Friday, April 27, 2018

Kinds of realism

Lakoff and Johnson from this post quoting Philosophy in the Flesh (NY: Basic Books, 1999)

"Perhaps the oldest of philosophical problems is the problem of what is real and how we can know it, if we can know it…. Aristotle concluded that we could know because our minds could directly grasp the essences of things in the world. This was ultimate metaphysical realism. There was no split between ontology (what there is) and epistemology (what you could know), because the mind was in direct touch with the world.

"With Descartes, philosophy opened a gap between the mind and the world…. Ideas…became internal “representations” of external reality…but somehow “corresponding” to it. This split metaphysics from epistemology.

"…embodied realism…is closer to…direct realism…than…representational realism. [It] is, rather, a realism grounded in our capacity to function successfully in our physical environments. It is therefore an evolutionary realism. Evolution has provided us with adapted bodies and brains that allow us to accommodate to, and even transform, our surroundings.

"It gives up on being able to know things-in-themselves, but, through embodiment, explains how we can have knowledge that, although it is not absolute, is nonetheless sufficient to allow us to function and flourish.

"The direct realism of the Greeks can thus be characterized as having three aspects:

1. The Realist Aspect: The assumption that the material world exists and an account of how we can function successfully within it;
2. The Directness Aspect: The lack of any mind-body gap;
3. The Absoluteness Aspect: The view of the world as a unique, absolutely objective structure of which we can have absolutely correct, objective knowledge.

"Symbol-system realism of the sort found in analytic philosophy accepts 3, denies 2 and claims that 1 follows from 3, given a scientifically unexplicated notion of “correspondence.”

"Embodied realism accepts 1 and 2 but denies that we have any access to 3.

"All three of these views are “realist” by virtue of their acceptance of 1. Embodied realism is close to direct realism…in its denial of a mind-body gap. It differs from direct and symbol-system realism in its epistemology, since it denies that we can have objective and absolute knowledge of the world-in-itself.

"…it may appear to some to be a form of relativism. However, while it does treat knowledge as relative—relative to the nature of our bodies, brains and interactions with the environment—it is not a form of extreme relativism, because it has an account of how real, stable knowledge, both is science and in the everyday world, is possible (94-6)."

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