Philosophy Of Realism (Defination And Brief History)
BUKIDNON STATE UNIVERSITY
GRADUATE EXTERNAL STUDIES
Surigao City Study Center
PHILOSOPHY OF REALISM
DEFINITION AND BRIEF HISTORY
FCPA 201 - Socio-Philosophical Foundations
DR. FELIMONITO S. MONTEROS
JOHNY S. NATAD
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY OF REALISM?
• Contemporary philosophical realism is the belief in a reality that is completely
ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.
Philosophers who profess realism also typically believe that truth consists in a belief's
correspondence to reality. We may speak of realism with respect to other minds, the past,
the future, universals, mathematical entities (such as natural numbers), moral categories,
the material world, or even thought. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_realism)
From Dictionary.reference 1
• The doctrine that universals have a real objective existence.
• The doctrine that objects of sense perception have an existence independent of the act of
• The scholastic doctrine, opposed to nominalism, that universals exist independently of their
• The modern philosophical doctrine, opposed to idealism that physical objects exist
independently of their being perceived.
From Encarta.msn 2
• theory that things exist objectively: the theory that things such as universals, moral facts,
and theoretical scientific entities exist independently of people's thoughts and perceptions
• theory of objectively existing world: the theory that there is an objectively existing world,
not dependent on our minds, and that people are able to understand aspects of that world
BRIEF HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY OF REALISM
A. ARISTOTLE (384 – 322 B.C)
Short Biography: 3
Aristotle (Greek: Ἀριστοτέλης, Aristotélēs) (384 BC – 322 BC) was a
Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great.
He wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry,
theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and
• “Founds the Lyceum in Athens 334 BCE, starting rivalry between his
school and the Academy.
• Wrote 27 Dialogues, for which he was renowned in antiquity, and
were considered the equal of Plato.
• Known to modern world through his lecture notes
• Aristotle’s Organon is his contribution to logic and reasoning -
consisting of six books.
• Senses are source of knowledge.
• Man forms universals, or categories, from many perceptions of like objects.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle and Prof. D. Allen Dalton presentation
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• Universals are conceptions, not things (rejects Plato’s Idealism).
• Presents deductive reasoning based on experience as method of science and philosophy.
• In science, Aristotle produces books in natural science, biology, (his History of Animals is
his greatest scientific achievement) and psychology (On the Soul).
• Aristotle’s Metaphysics produces his view of God as the First Cause Uncaused, pure
thought, internal to nature.
• Ethics is concerned with individual happiness; Politics is concerned with collective
Aristotle Philosophy of Realism
Although Aristotle was a student of Plato for 20 years and was greatly influenced by him, there is
in his philosophy which is a reaction to Plato’s thinking.4
• Dealing with universal Interested in particulars
• Absorb in ideas Fascinated by things
• Envisioned ideal ends Kept his nose to the grindstone of present actualities
• Recognized various sciences of his Ardently advanced the cause of science by spelling
day as they fitted into the total out the detail of a number of sciences with surprising
scheme of knowledge fullness for his day
Accepting Nature as a self-evident reality. He attempted analytical descriptions of different
aspects of the natural order and so made valuable contributions to the development of the
Attempting definition of Soul. He find it necessary to consider the different levels of life: 5
1. Plant life – the lowest level at which is found only the nutritive faculty, the power of receiving
2. Animal life – has nutritive faculty and has faculty of perception – desiring faculty and power
3. Human life – has faculty of thinking –a thinking animal and true function is to live rationally.
Four Causes in his Physics. 6 These explain how things come into existence and provide lines
of investigation to be followed in studying into the nature of a thing.
1. Material cause (that which composes a thing) describes the material out of which
something is composed.
2. Formal cause (the form or the model of things) tells us what a thing is, that any thing is
determined by the definition, form, pattern, essence, whole, synthesis or archetype
3. Efficient cause (the source from which movement or rest comes) is that from which the
change or the ending of the change first starts. It identifies 'what makes of what is made
and what causes change of what is changed' and so suggests all sorts of agents,
nonliving or living, acting as the sources of change or movement or rest.
