Philosophical realism posits that certain kinds of things have mind-independent existence, i.e., they exist independently of our knowledge, thought, or understanding. This concept can apply to a range of entities such as the physical world, other minds, and the self, among others. The realist view argues that reality exists independent of the mind, and truth is a correspondence between cognitive representations and reality.
Realists tend to believe that our current understanding of reality is only an approximation, but it can be improved. In philosophy, realism is often contrasted with anti-realism and idealism. Realism in philosophy can be traced back to medieval scholastic interpretations of ancient Greek philosophy.
The term 'realism' originates from Late Latin 'realis' and was first used in the abstract metaphysical sense by Immanuel Kant in 1781. The concept of realism branches into several varieties, each pertaining to a particular area:
Metaphysical Realism: It asserts that whatever exists does so independently of being thought of or experienced.
Naive or Direct Realism: This branch argues that our senses provide us with direct awareness of the external world and that objects have properties that are perceived absolutely correctly.
Scientific Realism: This asserts that the world described by science is the real world, independent of what we might take it to be. Within physics, it claims that the world is in some sense mind-independent.
Moral Realism: This branch posits that ethical sentences express propositions that refer to objective features of the world.
Aesthetic Realism: This is the view that there are mind-independent aesthetic facts.
The history of metaphysical realism spans several centuries, with ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle proposing realist doctrines about universals or abstract objects. It then went through stages in Medieval philosophy, Early modern philosophy, and Late modern philosophy, with philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Franz Brentano, and Karl Marx adding to the evolution of realism.
In contemporary philosophy, influential figures like Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Karl Popper have espoused metaphysical realism. Other contemporary movements like speculative realism and conceptualist realism have also contributed to the discourse on realism in philosophy.