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In philosophy, the term anti-realism is used to describe any position involving either the denial of an objective reality of entities 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, universals, 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).[citation needed]


Anti-realism in Philosophy


Michael Dummett

The term was popularised by Michael Dummett, who introduced it in his paper Realism to re-examine a number of classical philosophical disputes involving such doctrines as nominalism, conceptual realism, idealism and phenomenalism. The novelty of Dummett's approach consisted in seeing these disputes as analogous to the dispute between intuitionism and Platonism 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 bivalence), 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 \exists x.\phi(x), without being able to produce any term t of which φ 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 of Pyrrho. Anti-realism about matter or physical entities also has a long history. It can be found in the idealism of Berkeley, as well as Hegel and other post-Kantians.

Anti-Realist arguments

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. Conversely, most realists (specifically, indirect realists) 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 scenario.

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 or DNA, 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.

See also

External links


  • Lee Braver (2007). "A Thing of This World: a History of Continental Anti-Realism," Northwestern University Press: 2007.
  • 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.


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