, the term anti-realism
is used to describe any
position involving either the denial of an objective reality
of a certain type or the denial that verification-transcendent statements about a type of entity are either true or false. This latter construal is sometimes expressed by saying "there is no fact of the matter as to whether or not P." Thus, we may speak of anti-realism with respect to other minds
, the past
, the future
, mathematical entities
(such as natural numbers
), moral categories
, the material world
, or even thought
. The two construals are clearly distinct and often confused. For example, an "anti-realist" who denies that other minds exist (i. e., a solipsist
) is quite different from an "anti-realist" who claims that there is no fact of the matter as to whether or not there are unobservable other minds (i. e., a logical behaviorist
Anti-realism in Philosophy
The term was popularised by Michael Dummett
, who introduced it in
his paper Realism
to re-examine several classical philosophical
disputes involving such doctrines as nominalism
. The novelty of
Dummett's approach consisted in seeing these disputes as analogous to
the dispute between intuitionism
in the philosophy of mathematics
According to intuitionists (anti-realists with respect to mathematical objects), the truth of a mathematical statement consists in our ability to prove it. According to platonists (realists), the truth of a statement consists in its correspondence to objective reality. Thus, intuitionists are ready to accept a statement of the form "P or Q" as true only if we can prove P or if we can prove Q:
this is called the disjunction property. In particular, we cannot in general claim that "P or not P" is true (the law of the excluded middle), since in some cases we may not be able either to prove nor disprove the statement P. Similarly, intuitionists object to the failure of the existence property for classical logic, where one can prove , without being able to produce any term of which holds.
Dummett argues that the intuitionistic notion of truth lies at the
bottom of various classical forms of anti-realism. He uses this
notion to re-interpret phenomenalism, claiming that it need not
take the form of a reductionism (often considered untenable).
Doubts about the possibility of definite truth have been expressed since ancient times, for instance in the skepticism
. Anti-realism about matter
entities also has a long history. It can be found in the idealism
, and so on.
Idealists are skeptics about the physical world, maintaining either: 1) that nothing exists outside the mind, or 2) that we would have no access to a mind-independent reality even if it may exist. Realists, in contrast, hold that perceptions or sense data
are caused by mind-independent objects. But
this introduces the possibility of another kind of skepticism: since our understanding of causality
is that the same effect can be produced by multiple causes, there is a lack of determinacy
about what one is really perceiving. A concrete example of a situation where an individual's sensory input might be caused by something other than what he thinks is causing it is the brain in a vat
On a more abstract level, model theoretic arguments hold that a given set of symbols in a theory can be mapped onto any number of sets of real-world objects — each set being a "model" of the theory — providing the interrelationships between the objects are the same. (Compare with symbol grounding).
Anti-realism in Science
In philosophy of science
, anti-realism applies chiefly to claims about the non-reality of "unobservable" entities
such as electrons
, which are not detectable with human senses. For a brief discussion comparing such anti-realism to its opposite, realism, see (Okasha 2002, ch. 4). Ian Hacking (1999, p. 84) also uses the same definition. One prominent anti-realist position in the philosophy of science is instrumentalism
, which takes a purely agnostic view towards the existence of unobservable entities: unobservable entity X serves simply as an instrument to aid in the success of theory Y. We need not determine the existence or non-existence of X. Some scientific anti-realists argue further, however, and deny that unobservables exist even as non-truth conditioned instruments.
Anti-realism in Art
In discussions of art (including visual art, writing, music, and lyrics), anti-realism and anti-realist may be used in one of the philosophical senses described above, or may simply be used in contrast to realism, in whatever sense the latter is meant. Thus surrealism in visual art is an "anti-realist" tendency, and the psychedelic bands common in the United States in the 1960s were "anti-realist," etc. These terms may not be as precise when applied to art as when applied to philosophical matters. Anti-reality is occasionally used in this sense, although it may be used in other senses.
- Michael Dummett (1963). Realism, reprinted in: Truth and Other Enigmas, Harvard University Press: 1978, pp. 145-165.
- Michael Dummett (1967). Platonism, reprinted in: Truth and Other Enigmas, Harvard University Press: 1978, pp. 202-214.
- Ian Hacking (1999). The Social Construction of What?. Harvard University Press: 2001.
- Samir Okasha (2002). Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.