How does a realist see the world

Realism doesn't explain anything

Gerhard Vollmer (2007) assumes that it a World gives "that the object of our knowledge, the world, is unique and clearly determined", and "that we can know this world". This is a basic requirement of natural science, perhaps of all empirical science Realism.

He justifies this as follows: “If the world did not exist or if we could not recognize it, even if it does exist, then there would be no point in asking about the 'why?' And 'why?' Of such knowledge : What doesn’t exist, you don’t need to explain. ”So it’s about the explanatory value of the consciousness-independent world, of“ things in themselves ”, as Immanuel Kant used to express himself.

Vollmer refers to the no-miracles argument of Hilary Putnam (1975), according to which realism is the only philosophy that does not make the success of science one wonder make:

“Because if quarks and quasars really do exist, then it is no wonder that theories that claim or presuppose their existence are successful. If, on the other hand, these objects do not exist, why do we succeed in making correct predictions and many other problem solutions with these theories? "

Gerhard Vollmer sees a superiority of realism over other philosophies:

“It does not refute the fact that idealism, positivism, instrumentalism and constructivism cannot explain something. But it can be said that the realism more explained. In empirical theories, explanatory value is an important characteristic by which we judge theories. (Other characteristics are freedom from circles, internal and external consistency, verifiability, test success.) "

This is exactly what I am questioning. Because I doubt that realism explains anything at all.

What are we talking about

Instead of reality, I want from the reality actually speak of two realities. A reality is what we experience, what reaches the spiritual level through our senses and is processed there. First of all, there are the appearances and their interaction. We observe invariances, causal relationships, regularity: a thing cannot appear to us in two places at the same time; solid bodies have an invariable extension; a body heavier than air falls to the ground when you let go of it. We can exchange and communicate with others about this. The proven theories of empirical sciences in particular belong to the common knowledge and thus to the existence of this reality.

This reality, which is configured in our head without contradiction, is what I call it inner Reality or shorter: that This side.

This this world is so coherent and largely constant that the idea is obvious that there must be a reality that is independent of our thinking and that determines all of our experience. We only have impressions of this external reality of this external reality. The assumption of the existence of such an external reality appears to us to be a necessity for thought. I call it that Beyond. Be this external realityworks the inner one - we think so. The philosophical deepening of this thought makes that realism out.

I borrow the term “afterlife” from religion and strip it of its religious content. I don't do that without ulterior motives. Because for me the idea of ​​an external reality is not too far removed from the idea of ​​a God. The big leap goes from this world to external reality, from there it is only a small step to the concept of God.

Since we do not have direct access to external reality, doubts about realism have been expressed again and again. That is exactly the attitude of the philosophical Skeptic. In contrast, the realist indicates that this world at least partially and approximately reproduces the hereafter.

What does "explain" mean?

In Brockhaus, Leipzig, 2005, I find the following entry for the philosophical term “explanation”, which is certainly sufficient for everyday use: “Explanation of the context from which a fact or a state of affairs can be understood, i. H. Tracing statements and facts back to other statements, laws or theories. "

Explanations and justifications themselves require explanations or justifications. The searcher for a final justification ends up in the infinite recourse. There are ways out of this either in the Circularity, because at some point already used reasons appear, or for Dogmatism, in which the procedure is simply terminated.

This is what Hans Albert calls the Münchhausen Trilemma (1991, p. 15). The problems of justification were already pointed out by the ancient skeptics (Sextus Ermpiricus, Pyrrhon von Elis).

This is a fundamental difficulty that the realist is faced with.

The root cause analysis goes nowhere

Whoever wants to explain something is looking for a cause for what is worth explaining. He researches causal relationships. But what are the characteristics of causality? What are their characteristics? The following characterization will find general agreement.

Central feature of causality: If the cause is omitted, the effect remains absent (in the case of categorical contexts). If the cause is varied, the effect changes (in the case of quantitative relationships). The "logic of causality" becomes even clearer in the INUS condition by John Leslie Mackie: An event is perceived as the cause of an outcome if it is an insufficient but necessary part of a condition that is not itself necessary ( Unnecessary) but sufficient for the result (Pearl, p. 313).

In order to be able to determine whether there is a cause-effect relationship (hypothesis), one must be able to test it. And that can be done by varying the cause and observing the effect. It is assumed that the cause can be changed largely isolated from other variables, and that all other conditions can be kept constant. This is David Lewis's “Closest World” concept. In everyday operation, far from the laboratories and test arrangements, the isolated variation of the cause generally violates boundary conditions. This becomes relevant, for example, in clinical tests, the boundary conditions of which are dictated by morality and the legal situation.

The variation of the causal variables can therefore often only be played through in thought or by simulation. This applies in particular to the analysis of the causes of accidents and disasters, i.e. events that have already taken place and that cannot be repeated. Then we're up counterfactual conclusions reliant.

The causality analysis assumes that the causes can be manipulated - at least in thought or by simulation. In principle, causality cannot be something that is attached to external reality, that is, to the hereafter.

Causality thinking ensures a coherent and self-consistent inner picture; consequently it is part of our mental makeup. Causality thinking belongs to inner reality; it cannot be externalized.

