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Schools of Thought: Realism

Realists are philosophers who propose that ideas and values are actual thing which exist regardless of our knowing of them.

Plato’s theory of Forms and the metaphysical basis which supports it seems elaborate and exotic, but the problem which that it seeks to address – the so-called ‘problem of universals‘ – has been a dominant theme in philosophy ever since. During the Middle Ages the battle lines were drawn up between Realists (also known as Platonists) on one side – people who believe that universals such as redness and tallness existed independently of particular red and tall things; and the nominalists on the other, who held that they were merely names and labels applied to physical objects.

The same basic distinction, usually expressed in terms of realism and anti-realism, still resonates through modern philosophy. So a realist position holds that entities exist ‘out there’ in the world – physical things, ethical facts or mathematical properties – that exist independently of our knowing or experiencing them.

On the opposing side stand the anti-realists, who put forward proposals that say there is a necessary link between what is known and our knowledge of it. The basic terms of all such debates were set up over 2000 years ago by Plato, one of the first and most thorough of all philosophical realists.

Other Schools of Thought

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