There are many different ways to observe the world around us. One approach is to look at things objectively without biases or preconceptions. This is the approach of realism.
Realists believe that the world exists independent of our perceptions or interpretations. They think there is a single, objective reality out there, and our job is to try to understand it as best we can.
This can be difficult, as our biases and preconceptions can get in the way. But by remaining aware of these potential biases, realists hope to get as close to the truth as possible.
Many different fields of study take a realist approach. In the natural sciences, for example, researchers try to understand the world by observing it and conducting experiments. In the social sciences, scholars study human behavior by keeping people in their natural environment.
No matter what field they are in, realists always try to find the truth about the world around us.
What is realism?
The term “realism” can be used in several ways, but in general, it refers to the idea that the things we see and experience in the world around us are accurate and that our knowledge of them is based on our expertise.
In the philosophical tradition, realism is the belief that an honest, objective world exists independently of our perception. This is contrasted with idealism, which holds that our minds shape our world experience and that what we take to be reality is a product of our mental activity.
In the arts, realism is the belief that art should represent the world as it is rather than being stylized or abstract. This is opposed to abstract or non-representational art, which is not concerned with describing the world.
In politics, realism is the belief that self-interested states govern the world and that international relations are primarily a competition between these states. This is in contrast to idealism, which holds that states should act by moral principles and that international relations should be governed by cooperation and international law.
So, realism can refer to several different things, but generally, it is the belief that the world is knowable and that our knowledge of it is based on our experience.
The history of realism
Realism, sometimes called naturalism, in the arts is generally the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality, and avoiding artistic conventions, implausible, exotic, and supernatural elements. Realism has been prevalent in the arts for many periods and can be, in large part, a matter of technique and training and the avoidance of abstraction.
It has also been held that realism is essentially the same as naturalism.
Art has a long history of developing increasingly accurate representations of objects’ outward appearances. It comprises details depicting persons or entities, such as the exact portrayal of light and color, perspective and the effects of distance, etc.
The art historian Ernst Gombrich wrote that there are two approaches to realism in art. The first is the careful depiction of appearances, as we find in the work of the Dutch master Jan Vermeer. The second, which he called the “grand manner,” involves an idealization of the subject, as we see in the art of Nicolas Poussin.
In the late eighteenth century, a new approach to art emerged in Europe that stressed the accurate depiction of the world. This approach, known as realism, was first seen in the paintings of the French artist Gustave Courbet.
However, the Realist movement in art was not monolithic, and different artists working in this style often had other goals and methods. For some, like Courbet, the goal was to paint the world as it appeared, without any idealization.
For others, like the French painter Jean-François Millet, the goal was to paint the world as it appeared to them, filtered through their own experience and emotions.
The American painter Andrew Wyeth is often associated with the Realist movement, although his work is more accurately described as American Regionalism. Regionalism is a style of art that focuses on the specific characteristics of a particular location, usually rural America. Wyeth’s paintings often depict the people and landscapes of rural Pennsylvania, where he grew up.
The Realist movement in art was not limited to Europe and America.
Observations of realists
Realists believe that objects exist independently of our perception of them. In other words, things exist in and of themselves, regardless of whether we know them. This contrasts with idealists, who believe that objects only exist insofar as we know them.
There are a few critical observations that realists make about the world around us:
Objects exist independently of our perception of them.
Things have an inherent nature, or essence, independent of our perception.
Objects can be known through our senses.
The external world is knowable, and our knowledge of it is accurate.
These observations have important implications for how we view the world around us. Realists believe that the world is knowable and that our knowledge of it is accurate.
This means we can trust our senses to give accurate information about the world. It also means that we can rely on our knowledge to make decisions about the world.
Criticisms of realism
Realism has been the dominant mode of thinking in the Western world for centuries, but it has come under fire from several different quarters in recent years. Here are five of the most common criticisms leveled at realism:
It is too simplistic.
Realism paints the world in black-and-white terms, with little room for nuance or complexity. This can lead to a distorted view of reality, as it fails to consider the many shades of grey in the world.
It is too pessimistic.
Realism often leads to a negative view of the world, focusing on the dark side of human nature and the ugly reality of suffering and conflict. This can make people feel hopeless and despairing, leading to a feeling of powerlessness.
It is too deterministic.
Realists believe that people are determined by their circumstances and environment and have little control over their lives. This can be a depressing way of thinking, as it takes away people’s sense of agency and free will.
It is too reductionist.
Realism often relies on reductionism, which is the idea that complex phenomena can be explained by reducing them to their simplest parts. This can be a helpful way of thinking but can oversimplify complex issues.
It is too negative
Realism can lead to a negative view of the world, focusing on the dark side of human nature and the ugly reality of suffering and conflict. This can make people feel hopeless and despairing, leading to a feeling of powerlessness.
The following six conclusions are based on the observations of realists. They provide a general overview of how the world works and how humans fit into it.
The world is an objective reality, not a product of our minds.
Natural laws govern the world; humans do not create these laws.
Humans are not omniscient; we cannot know everything about the world.
Humans are not immortal; we will eventually die.
Humans are not omnipotent; we cannot control everything in the world.
The world is not perfect; it is full of conflict and suffering.