4. Final cause (the end and goal of a thing) is that for the sake of which a thing exists or is
done, including both purposeful and instrumental actions and activities.
The efficient cause, the formal cause, and the final cause coincide in the concept of "form."
Hence form is the propelling, organizing and final principle of becoming.
Butler, Donald J. Four Philosophies and Their Practices in Education and Religion p. 249
Ibid. p. 249-250
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Aristotle holds that there must be a first cause, as an endless chain of causes. God is defined
therefore as the first efficient cause underlying all existence (Prime Mover who is himself
unmoved), but is He himself is unmoved by another cause which might be presumed as being
prior to Him. 7
B. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS (1225 – 1274 A.D)
Short Biography: 8
• Born in 1225 at Aquino, Italy
• Referred to as Thomas because his last name Aquinas refers to
where he was born
• Priest of the Roman Catholic Church in the Dominican Order from
• Influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of
scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus and Doctor Communis
(One of the 33 Doctors of the Church)
• Died in 1274 in Italy
• Aquinas was an empiricist
• Believed in knowledge through sensory
• Lead empiricist movement
• One of the few Empiricists in a predominantly Roman Catholic Europe
• Believed that both matter and essence are bound up in physical objects.
• Believed that knowledge begins with sense perception
• Knowledge can grow beyond the sensory world when reason is applied to sensory
• Believed in using inductive reasoning to arrive at generalizations or universals
• Supported scientific inquiry
He thought knowledge was:
• Knowledge is a certain kind of being, a modification. or vital action of the knowing subject.
• There are two different types of knowledge like sense knowledge and intellectual
1. Sense is the beginning for all of man's natural knowledge
2. There are different types of sense knowledge like sense-memory, sense-
consciousness, instinct, and imagination
• For intellectual knowledge there is abstract and general.
• This knowledge is quite different from the real and particular of outer and inner senses.
This was because the fact that abstract knowledge was attributed to intelligence or reason
Saint Thomas Philosophy of Realism
"Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit prius in sensu." (Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the
senses) — Aquinas's
Butler, loc. cit. p. 249-250
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The philosophy of Aquinas has exerted enormous influence on subsequent Christian theology,
especially that of the Roman Catholic Church, extending to Western philosophy in general, where
he stands as a vehicle and modifier of Aristotelianism, which he fused with the thought of
Augustine. Philosophically, his most important and enduring work is the Summa Theologica, in
which he expounds his systematic theology of the quinquae viae.9
Probably the most distinct realist strain in the philosophy of Saint Thomas is his belief on the
REALITY OF MATTER. In Chapter 16 of his Summa Contra Gentiles he struggles with the
relation between God and material substance out which the word is apparently made.
If God is spirit, is matter something separate and distinct from Him, “preadjascent
matter,” as Saint Thomas would say? Did matter coexist eternally with God before the
creation of the universe? And was the process of creation, therefore, one in which God
acted upon matter so as to mold the universe out of it?
This sound plausible to our common-sense judgment; but God is presumed to be
infinite having no limits at all. And if matter coexist with Him before the beginning if the
world, then God does have limits. That portion of existence which was matter then was
Saint Thomas answers the problem saying that God is both infinite and eternal, without limit, and
without beginning or ending. Therefore, matter did not coexist with Him in eternities before the
universe was made. God created matter. He made it out of nothing. And this primary matter,
created by God, is the primary substance out of which the different kinds of things and different
individual objects comprising the world were made. Matter is not an uncaused essence or
existence. God is the first cause, the unmoved mover, as Aristotle held, and matter depends upon
Him for existence.
The act of creation was an action of giving concrete forms to objects, primary matter being both
created itself and sustaining a potential relation to individual objects, the formed objects being
actual as compared to the potentiality of primary matter.
It may be said that matter had a practical reality, at least for Saint Thomas, which amounted to a
kind of independence in relation to mind. He said that PRIMARY MATTER is in some way, for it is
being in potentiality.
