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Realism v. Idealism

  • J. J. C. Smart (a1)

It is characteristic of realists to separate ontology from epistemology and of idealists to mix the two things up. By ‘idealists’ here I am mainly referring to the British neo-Hegelians (‘objective idealists’) but the charge of mixing up ontology and epistemology can be made against at least one ‘subjective idealist’, namely Bishop Berkeley, as his wellknown dictum ‘esse ispercipi’ testifies. The objective idealists rejected the correspondence theory of truth and on the whole accepted a coherence theory. The qualification is needed here because H. H. Joachim, in The Nature of Truth, found the coherence theory unable to deal with the problem of error.

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1 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906.

2 Joachim, H. H., Logical Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948).

3 See (for example) Putnam's papers, ‘Models and Reality’ and ‘Reference and Truth’, reprinted in his Realism and Reason: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3 (Cambridge University Press, 1983).

4 London: Allen and Unwin, 1931.

5 Michael Devitt, Realism and Truth (Princeton University Press, 1984).

6 In Bradley, F. H., Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914).

7 Bradley, F. H., Principles of Logic, 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922), and Appearance and Reality, 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930). I am indebted to Thomas Baldwin for these references.

8 Indianapolis: Hackett Press, 1978. Goodman makes an attempt to wriggle out of the idealistic morass in his paper ‘On Starmaking’, Synthese 45 (1980), 211–;215, which is in reply to papers by Carl G. Hempel and Israel Scheffler (ibid., 193–199 and 201–209) respectively.

9 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978. See p. 8.

10 Ibid., 8.

11 Ibid., 13.

12 Op. cit. See pp. 425–426.

13 Cf. the title of Quine, W. V. and Ullian, J. S., The Web of Belief, 2nd edn (New York: Random House, 1978).

14 See Rescher, Nicholas, The Coherence Theory of Truth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).

15 See Putnam, Hilary, Realism and Reason: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3 (Cambridge University Press, 1983), 84–85. For Putnam's views about reference, see his papers ‘Models and Reality’ and ‘Reference and Truth’, reprinted in the just mentioned volume.

16 See the very impressive paper by Candlish, Stewart, ‘Scepticism, Ideal Experiment and Priorities in Bradley's Metaphysics’, in The Philosophy of F. H. Bradley, Manser, Anthony and Stock, Guy (eds) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), Ch. 13. See especially p. 255. See also Manser's and Stock's Introduction to the same volume, especially pp. 21–22.

17 C. A. Campbell, Scepticism and Construction, op. cit. (fn. 4).

18 Charles Pigden has drawn my attention to a similar case. ‘It snowed on Manhattan Island on the first of January in the year 1 A.D.’, in Russell, Bertrand, Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1940), 277.

19 Field, Hartry, ‘Realism and Relativism’, Journal of Philosophy 79 (1982), 553567, especially pp. 556–557.

20 See The Philosophy of Peirce: Selected Writings, Buchler, Justus (ed.) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950), 257. Trigg, Roger, in his Reality at Risk (Brighton: Harvester, 1980), 17ff., has also taken issue with this remark by Peirce.

21 I have been made to see this by Neil Tennant, in conversation. See Tennant, Neil, ‘From Logic to Philosophies’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 32 (1981), 287301, and ‘Holism, Molecularity and Truth’, in Festschrift for Michael Dummett, Taylor, B. (ed.) (Nijhoff, forthcoming), especially Section 4, ‘Truth Theory and Logical Operators’. Hilary Putnam has frequently argued that Tarski's theory of truth is metaphysically neutral. For a good statement see Hilary Putnam, Realism and Reason, op. cit., 83.

22 C. A. J. Coady's work on testimony is of interest in this connection. See Coady, C. A. J., ‘Testimony and Observation’, American Philosophical Quarterly 10 (1973), 149155, ‘Collingwood and Historical Testimony’, Philosophy 50 (1975), 409–424, and ‘Mathematical Knowledge and Reliable Authority’, Mind 90 (1981), 542–556.

23 See Reichenbach, H., Nomological Statements and Admissible Operations (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1954).

24 Feinberg, Gerald, ‘Physics and the Thales Problem’, Journal ofPhilosophy 66 (1966), 5113.

25 Smart, J. J. C., ‘Metaphysical Realism’, Analysis 42 (1982), 1Z3. Russell, in his Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, op. cit., 278–288, has also discussed the meaningfulness of the sentence ‘There is a cosmos which has no spatiotemporal relation to the one in which we live’. (See also fn. 18 above.)

26 See Hilary Putnam, ‘Models and Reality’, referred to in fn. 3.

27 However, see Hacking, Ian, Representing and Intervening (Cambridge University Press, 1983), 105107; Devitt, Michael, Realism and Truth (Princeton University Press, 1984), 188191.

30 In 1983 I read an early draft of this paper at a number of universities in Britain. I wish to thank numerous friends there for helpful comments in discussion, and in particular, Thomas Baldwin (University of York), David Holdcroft (University of Leeds), Peter Smith (University College of Wales, Aberystwyth), Guy Stock (University of Aberdeen), Neil Tennant (University of Stirling) and Crispin Wright (University of St Andrews). For comments at a later stage I am grateful to Philip Pettit, Charles Pigden, and Richard Sylvan (Australian National University) and David Lewis (Princeton University). A later draft of this paper was read at the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy in 1984.

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