Philosophical realism

philosophical concept

Contemporary philosophical realism is the belief that some aspect of our reality is ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.


  • The belief in an external world independent of the percipient subject is the foundation of all science. But since our sense-perceptions inform us only indirectly of this external world, or Physical Reality, it is only by speculation that it can become comprehensible to us. From this it follows that our conceptions of Physical Reality can never be definitive; we must always be ready to alter them, that is, [to alter] the axiomatic basis of physics, in order to take account of the facts of perception with the greatest possible logical completeness.
    • Albert Einstein, "Maxwell’s Influence on the Evolution of the Idea of Physical Reality," James Clerk Maxwell: a Commemoration Volume (1931) ed., J. J. Thomson, pp. 66-73.
  • Realism is not a dirty word. If you wonder why all scientists, philosophers, and ordinary people, with rare exceptions, have been and are unabashed realists, let me tell you why. No scientific conjecture has been more overwhelmingly confirmed. No hypothesis offers a simpler explanation of why the Andromeda galaxy spirals in every photograph, why all electrons are identical, why the laws of physics are the same in Tokyo as in London or on Mars, why they were there before life evolved and will be there if all life perishes, why all persons can close their eyes and feel eight corners, six faces and twelve edges on a cube, and why your bedroom looks the same when you wake up in the morning.
    • Martin Gardner, "Is Realism a Dirty Word?", American Journal of Physics 57, 203 (1989)
  • Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up, and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he were Zhuang Zhou who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly, there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

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