A person can still believe in nonpersonal physical energy or force, which for all practical purpose
is just as real and unyielding as what was formerly believed to be matter. Most modern realists
appear to agree with Saint Thomas in his recognition of the reality of matter, as long as it is
defined as physical energy or as being in potentiality. But many of them would be content to think
of this nonmental physical force as uncaused, and would not therefore go along with Saint
Thomas in regarding it as depending upon God.
Nature of God 10
Aquinas believed that the existence of God is neither obvious nor unprovable. In the Summa
Theologica, he considered in great detail five reasons for the existence of God. These are widely
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known as the quinquae viae, or the "Five Ways.". This led him to propose five statements about
the divine qualities:
1. God is simple, without composition of parts, such as body and soul, or matter and form.
2. God is perfect, lacking nothing. That is, God is distinguished from other beings on account
of God's complete actuality.
3. God is infinite. That is, God is not finite in the ways that created beings are physically,
intellectually, and emotionally limited. This infinity is to be distinguished from infinity of size
and infinity of number.
4. God is immutable, incapable of change on the levels of God's essence and character.
5. God is one, without diversification within God's self. The unity of God is such that God's
essence is the same as God's existence. In Aquinas's words, "in itself the proposition
'God exists' is necessarily true, for in it subject and predicate are the same.
C. JOHN AMOS COMENIUS (1592 – 1670)
John Amos Comenius (28 March 1592 – 15 November
1670) a Czech teacher, scientist, educator, and writer.
He was a Unity of the Brethren/Moravian Protestant
bishop, a religious refugee, and one of the earliest
champions of universal education, a concept eventually
set forth in his book Didactica Magna. Comenius became
known as the teacher of nations.
He is often considered the FATHER OF MODERN
His parents died while he was a child. He was still a
young man when the Thirty Year’s War broke out, and
soon thereafter he lost his wife and child.
Comenius Philosophy of Realism
The interesting conception of mind which Comenius held is distinctly realistic, although it didn’t
harmonize his religious beliefs. He said the mind of man is like a spherical mirror suspended in a
room, which reflects images of all things that are around it.
This is a vivid figure for describing the character of the mind. If a person has not experienced it,
he can easily imagine a crystal ball suspended in a room as a sort of chandelier. He can see how
many objects in the room would somewhere produce its image on the ball. Each person coming
into the room would have his likeness reflected on the ball-like mirror from his very first
appearance in the doorway. It is easy to draw the analogies from this figure. The spherical mirror
is the mind of man. The room is the external world. Everything in that world somehow reflects its
image upon mans’ mind.
It is to be noted that the figure attributes to the mind a passive character. It is the external world
which projects its images upon the mirror. The mind, if we hold true to this figure, doesn’t reach
out and in some active way embrace its world. Nor does the mind in any way give character to its
world by reading meanings into it. Mind is the passive recipient; the world though not exactly
active, is the impression agent. There are a number of subtle elements in the knowing process as
it is understood by modern realists which are not apparently taken into consideration by
Comenius. But his conception of mind is the same as theirs, although not as fully refined.
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D. RENö DESCARTES (1596 – 1650)
Short Biography: 11
René Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650), also
known as Renatus Cartesius (Latinized form), was a French
philosopher, mathematician, scientist, and writer who spent most
of his adult life in the Dutch Republic
• He has been dubbed the "Father of Modern Philosophy"
• Took a brief stint in the military after getting formal schooling at
La Fleche & Poitiers.
• Designed a plan to apply mathematical methods into unifying
• Died at Stockholm, Sweden, where he had been invited as a teacher for Queen Christina
- Wrote about Method in his first rationalist version of Discourse on Method.
- In this he stated that it is the wrong method to get traditional education and he also
wrote about the deficiencies of traditional education.
B. Doubt and Existence
- He wrote about Doubt and Existence in Meditation on First Philosophy.
- Doubt is essential in achieving any conclusive truth. (J. Donald Butler)
- He argued that someone who doesn’t believe because of what they heard can
overcome this by thinking on their own.
- He states that people would like facts and actual events to occur where it will make
- Descartes offered to prove that God does exist, but he has to prove that no one will
believe when they first hear something.
