Philosophical Realism & Anti-Realism

Can we ever get beyond mere appearances & make genuine contact with external reality itself? And what kind of understanding of truth and meaning would such a view presuppose? In this talk, Professor John Bigelow introduces the work of Barry Taylor and discusses his views on issues of metaphysical realism & anti-realism as it relates to the nature of language and thought. In the end, Taylor rejected realism because we would never be able to speak or think about a reality that was outside and independent of the appearances.

Barry Taylor’s philosophical stance was like an inversion of the myth of the Cave, from Plato’s dialogue, The Republic. No, Taylor, thought, ordinary folk are not prisoners chained up with their backs to the light, seeing only shadows and mistaking them for the real things. On the contrary, they are walking about in broad daylight. But they are being pestered by “realist” philosophers who tell them that if you just come down over here, you can see the true realities, which are the true source of the mere projections that you can see out there in that realm of mere appearances. One of the key insights in Taylor’s antirealism is the recognition of how much work we have to do, in order to give our words meanings. Words do not just refer, magically, to real things: it is only by connecting words to things we do, in investigating the world, that they come to mean what they do. And it is only by attending closely to the ways in which words have been given meanings that we can determine whether what they refer to is real or only imaginary, and whether the things we say are true or false.

For more on these issues and for a defense of anti-realism, check out

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