Monthly Archives: February 2016

Naivism and Realism

Lots of people think naive realism is important. But is it important because it’s naive or because it’s realist? Part of that answer depends on whether or not naivism is preferable to realism, or vice versa. Whichever one is, although one might be more important for other reasons, there will be resistance to it because we prefer the other.

We can distinguish between naive realism and naivism:

  • Naive realism concerns the view that what seems to be real is real: 

For example: if, on visually experiencing a coloured round object (such as a red balloon) that seems to be real, then naive realism is the position that, indeed, this apparently real and red balloon is a real and red balloon.

  • Naivism is more general: it is the view that what seems to be x is x: 

For example: if, on visually experiencing a coloured round object (such as a red balloon) that seems to be imaginary, then naivism is the position that, indeed, this apparently imaginary and red balloon is an imaginary red balloon.

That is, along with naive realism, one can also have naive idealism: what seems to be mind-dependent is mind-dependent.

One question such a categorisation raises is: Is naive realism true of our experience? When it comes to our experience, is everything apparent to us (everything in our phenomenology) also apparently real? If so, then naive realism and naivism are the same.

However, this doesn’t seem to be right. Lots of theorists of experience — phenomenologists such as Husserl or Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre (thinking of his book Imagination) — think that some experiences are appearances of only imaginary things. If one is naive about this, then one holds that such things ARE imaginary — because that is how they seem.

Imagination isn’t the only possible case of non-perceptual experience. There is also memory experience — which, whatever else it seems to be, doesn’t seem to be perception (unlike memory hallucination).  And, recently, interest has resurged on the idea of cognitive phenomenology[1] –that there is a phenomenal character or experience to some instances of thought, an experience which cannot be reduced to other forms (such as perception, memory or imagination).

If these are all actually kinds of experience, then there are at least three forms of experience and appearance that are not perceptual.

Another question is raised out of that point: A naive theory is that you take appearances to correspond or, if you can, be identical to how things are. A realist theory is that you take things to be real (independent of human thought and experience). It is possible they can come into conflict. If they do, which is more important?

To answer this, we must first clarify how they could come into conflict. If they can’t conflict, then the question of importance is less important; you’ll never have to choose.

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