Realism and Anti-Realism

Realism and Anti-Realism

Stuart Brock
Edwin Mares
General Editor John Shand
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    Realism and Anti-Realism
    Book Description:

    Stuart Brock and Edwin Mares offer a clear introduction to different realist and anti-realist positions and arguments in five key domains - science, ethics, mathematics, modality, and fictional objects. Realism and Anti-Realism focuses on the core concept of realism, taking the perspective that, for each domain considered, there are facts or entities distinctive to that domain whose existence and nature is in some important sense objective and mind-independent. For each of the five areas the authors examine the various styles of argument in support of and against realism and anti-realism, showing how different positions and arguments arise, evaluating their success, and drawing some general conclusions about the assorted strategies. They provide in-depth explorations of error theory, fictionalism, non-cognitivism, relativism, and response-dependence, which they consider to be the most important positions in opposition to realism.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9486-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Questions about the ultimate reality of things sometimes seem like silly questions to non-philosophers, but to philosophers they are questions of the utmost importance and deepest significance. It is not easy or straightforward to know when some contentious realm of entities is real, or to understand and appreciate what is at issue betmeen those on each side of the dispute. Thus, the questions posed by those who originally framed the realist–anti-realist debate centuries ago – most notably, the nominalists and idealists – have dominated the attention of philosophers ever since. Indeed, questions about the plausibility and character of realism...

  5. Part I
    • 2 Local realism and anti-realism: the existence axis
      (pp. 11-33)

      Very few of us are global anti-realists. Most of us believe that there are concrete particulars that exist independently of our minds and our conceptual schemes. But very few of us are global realists either. Whether or not some entities – entities such as colours, quarks, moral qualities, numbers, possible worlds, and fictional characters – are real is a controversial matter. To borrow a slogan from a famous philosopher,¹ when it comes to questions about whether such entities are real, most of us are pickers and choosers, some-but-only someists – that is, most of us are local realists about some...

    • 3 Local realism and anti-realism: the independence axis
      (pp. 34-47)

      To say that something is real is to say more than simply that it exists: it must existobjectiuely. Objective existence, in the relevant sense, has nothing to do with impartiality. An official government inquiry into the state of the economy may be unbiased and disinterested, and so objective in one perfectly respectable sense, but this is not enough to secure any sort of realism about the economy. It must also be shown that the economy exists independently of us: independently of our minds and our mental states. It is this dimension of realism that we hope to explore in...

    • 4 Idealism
      (pp. 48-59)

      Idealism is the theory that nothing exists except minds and ideas in minds. Thus, in terms of the mind-independence axis, idealism is a paradigm form of anti-realism. There are two sorts of idealism: subjective idealism and absolute idealism. According tosubjective idealism, human minds directly perceive nothing but themselves and their own ideas. The existence of other minds is inferred from one’s own perceptual ideas. According toabsolute idealism, everything including one’s own mind is a pan of a greater mind: the mind of God. The most famous subjective idealists are George Berkeley and John Stuart Mill. The best known...

    • 5 Kantianism
      (pp. 60-77)

      Kantianism is another form of global anti-realism, although Kantians tend to call themselves realists. Kantians accept all of the entities of the common-sense and scientific worldviews. They accept the existence of tables, chairs, cats, dogs, matter, forces such as gravity and so on. But they claim that all of these entities are in a sense mind-dependent and it is because of this that we classify Kantians as anti-realists.

      The key distinction for Kantians is between the world as it appears to us and the world as it is in itself. The world as it is in itself is often called...

    • 6 Verificationism
      (pp. 78-94)

      Verificationism is primarily a theory ofmeaning. A theory of meaning is supposed to tell us how we understand what we hear when someone speaks, what we read, what is signed when someone uses sign language, or what we understand when any other utterance of a sentence in language occurs. Philosophers have been studying the meaning of words and sentences since antiquity, but the modern debate about meaning begins in 1892 with the publication of Gottlob Fregeys article “On Sense and Referencen” (1984). In that paper Frege distinguished between the meaning (or “sense”) of a word or sentence and its...

  6. Part II
    • 7 Colour
      (pp. 95-112)

      In Part I we discussed whether there is a mind-independent world. Let us assume from here on that there is one. There is still room to debate whether or noteverythingwe (apparently) talk about is real. Certainly, there is much controversy, at least in philosophical circles, about the reality of all sorts of things. And in Part II we shall take a close look at a selection of philosophical debates about the reality of a variety of contentious domains. We dedicate a chapter to each debate. While this is not really enough space to do full justice to any...

    • 8 Morality
      (pp. 113-134)

      A moral fact is a fact such asDon is bad,Helen is goodorStu ought to buy Ed a new house. These facts do not just describe the world, they are normative: they tell us what someone should do. Telling us that Don is (morally) bad tells us that we should not act like Don. We characterize as moral realists those who believe (i) that there are moral facts, (ii) that the same facts are moral facts for everyone, and (iii) that what determines which facts are moral facts isopinion-independent. Moral facts themselves may not be mind-independent....

    • 9 Science
      (pp. 135-149)

      Standard scientific realism concerns the truth of scientific theories and the existence of theoretical entities. A theoretical entity is an entity that is postulated by a scientific theory but cannot be perceived directly. A theoretical entity can be a type of thing, such protons or quarks, or events such as the Big Bang. Scientists also postulate laws of nature, such as the law that everything in the universe exerts a gravitational force on everything else in the universe. The problem about realism about science is the question of whether we should believe that these entities exist or that the laws...

    • 10 Mathematics
      (pp. 150-173)

      This chapter is slightly more technical than the others. This is required by the subject matter. We try as much as possible either to avoid technical notions or to restrict discussion of them to footnotes. The material presented here is appropriate for readers who have studied a little logic or even those who remember at least some of the mathematics that they learnt in school.

      A mathematical statement is a statement such as “2 + 2 = 4” or “the square root of two is not a fraction”. What makes these statements true? And what makes other mathematical statements false,...

    • 11 Possible worlds
      (pp. 174-198)

      Whether or not one is a realist about numbers, subatomic particles, moral properties or secondary qualities, it is easy to see the motivation for adopting a realist stance towards such purported entities. But some philosophers are realists of a more radical kind. According to them there are ghosts, goblins, witches, warlocks, angels, archangels, devils and demons. There are little green men who walk around with toast and jam on their heads six days of the week (on Sundays they wear crumpets and honey). There are swans that smoke cigars and monkeys that fly. Such entities are not of our own...

    • 12 Fictional characters
      (pp. 199-220)

      It is a commonplace that fictional characters such as Sherlock Holmes are not real. If you ask a non-philosopher whether or not Holmes really exists, you will be told either that he does not, or that he exists “in our minds”. However, a number of philosophers defend a position at odds with common sense, and in recent times this number has been growing. According to these philosophers, if a story of pure fiction tells us that an individual exists, then there really is such an individual. According to these realists about fictional characters, “Sherlock Holmes”, “Scarlett O’Hara”, “Charlie Brown”, “Sonic...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 221-235)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 236-246)
  9. Index
    (pp. 247-250)