Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Realism: Metaphysical or Epistemological?

There are lots of philosophers who rejected realism. among those philosophers are Putnam, Wittegenstein, Rorty, and Davidson. Their rejection of realism was based upon the claim that it is problematic, that it raises too many difficulties, and that it leads into paradox and confusion. however, this reason can't be considered as an adequate grounding for refutation of realism. it might be a motivation to do so, but it can't be a justifiable reason for asserting that realism is wrong. However, Grayling seems to argue that the reason why those philosophers failed in providing an adequate account to refute realism is that they misconceived realism as a metaphysical view, while it should be conceived as an epistemological view.

Putnam did in fact attach the term "metaphysical" to realism to name the view he rejected. Putnam argued that metaphysical realism is the view that commits us to take objects we identify to be mind independent entities. in his own terms, a realist would claim that the world consists of a fixed totality of mind-independent objects. Putnam continued to argued that such a conception would lead us into thinking of truth as a matter of correspondence between what we say about the world and how things are in that world. Therefore, according to Putnam, a realist is committed to the uniqueness of truth; that there is one description of how things are in the world that is true. In addition, a realist is committed to the principle of bivalence which states that any meaningful statement is determinately either true or false. accordingly, a realist is someone who accepts the principle of correspondence, uniqueness, and bivalence in addition to the independent existence of objects. accepting such principles would clearly have metaphysical consequences. They would lead a realist into thinking that words have a fixed reference to objects. a statements such as "electrons are negatively charged" must be either true or false. its truth value would depend upon whether electrons are in fact negatively charged or not. accordingly its truth value is a matter of correspondence with this fact. on the other hand, if this statement is true, then electrons can't be but negatively charged, since a true description is unique, and we can't have but one true description of the charge of electrons. Putnam rejected those assumption because they , as i have mentioned before, lead us into taking words to have fixed reference. in the previous example, the conclusions we have made are premised on taking the term "electron" to have a fixed reference to particular entities in the world. so, accepting what is entailed by realism when it comes to the statement "electrons are negatively charged" would implicitly commit us to unnecessary metaphysical point of view, namely that there are electrons out there in the world with a particular kind of charge. it would be clarified that this is an un necessary metaphysical commitment when we remind ourselves that it is us who conceptualized or theorized the existence of electrons in the first place. this is the point that Putnam is mainly attempting to make; that reference is only made within the conceptual scheme of the users of a referring term.

however, Grayling argued that realism is not mainly a metaphysical point of view. a realist is only committed metaphysically to the principle of independent existence of entities. a realist can claim that there is a class of objects which exist independently from our mind. however, a realist might still remain a realist if he accepted the idea that even though there are objects which exist independent from our mind or from us knowing that they exist, the objects we take to exist depend at least on some part on how we conceive them to exist. accordingly, a realist might be committed to acceptance of the principle of independent existence of a class of entities but he doesn't have to be committed to the other principles of correspondence, bivalence, and uniqueness. so, the metaphysical commitments made by the statement in the previous example can be escaped by someone who would still be a realist.

the arguments offered by Putnam to refute realism were mainly directed against the metaphysical consequences of accepting the principles of correspondence, uniqueness, and bivalence. as we have clarified, those arguments would not represent a problem to realism. other arguments against realism offered by Putnam were directed against the problems imposed by realism. we have argued in the beginning of this article that this can't be accepted as a justifiable reason for rejection of realism. Grayling seems to argued that an adequate account against realism can be established by conceiving it to be mainly an epistemological point of view rather than a metaphysical one.

there is a final point which i would like to make regarding Putnam which i think is so inspiring. Putnam rejected the metaphysical consequences we have mentioned before because he argued that any metaphysical view that commits us to dividing the world into objects, entities, events, and causes can never makes any sense. it is us who divide the world into those different entities for the sake of our own interest and purpose. if you were asked to mention the contents of a room, you would divide the contents of this room into furniture, books, papers and so on. this division is based on your own perspective and it can't be based on any thing else.

Putnam had very interesting point about the metaphysics about reality. However, according to Grayling those points can't be used against realism since it is mainly an epistemological point of view rather than a metaphysical one.