Descartes’ dualism treatment of the knowing process: There are mental images or representation
which our senses give to us of the world beyond the self.
Two questions to be asked about external world:
Q1.Is the outside world real? Can we believe and accept as true what our senses tell us
about the world?
Q2.Is the external world just as our senses picture it to us, or do our senses help give it its
qualities although there is something real out there which our senses work?
Descartes Q2 Answer:
The mental images of the external world given to us by sense perception are numerically distinct
from the real external world out there which is represented to us by these images.
Descartes Q1 Answer:
Is there any real world out there, or are my senses deceived? In giving this answer he turns to his
belief in God as a perfect being. Now a perfect being is of course perfectly good and would not
stoop to deception. The external world appears to be real, just as my senses give me experience
of it. Either God is deceiving me or else the physical world is real. Since God is a perfect being,
the answer to this question is assured. God will not deceive; therefore the physical world is a real
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Descartes position could be idealistic, except for the apparent conception of the physical world
which he holds. Though its reality is guaranteed to him by the goodness of God, yet it is a
physical, extended, material world of a very mechanical sort.
Descartes believes that God and Nature still seem to be quite separate and distinct. God is spirit,
but the world is an extended mechanical order, if not a material one.
- The overall philosophy of Cartesianism is that the mind is separate from the body and
that the body can be better understood.
- It follows also the fact that just because something gives you pleasure it doesn’t make
E. BARUCH SPINOZA (1632 – 1677)
Short Biography: 12
Baruch or Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher of
Portuguese Jewish origin.
Considered as one of the great rationalists of 17th-century
philosophy, laying the groundwork for the 18th century
Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism.
His magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed
Descartes' mind–body dualism.
He was excommunicated for positions contrary to normative
Jewish belief with critical positions towards the Talmud and other
All of Spinoza's works were listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited
Books) by the Roman Catholic Church.
His Philosophy of Realism
Doctrines that affiliates realist tradition:
1. Substance is extended in time and space, and there is no thought apart from it.
God or substance has extension as one of its 2 attributes. Whereas the final substance is
a thinking thing, it is always an extending thing. There is no though without extension in
time and space. God is not a disembodied spirit who can exist apart from the physical
world. He is not however, identical with the physical world, nor is He dependent upon it.
Instead, He is the only existing substance, and upon Him the physical world stands. The
extendedness of the physical world is part of the very essence of God. It is just as much
His nature to be extended as it is His nature to think.
2. There is no freedom or chance in the universe; everything comes to pass as a result of
effects and causes following each other with an unbroken dependability and efficiency.
Will is not a part of the essence of God. It is a mode (method or manner) of thought, and
thought in turn is an essential attribute (regard as belonging to or produced by) of God.
Therefore thinking is more basic than willing. Willing is not a general characteristic of
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existence, but rather it is a specific form in which thought is expressed (a mode rather
than an attribute), and thought is a general characteristic of God (an attribute).
Consequently, there is no freedom of will in God or man. Will is a disposition to act which
is the result of some cause other than itself, the second cause brought about by the third
cause, and so on to infinity. This means for the individual human mind that there is no
general faculty of volition (wish, decision, choice). There are only specific tendencies to
act in specific situations as a result of a chain of causes which give rises to the idea of
acting in a given way in a given specific situation. So there is determinism. Man is not
free. All his actions are determined, sometimes by forces greater that he is.
F. JOHN LOCKE (1632 – 1704)
John Locke (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an
Englishman of Puritan
His father, a lawyer and member of the Parliamentary army
which opposed Charles I, has reflected in Locke’s
Aid by scholarships, he was educated at Westminster
School and Christ Church College, Oxford.
Some of his books: Some thoughts Concerning Education
(which provides Locke’s educational principle); and Essay
Concerning Human Understanding where he focused his
The first philosopher to define the self through a continuity
of "consciousness". He also postulated that the mind was a
"blank slate" or "tabula rasa"
His Philosophy of Realism
1. There are no innate ideas in the mind. All of our knowledge comes to us by way of
experience. The mind is for the most part passive in experiencing the natural world.
