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Realism - Beginnings & Concepts
Realism - Beginnings & Concepts
The Age of Enlightenment is that period in time where Philosophy gave birth to a new way of seeking for knowledge. The question, "What is the truth?" rang again and this time Plato's, Aristotle's & Socrates' foundations in Philosophy were adopted, deciphered & given new meaning. Socrates' allegory of the cave became a 'guide' to mathematicians, philosophers and social scientists alike as the discipline of seeking specialized knowledge using what has come to be known as the 'scientific method' took over & gave more credence to logic and reason. It all started with empiricism. To some social scientists, especially during the Enlightenment, empirical studies are the same as positivistic studies. There are 2 main assumptions in empirical thought: 1, that all ideas are via experience and 2, that nothing is true if not experienced. Realism is often traced back, however to Antiquity especially to the ideas of Plato. He proposed that 'universals' - objects and reality exist prior to us and our knowledge of them. Through the ages, varied philosophers have come to interrogate Plato's idea of universals and during the Enlightenment, Realism has come to be re-interpreted by varied philosophers as a perspective from which to interrogate or view reality. Key philosophers from the Middle Ages to the 20th century include William Champeux (same ideas as Plato), St. Thomas Aquinas (universals only exist through God), Rene Descartes (Existence via thought & doubt), Spinoza (existence via time & space), John Locke (all knowledge is via experience), Immanuel Kant (the doctrine of the Thing-in-itself), William James (pluralism), and critical realists Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and C. D. Broad (objects are represented to consciousness).

A Personal Interpretation of Realism

I believe the world is real as related through my senses. Realists believe that the information attained through the senses is accurate - reality then is the world perceived via the senses. Aquinas (1274) posited, "Sense, then, has no false knowledge about its proper objects, except accidentally and rarely, and then because of an indisposition in the organ it does not receive the sensible form rightly". Following this statement, Aquinas provides the example of a sick person and how their tastes are altered during the time of their illness. But assuming the senses have not been damaged or altered, we can rely on our sense data being accurate. I rely on the data collected from my five senses of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling to progress through my life on a daily basis. On a given weekday morning I wake up to the sound of my alarm, and then I rely on my eyesight to turn off the alarm and get out of bed. Soon after that, I begin getting ready for the day during which I rely heavily on sight to pick out my outfit, pick up my supplies for class that day, and more. At breakfast, I rely on the combination of eyesight, smell and taste to know what I am eating. Throughout my day and even within my morning routine there will be many more instances in which I rely on my senses. If I were to begin questioning the reliability of my senses then I would constantly wonder: did I see that right? Did I hear that right? Is that really what that felt like to me? Is that what that tastes like? Does that actually smell like that? Assuming the world is real as perceived by our combined senses, and that it exists in the way, in which we perceive it, gives us a springboard for further thought and enables us to advance our studies of the world, and how we each relate to that world. Personal philosophy has parallels to the domino effect. For, by believing that the world is real as related through my senses enables me to move on to the ideas of human knowledge and life purpose with that as a foundation thought. However, if I claim that the world deceives me it becomes much harder in my opinion to find a purpose in life. For, if one can never know if anything is real defining life's purpose becomes much harder to answer in a meaningful way.

However I acknowledge that I cannot prove for certain that the world is real, and I acknowledge that some people argue for concepts that defy reality like magic tricks, making it sound irrational to trust the senses and therefore believe they deceive us. However, when I watch magic tricks I feel that I am simply not seeing the whole picture. In a magic trick the performer - the magician is intentionally trying to fool the senses. In order for this to be successful, we see certain parts of the magic trick while other pieces are missing; this enables necessary deception that lead the spectator to witness "magic." This concept is what enables us to be in awe the first time we see a magic trick; if however we are given an explanation of how the trick works the awe over the trick is gone when we observe it again.

Explaining Realism: Purpose & Being

Realists believe that universally true ultimate propositions provide the basis from which knowledge can grow (Sayre-McCord, 1988). These self-evident propositions are immediately grasped by the intellect and include ideas such as how things exist, the law of permanence, and that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same respect (Lawson-Tancred, Aristotle's Metaphysics, 1998). The senses play a role in gaining knowledge because they are key to our ability to ascertain perspective. Our senses enable us the ability to "know" things differently than other people because part of knowledge relates to experience. For example, red/green colorblindness is related to the senses ability to perceive differences in color. So, to someone with this colorblindness red can appear to be green but to someone without it this same thing will appear red. Another example is our perception of sound - to people with different hearing abilities different sounds will be heard in different ways such as the high pitch ringtone that many adults cannot hear but young people hear clearly. Realists believe what is perceived through their senses as accurate assuming the senses have not been damaged or altered.

Humans store memories in the form of phantasms (Pegis, ed., Aquinas, pp. 659, 1997). For example, the human eye has seen many different kinds of balls: soccer balls, basketballs, volleyballs, tennis balls, etc. and the commonalities between all of those have allowed us to take away the essence, or universal idea that makes something a ball. Within that, we have a universal idea of a "football." We have seen many different footballs in our lifetime and despite the minute differences the general idea can be ascertained and applied to footballs in general. This idea of the football has been sensed many times and through sensing it we have developed a phantasm of a football. This universal knowledge of a football is superior to the particular knowledge of the football that was used in the Texas 4A UIL State Championship Game in 2008 because the universal idea will not perish, it can provide us with knowledge of the particular, and is known by the intellect as well as the senses.
Human life appears to have a purpose. Whether it is the businessman picking up the telephone for a conference call, the mom rushing from her office to pick up her daughter from soccer practice, the son riding his bike to school: all of these actions have a purpose. Moreover, nature seems to act very similarly to human action. Human beings for instance build houses for the purpose of providing shelter & protection for their families; similarly birds build nests for the purpose of providing the same for their offsprings. This similarity in behavior between human beings and the inhabitants of the natural world makes it easy for me to draw the conclusion that purpose exists in nature as well as in human life. The realists' second argument explaining that the first action is carried out with the end goal as its purpose is something that can be applied across nature (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1274). For, example the distinct pattern of a spider web does not suggest chance. This idea of nature having a purpose relates to the idea of cause and effect, which I also believe to be true. I do not think things can happen a certain way a thousand times in the same manner as a result of chance. I think that the events in nature relate to each other and each aspect correlates to a final purpose.

My reality and how I make sense of it is derived from my senses, from my perception. My personal philosophy developed as I experience life grounds my perception and allows me to create my own identity in the reality and the world, society included that I am participating in and understand through perception.