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REALISM – The Supposition
By Mortimer J. Adler
What is realism? The clearest response to this question is to frame it in a series of four statements which sum up classical realism.1 First, realism involves the affirmation of a reality outside our minds—a world of real existences that are independent of our minds. Second, realism affirms that the world—the order of real existence—has a determinate structure of its own; that is, it is whatever it is regardless of how we think about it. Third, realism affirms that the world—the structure the reality—is intelligible. Fourth, realism affirms that the world, having this knowable structure, provides us with a basis for determining whether our efforts to know it fail or succeed. This last point means that our theories can be falsified or confirmed by reference to something which is extrinsic to and independent of our minds.
Having a realist philosophy means that one is not Kantian, i.e. what is knowable depends for its determinate structure upon the determinate structure of the human mind itself. This is often referred to as idealism.
Having a realist philosophy means that one is not a pragmatist, i.e. treating “reality” as if it were a plastic blob that can be given whatever shape or structure the human mind finds it useful to impose upon it.
In trying to clarify the realist position it was necessary to draw the lines of distinction sharply and distinctly. It should not be forgotten that the realist often holds as true what the idealist and the pragmatist also holds as true, even though their initial starting points and reasoning to that truth differ.
1. Adler, Mortimer J. (1965). The Conditions of Philosophy. New York: Atheneum, pp. 74-75.