We are neither born with ready-made ideas nor are such ideas dormant in us and
recognized by us when we mature sufficiently to use reason. Mind, instead of being
already formed at birth, is unformed something to which experience gives definiteness. At
birth it may be compared to a blank sheet of paper upon which the world then proceeds to
write its impression. All knowledge comes from experience and is either impresses upon
us by sensation or arrived at the logical demonstration.
Experience is the source of all knowledge; sensation and reason are the 2 avenues
through which this knowledge comes to us.
2. Primary qualities exist in the external world just as we experience them.
3. Secondary qualities are different in our experience from what they are in their potential
forms in the object; they are yet caused in us by the external world.
4. The external world makes its impression upon our minds by somehow setting impulses in
motion which reach our minds through the gateway of the senses.
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• Our experiences provided us with what he termed “simple” and complex
• Considered that there are 3 main types of knowledge:
1. Intuitive- most certain and most obvious
2. Demonstrative – when we put simple ideas together to create complex ones
3. Sensitive – The most uncertain because it relies on evidence of the senses
Issues on Knowledge
Locke believed that we gain knowledge by experience, this is called empiricism
Locke agreed with Aristotle that we are not born with innate ideas, and that we learn
Locke’s theory was that the only way we learn is by tasting, smelling, touching, and
hearing the external world
Locke believed that there were two types of ideas, Simple and Complex
- Simple ideas are easy sensations like feeling a hot stove
- Complex ideas are a grouping of simple ideas like when you look at a banana,
you see it is yellow (color) it is mushy (texture) it is sweet (taste) these ideas form the
idea of a banana
There different kind of qualities or perceptions which come to mind by way of sensation:
- Primary: essential characters to the very nature of object i.e. height and weight
- Secondary: rely on subjective or personal judgments (color, taste and some tactile
sensations e.g. hardness, softness, temperature, texture & pain)
- Tertiary: these are the powers somehow resident in object enabling them to make
changes in other objects (e.g. power of fire to produce a new color or consistency in
wax or clay)
These 3 qualities are produced in our minds in the same way, but they are not all
residents in the external world just as we experience them in our minds.
The process of motion caused by the object which stimulates the appropriate senses,
sends impulses along the nerve pathways, eventually reaches the brain, and produced
the mental result we experience.
Remarkable difference between
the primary and secondary
1. Primary qualities, as we
experience them in the
mind, correspond directly
to the characteristics of the
external objects which give
them rise in our minds.
When I look at a candle
and see height, thickness,
and shape, and when I
hold it in my hands and feel solidity, I am getting impressions or real height,
thickness, shape, and solidity, which are out there in the candle. There is a direct
correspondence between the images which I have in my mind and the primary
characteristics which the candle out there in the external world has, whether I
experience them or not.
2. But this is not the case with the secondary qualities. They are not “out there” in the
same form in which I experience them. In the object, secondary qualities are
powers of some kind which are supported by the primary qualities and able to
stimulate the experience of the respective secondary qualities in my mind. But they
do not exist “out there” just as I see, hear, or feel them, etc. In other words, there is
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no direct correspondence between the secondary qualities I enjoy in my mind and
the object from which they come.
This treatment of primary and secondary qualities by Locke is a potential springboard for either
idealism or critical realism depending upon the kind of jump which is made.
• George Berkely made the idealist jump saying “If your secondary qualities have no direct
correspondents out there in the external world, then your primary qualities don’t have any
either”. Berkeley preferred to believe, and he built his idealism on that treatment of the
process of perception.
