idealist which then that goes back to your point: claiming realism as a basic metaphysical position of sanity (I think) is easy. It's more difficult positions like panpsychism or emergentism which is the more interesting game in town or on the other side arguing for an unconditioned reality.

    Leon/after nature

  6. Right, Leon.

    Peirce claimed to be a realist and idealist--the famous quote being that "matter is effete mind." One thought. Idealism can be understood as holding that mind is ontologically fundamental, in which case "what is mind?" is an important question. We need not assume that "mind" is human or anthropomorphic. In fact, thinking back to the conversation with Michael, we should not be hung up on whatever word we use, but instead on the description and implications.

  7. From Peirce's submission in the New Century dictionary:

    “Nominalism: I. The doctrine that nothing is general but names; more specifically, the doctrine that common nouns, as man, horse, represent in their generality nothing in the real things, but are mere conveniences for speaking of many things at once, or at most necessities of human thought; individualism.

    Realist: I A logician who holds that the essences of the natural classes have some mode of being in the real things; in this sense distinguished as a scholastic realist; opposed to nominalist ….”

    The second denotation is external-world realism.


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