Realism is 'a sober philosophy' which holds that there is an objective, outer world. Although it takes different forms, realists assert that our statements about the world can be true or false, depending on whether they match what is really 'out there'. The idea was challenged vociferously in the 20th Century and beyond. From Wittgenstein to Derrida, many philosophers have argued that this account of our relationship to the world is simply impossible. Here, three contemporary philosophers approach this question from their own perspectives, taking on each other's ideas and bringing out new contradictions and challenges in the fundamental nature of our relationship to the world.
Part 1: The death of realism
The various schools of contemporary philosophy have a fundamental similarity: realism. It is also their fatal flaw. Despite the defences of philosophers such as Timothy Williamson, the problem of self reference is inescapable when making statements about ‘the world.’ For this reason, realism has no future in philosophy argues Isabelle Thomas-Fogiel.
Part 2: In defence of realism
Many philosophers, such as Isabelle Thomas-Fogiel, claim to have refuted realism. None has succeeded. We must recognise the distinction between truth and knowledge and the distinction between truth and falsity. Philosophical ideas have a way of leaking into the rest of society; we cannot speak truth to power if we have given up on truth argues Timothy Williamson.
Part 3: Post-realism
While philosophers such as Timothy Williamson reassert realism as the solution to our post-truth age, the key problem of self-reference, the open-ended nature of reality and realism’s blunt approach to disagreement mean that it cannot be the future of philosophy. Post-realism, without abandoning empiricism and rationalism, makes sense of our relationship to an unknown world and provides a way forward to a more inclusive and effective means to intervene, writes Hilary Lawson.
Part 4: Politics, truth and self reference
In his recent article, Hilary Lawson argued that realism fell into paradox and that post-realism could retain both empiricism and rationalism, making it the future of philosophy. But not only are those paradoxes surmountable, logic itself demands realism - an inconvenient fact which makes Lawson’s post-truth project impossible - argues Timothy Williamson.
Part 5: In defence of post-realism
Realists might claim that paradoxes of self-reference can be theorized away but the question remains: how can language describe its own relationship to the world? Rather than being true or false, language is a tool to be judged by its usefulness. From holocaust denial to Trump’s election win, the way to counter problematic opinions is not a decree of falsity but by a demonstration of their worthlessness when engaging with the world, writes Hilary Lawson.