• Modern Critical Realist makes another different kind of jump saying that “You are right
about the secondary qualities. There is something out there which corresponds both to
primary and secondary qualities; but you are absolutely right in distinguishing between the
images in the mind and the external object which produced the image. There is always a
dualism between the experience of the knower and the external world which produces that
Locke holds that the existence of God can be demonstrated logically. He says:
By intuition, I know that I exist. I also know by intuition that nothing cannot produce
something. Something has always existed; for if this were not true, I who now exist would
either have been produced by nothing or else by something which in turn arose out of
nothing. And this has already been acknowledged to be impossible. This something
which always existed must be most powerful since it would have to be the source of all
power. It also must be a knowing something, or how could it produce knowing things,
such as man. Therefore there must be a God who is an eternal, all-powerful, and all-
G. IMMANUEL KANT (1724 – 1804)
Immanuel Kant is an idealist. He was born at Königsberg in East Prussia,
22 April, 1724; died there, 12 February, 1804. From his sixteenth to his
twenty-first year, he studied at the university of his native city, having for
his teacher Martin Knutzen, under whom he acquired a knowledge of the
philosophy of Wolff and of Newton's physics. After the death of his father
in 1746 he spent nine years as tutor in various families. In 1755 he
returned to Königsberg, and there he spent the remainder of his life From
1755 to 1770 he was Privatdozent (unsalaried professor) at the University
of Königsberg. In 1770 he was appointed professor of philosophy, a
position which he held until 1797.
Theory of Perception: understanding of the external world comes from experience and
Theory of Judgment: Humans can only understand what is going on at the present time. It
is not possible to predict the future, where humans are not involved.
Kant’s Ethical Theory: Evil cannot produce happiness. Good qualities are human nature.
Empirical realism: experience gained through our senses
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Physical sensation: use reason to explain the experience they’ve gained
Analytic proposition: predicate concept is in its subject concept
Issue with Knowledge
Kant believed that human knowledge was derived from two particular sources: (1)
Sensibility and (2) Understanding
We are nothing without our senses.
Prior knowledge + new experiences helps create understanding.
Sensibility is simply derived from our senses.
His Philosophy of Realism: Doctrine of the thing-in-itself
Kant believed that our sensory experiences and perception are REPRESENTATIONS of the
external world and not directly PRESENTATION of it. For him our private experience of the world
is our private experience, and the images which we have of the world are separate and distinct
from what is “out there” in the world.
On the doctrine of the thing-in-itself, Kant said that object are either REPRESENTED in our
consciousness (critical realism), in which case there is a real world out there which corresponds
directly to the world which is in my consciousness; or they are PRESENTED to my
consciousness (neorealism), in which case my consciousness in some way embraces the object
of knowledge itself, and I experience it just as it is and just as it was before it entered my
experience. In either case, of course, there is no unknown thing-in-itself. Things just enter into
consciousness and are known.
H. JOHANN FRIEDRICH HERBART (1776 – 1841)
• Johan Friedrich Herbart was born at Oldenburg (May 4, 1776 –
August 11, 1841) was a German philosopher, psychologist, and
founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline, was more
educator than philosopher.
• Kant’s successor in the chair of philosophy of Königsberg
• He also established & conducted a seminary of pedagogy till
1833, when he returned to Göttingen, and remained there as
professor of philosophy till his death.
• His pedagogic works, include the "Æsthetic Revelation of the
World" and the "Science of Education"; also works on metaphysics and logic
His Philosophy of Realism
Soul and Mind
• Soul – a perfectly simple, indivisible essence without parts of any kind. It has no innate
talents nor is it a tabula rasa (the mind in its hypothetical primarily blank or empty state
before receiving outside impression) on which impressions are made by the world. It is
neither concepts, feelings, nor desires, nor does it have forms of perception and thought.
• Mind – is a sort of manifold of self-preserving ideas or concepts (self-preserving for the soul)
which the soul builds up as a result of its contact with the physical world.
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These concepts are apparently representations in Kantian sense. They are impression made
upon us by the physical world and are copies in consciousness of the objects of the physical
world which result form the soul’s contact with them. In this formulation of his psychology, Herbart
goes to great lengths trying to work out the ways in which these representations unit with one
another in clusters to form apperceptive masses, the strengths of these being roughly
proportionate to the size of each. It is the strength of the different clusters of representations,
together with the power of momentary impressions, at the very time they are being made, which
determine which apperceptive masses will rise into consciousness, or remain there, failing to
have sufficient strengths to rise above the threshold. According to Herbart’s way of thinking, there
is unconscious battle of the concepts going on in the mind all the time, the result of which is the
determination of what actually comes into consciousness and what does not.
