Realism - Encyclopedia


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REALISM (from Low ' Lat. realis, appertaining to res, things, as opposed to ideas and imaginations), a philosophical term used in two opposite senses. The older of these is the scholastic doctrine, traceable back to Socrates, that universals have a more "real" existence than things. Universals are, in scholastic language, ante res, in rebus and post res. Behind all numerous types of chairs there is in the mind the ideal chair of which particular chairs are mere copies. In the most extreme form realism denies that anything exists in any sense except universals. It is opposed to nominalism and conceptualism. For the history of the doctrine, see Scholasticism. Realism in this sense has been called "an assertion of the rights of the subject" (cf. the Protagonean maxim, "Man is the measure of all things"). The modern application of the term is to the opposing doctrine that there is a reality apart from its presentation to consciousness. In this sense it is opposed to idealism, whether the purely subjective or that more comprehensive idealism which makes subject and object mutually interdependent. In its crude form it is known as "Natural" or "Naive" Realism. It appears, however, in more complex forms, e.g. as Ideal Realism (or Real Idealism), which combines epistemological idealism with realism in metaphysics. Again, Kant distinguishes "empirical" realism, which maintains the existence of things in space independent of consciousness, from "transcendental" realism, which ascribes absolute reality to time and space.

In literature and art "realism" again is opposed to "idealism" in various senses. The realist is (I) he who deliberately declines to select his subjects from the beautiful or harmonious, and, more especially, describes ugly things and brings out details of an unsavoury sort; (2) he who deals with individuals, not types; (3) most properly, he who strives to represent the facts exactly as they are.

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