We have no chance to identify processes or things in the hereafter as causes for the appearances of this world. To whom the fruitlessness of realism is not sufficiently proven by this argument, should turn to the following: If we are looking for a reason for an appearance in the hereafter, we can again only access appearances, that is, things here. This world defines the realm and the limit of our thinking. We go around in circles. The connections between the hereafter and this side remain unclear: causal relationships between the hereafter and this side cannot be made out. Realism lacks any explanatory value.

If you want more, you have to Leap into the transcendent dare. He shouldn't be surprised if he meets spirits and gods there too. This is not a good place to be for realists and naturalists.

It is not just this fruitlessness that makes realism seem dispensable. Realism is quite a challenge for the thinker for purely logical reasons: The search for the true reason is broken off by him with the identification of reality as the basis of all knowledge. Realism is therefore incorrigibly dogmatic.

Further questions about causes are obvious. However, nobody can know anything about the beginnings of reality, nor about its persistence. Thinking about the origin and nature of reality ends up in the same pitfalls that already caused great difficulties for Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Moses Maimonides.

Attempts to justify realism

Vollmer's assertion that realism is a basic requirement of science hangs in the air. Not much better than this basically baseless claim is the miracle argument that I quoted at the beginning. Sure: the regularity of the phenomena is indeed a miracle. However: the miracle does not go away if one accepts a notion of reality. Then reality is the miracle. And that makes things even more difficult. For now both the beginnings of reality and its persistence are miracles worth explaining. The miracle argument is certainly not one of the realists' best ideas. It leads straight to lines of thought that we know from the proofs of God and the antinomies of Immanuel Kant.

In his overview lecture, Gerhard Vollmer wants to break a lance for realism. Let's take a closer look at some of his arguments.

"Our cognitive structures fit (at least partially) into the world because they have evolved - phylogenetically - in adaptation to this real world and because they - ontogenetically - have to deal with the environment of each individual being."

This statement contains unexplained and questionable vocabulary. Adaptation is not rewarded in evolution. It's about the benefit, the survival, the Fitness. This can be determined and measured, the adaptation cannot.

For the latter, there is no definition of the reference variable: what exactly should it be, to what life adapts? Even fairly simple evolution games show that the knowledge of external reality, that is the state of the total population here, is of no importance to individuals. They only react to what they are currently experiencing in interactions and what experiences they have stored (Grams, 2009). Only the player and programmer of the simulation game can take God's perspective: he sees everything, because he did it. He knows the truth. The truth is not at stake for individuals; it's about survival (Grams, 2016, chapter 9).

Gerhard Vollmer points out:

“Hypothetical realism makes use of the correspondence theory of truth. According to this, a statement is true if what it says corresponds to the reality 'out there'. "

These Correspondence theory is also a thought construction hanging in the air. The correspondence theory of truth cannot be operationalized. There is no truth criterion.

The development of science is for Gerhard Vollmer

“A phenomenon that we can call 'convergence of research'. There are several types of convergence involved: convergence of measured values, convergence of measurement methods, convergence of theories. How does this happen?"

He thinks that the anti-realist owes the answer, while the realist has a simple answer:

“Research is converging because there are real structures that we can discover, and indeed there are gradually discover. For the realist, this is precisely where the progress of knowledge consists. Here, too, the superior explanatory value of realism becomes clear. "

Indeed, this convergence causes us to fall into the realism trap. The convergence is one of the regularities of the phenomena that have already been recognized as admirable. Reality doesn't make these regularities any less wonderful. I repeat myself.

Vollmer's argument is similar to that of the homeopath, who credits the healing of the “medicine” he has prescribed: “He who heals is right”. The causes cannot generally be deduced from the effect. Determining the cause is already a difficult task in accident research. You have to use David Lewis's Closest World concept. The consequence here would be that one would have to imagine the world of appearances without the causal reality. We only have access to what we would have to think away from through the appearances of inner reality. The otherworldly cause of these ideas cannot be identified. So the causality considerations run nowhere. Kant already clearly named this dead end of thinking in "The Antinomy of Pure Reason, Sixth Section" (1787):

"The non-sensory cause of these ideas is completely unknown to us, and we therefore cannot look at them as an object"

I admit: my arguments against realism are not very original. Gerhard Vollmer also incorporated some of them into his text. This turns his lecture into a model for how one can stand up for a cause of which one is actually no longer really convinced. I don't know whether that actually applies to Gerhard Vollmer, but the text reads like this.

My conclusion from the whole: If you have to choose between two worldviews, take the more economical option. Here it is the one who gets by without jumping into the transcendent.


Albert, Hans: Treatise on Critical Reason, 1991

Grams, Timm: Is the good divine or the result of evolution? skeptiker 2/2009, pp. 60-67

Grams, Timm: Make a wise mistake - avoid thought traps with a system. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg 2016

Kant, Immanuel: Critique of Pure Reason. 1787

Lewis, David: Counterfactuals. Harvard University Press 1973

Maimonides, Moses: Guide for the Confused. A selection of texts on the question of creation. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2009

Pearl, Judea: Causality. Cambridge University Press 2000

Putnam, Hilary: On Not Writing Off Scientific Realism (1975). Reprinted in “Philosophy in an Age of Science”. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London 2012

Vollmer, Gerhard: How can we see the world? Overview lecture at the Munich Science Days - Life and Culture, 20.-23. October 2007