The important point related to our line of thought is the mind is defined in terns of its content.
According to Herbart, mind is not an active agent which produces changes in the world
surrounding it. It is rather the sum total of impressions which results from the soul’s relation to the
world. It is not difficult to see how such a conception would favor a formulation of educational
principles in which the assimilation of subject matter but the student is the primary practical
Soul and Matter
As is the case with the soul, so also with matter; it is unknowable and cannot be defined. At the
same time it is a reality of the external world, not something to be reasoned away. It is something
which actually exists and produces the phenomena which we experience as making up the
space-time world. There is an implication in Herbart that soul and matter are different aspects of a
third common substance. “The difference between soul and matter is not a difference in nature of
the simple essences, but it is a difference in the manner of our apprehending them.” But he does
not clearly resolve this possible dualism.
I. WILLIAM JAMES (1842 – 1910)
William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) born in New
York, was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher
trained as a medical doctor.
He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology,
educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and
mysticism, and the philosophy of pragmatism.
Privileged in life, studying both in America and Europe, he was
immersed in biology, medicine, psychology, and philosophy.
At 31 he become inspired teacher at Harvard (first teaching
physiology, then psychology, and finally philosophy).
Almost 60 years after his death, James is still one of the most popular philosophers that
America had produced.
His Philosophy of Realism 13
1. Consciousness is a function and not a substantial entity;
Butler, Donald J. Four Philosophies and Their Practices in Education and Religion p. 265
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In 1904 after World War II, James published an article the “Journal of Philosophy” which was the
opening gun in the campaign of modern realism. The striking title of the article was “Does
He held in this paper that the old dualism of “thoughts” and “things,” spirit and matter, inner
consciousness and outer world, is a fault in assuming consciousness to have reality. Instead, he
held consciousness is a nonentity; it has no existence of its own. It is a function of experience and
not a substance. Consciousness is merely a witness of happening in time.
2. That when objects are experienced in consciousness, they are directly presented in
consciousness, not represented;
Knowing is a simple relation with presented objects in experience. The book which you are now
holding in your hands and reading, for examples, is not represented to your mind. There are not
two books, one with a history in time – author, publisher, bookstore, etc. – and the other a mental
image in your consciousness. It robs experience of life and vitality to look at it in this way,
however logical it may be. There is just one book. The one that has a history in time is the very
book which is in your private experience, and vice versa.
Experience itself is the axis about which all experiencing revolves. It is therefore fallacious to
assume that my experiences are my own private position. They are public, they are functions of
an all-embracing experience (not an experience of an all-embracing Person as in idealism,
however); and since my organism is in relation in these experiences, my consciousness witness
To carry the thought further, experience is not a substance. It is not made up through and through
of some general stuffs so that all experiences have some common essence. James said that
there are as many as stuffs as there are ‘natures’ in the things experienced. Experiences is only a
collective name for all of these sensible natures, and save for time and space (and if you like, for
‘being’) there appears no universal element of which all things are made.
3. The universe in many not one…
James is a pluralist. There are all kinds of qualities, substances, or essences which exist in time
and space. There is not one common substance. Experience is a kind of relation which takes
place between these substances and the objects which they comprise. Physical organism can
enter into the kind of relation constituting experience and so can “have” experiences. To be
conscious of these experience relations is just to be aware that they are going on. As far as
having consciousness of consciousness itself, there is no such thing. He states that when he
tries to be conscious of his consciousness, about all that he finds is that he is breathing. Put
somewhat grotesquely he substitutes “I breathe” for Descartes’ “I think” and therefore is unable to
infer an “I am”.
J. THE NEOREALISTS
New realism was a philosophy expounded in the early 20th century by a group of six US based
scholars, namely Edwin Bissell Holt (Harvard University), Walter Taylor Marvin (Rutgers College),
William Pepperell Montague (Columbia University), Ralph Barton Perry (Harvard), Walter
Page 13 Definition of Philosophy of Realism & Its Brief History Prepared by: Johny S. Natad July 25 & August 1, 2009
Boughton Pitkin (Columbia) and Edward Gleason Spaulding (Princeton University).
