Two views of conceptual realism
Farnham, David Edward
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The problem of the thesis is to compare critically the major ontological questions which serve to distinguish two outstanding schools of philosophy representing the realistic development of thought. These schools are referred to as Platonic Realism and Neo-Realism. Some of the questions treated- deal with such matters as ontological extensity, novelty, linguistics, the subordinate character of epistemology, and the nature of error--for each of which distinct explanations are offered by both realistic schools. More precisely, these problems became prominent as a consequence of the latter-day Neo-Realist's refusal to accept the ontological limitations imposea by the theory of the earlier Platonic Realists. In the light of this, ontological speculation stands as a decisive cleavage between the Platonic Realist and Neo-Realist. Accordingly, the particular theory of ontology expressed by each of these schools must come under examination for purpose of evaluating their claims. Upon the basis of such an examination, certain important qualifying conditions are found to be necessary in order to determine the value of conceptual realism. In the last analysis, the thesis is designed to highlight these qualifying conditions. Plato's theory of Ideas was seen to give an early, but comprehensive, statement of one dimension in the realistic view of reality. This dimension was composed exclusively of Ideas. These Ideas, which later became known as universals, were imputed to have certain important qualities: abstractness, individuation, and eternality. None of these qualities may be omitted when speaking of the various divisions by which the Platonic Ideas may be divided into classes; these classes consisted of Ideas of qualities and relations, Ideas of negative notions, and Ideas of sensible objects. The account given by Plato of the relation between the Ideas and the actual physical world led to a view of immanence which Plato most often preferred to call "participation." This account was never sufficiently or adequately explicated by Plato for his readers to have a clear and distinct understanding of such a relation. In its broadest form, Plato's ontology was inclusive of three definite dimensions--Being, the Ideas, and phenomena--which, taken collectively, exhaust the content of the Platonic universe. The Neo-Realist movement began as a polemic against both idealism and subjectivism, and as a polemic it sought to show the difficulties with the positions that it condemned. From this polemic, however, there emerged a definite and positive commitment. This commitment included such aspects of the Neo-Realistic thesis as a theory of independence in cognition, epistemological monism, logical analysis, a pluralistic ontology, and an external view of relations. These positive features were seen in operation through the Neo-Realist's presentative theory of perception that sought to uphold a relational theory of consciousness based upon a universe of being best described as a "neutral mosaic." The basis for such a theory of reality was found to center in the Neo-Realist's doctrine of subsistents which was seen to be expressive of an all-pervasive logical atomism. A direct comparison of the two schools of realism gave light to certain differences between them due to the modification imposed upon Platonic Realism by the Neo-Realist's doctrine of possibility. Most important, the content of the Platonic Realm of Ideas was affected, and thus limited, due to mathematical and moral qualifications, whereas the Neo-Realist's Realm of Possibility was unrestrictively membered by logical constructs. An explanation of novelty as it is effected by the theory of Ideas was seen to be restricted in application to the level of phenomena, however, the Neo-Realist's theory of possibility readily accounted for novelty at any level. The nature of the propositional structure in the Neo-Realist's theory of possibility was found to be more inclusive in accounting for reality than the Platonic treatment of general terms which demanded a relation of identicalness between the Idea and the general term. Whereas Plato's account of error was epistemological, the Neo-Realist awarded error an ontological status based upon their theory of possibility. Certain objections to a theory of possibility must be registered which have the collective force of placing the ontological value of such a theory in question. These objections indicate that a theory of possibility is suspect due to: (1) the failure of the Neo-Realists to provide an adequate definition; (2) the violation of all sense of aesthetic proportion; (3) the failure in providing an effective test upon which to base or warrant their assertions about conceptual reality; and, (4) the failure to justify their position in light of the criticism based upon Russell's theory of types. From such considerations, the thesis seeks to highlight an inconclusiveness which obtains in the two Realistic views presented here. To give a picture of reality within the framework of the realistic tradition, a reliance upon a theory of universals was fully in evidence in both the Platonic and Neo-Realistic views. If one accepts a theory of universals, the question then arises as to what extent one is willing to be committed. On the one hand, a question of inconsistency and incompleteness arose concerning the strict Platonic position due to a circumscription of the universals accepted. On the other hand, a dissatisfaction resulted on the grounds of non-economy if one accepted the uncircumscribed theory of possibles recognized by the Nee-Realists. Yet if one is going to accept a theory of universals, but reject both the Platonic and Neo-Realistic interpretations of this theory for reasons of being too narrow and too broad, respectively, the question then remains as to exactly what sort of reconciliation between these two views, if any, would constitute an acceptable position. As yet, no such reconciliation has found general acceptance, however, at least certain important qualifying conditions--consistency, completeness, and economy--are seen to structure any such acceptance. Hence, only to the extent to which such conditions adequately qualify the two Realistic positions, may acceptance of those positions, complete, or partial, be found.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University