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_realism_(philosophy). These men published their manifesto
entitled “The New Realism” in 1912. 14
Their Philosophy of Realism
The central feature of the new realism was a rejection of the epistemological dualism of John
Locke and the older forms of realism. The group maintained that when one is conscious of, or
knows, an object, it is an error to say that there are two distinct facts -- knowledge of the object in
a mind, and an extra-mental object in itself.
They rebut the idealist principle that the knowledge produces changes in the object known, and to
insist that the knowing experience is a simple relation of knower and object in which the object is
directly presented to consciousness.
K. THE CRITICAL REALISTS
Critical realism refers to several schools of thought. These include the American critical realists
(Roy Wood Sellars, George Santayana, and Arthur Lovejoy) and a broader movement including
Bertrand Russell and C. D. Broad. The Canadian Jesuit Bernard Lonergan developed a
comprehensive critical realist philosophy and this understanding of critical realism dominates
North America's Catholic Universities. In the UK, critical realism generally refers to a
philosophical approach to the social and natural world - Roy Bhaskar's work is particularly well
associated with this approach. The term is also used by several people in the science-religion
interface community. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_realism)
Other members of the critical-realist group were Durant Drake of Vassar, James Bissett Pratt of
Williams, Arthur K. Rogers of Yale and C.A Strong of Columbia. This group formed in 1916 and
published their manifesto the “Essay in Critical Realism”.
Their Philosophy of Realism
The critical realist rejected the neorealist position that objects are directly presented to
consciousness. Their correction was that the objects are not presented; they are represented.
The object which I experience in consciousness is numerically distinct from the physical existence
“out there” which causes the object which I experience in consciousness. For one thing, it was
believed by these men that knowledge must be representative in order to explain the errors of
perception, for example. The position is none the less realistic for its rejection of the presentative
theory of knowledge of neorealism. The physical existents “out there” in the physical world not in
consciousness are yet real in themselves. They stand on their own feet; they depend on no mind
for their existence, nor are they changed in any way by entering into knowledge.
Butler, Donald J. Four Philosophies and Their Practices in Education and Religion p. 266
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On the Physical World
1. Nature is a primary self-evident reality, a starting point in philosophizing. – Aristotle
2. The physical world is real, at least for the duration of the temporal order. – Saint Thomas
3. There is no though without extension. – Spinoza
4. The primary qualities of experience exist in the physical world. – Locke
5. There is something which produces my sensations and perceptions, the thing-in-itself,
which cannot be known to be mental in character. – Kant
On the Character of Mind
1. Mind is like a mirror receiving images from the physical world. – Comenius
2. The mind of a child at birth is similar to a blank sheet of paper upon which the world
proceeds to write its impressions. – Locke
3. Mind is a manifold of ideas or concepts. – Herbart
4. Consciousness is not a substance, it is an awareness of experiences, and experience is a
medium in which objects and organisms are related. – James
Michael Devitt 16 refers to as realism’s two fundamental dimensions: 1) existence and 2)
independence (1984: pp. 13-25). By existence, he means that there is, in fact, an external (to the
mental or phenomenal realm of cognizers) world. By independence, he means that the world
does not need to be related to anything at all in order that (nonintentional) facts about it obtain.
If philosophical doctrines came with slogans on their boxcovers, metaphysical realism’s would
read: The world exists independently of the mental.
• Four Philosophies and Their Practices in Education and Religion. 3rd Edition by Donald J.
PowerPoint Presentations of
• Prof. D. Allen Dalton (about Aristotle)
• Rikki Gill and Rhy Suraj (about Immanuel Kant)
• Saad Nikki Mohit (about John Locke)
• Charles Smith (about René Descartes)
• Yasir Samad, Samantha John, Samar Sheikh (about Saint Thomas Aquinas)
Butler, Donald J. Four Philosophies and Their Practices in Education and Religion p. 267-268
Page 15 Definition of Philosophy of Realism & Its Brief History Prepared by: Johny S. Natad July 25 & August 1, 2009