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Real and/or reality in philosophy

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According to André Lalande’s Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, there would be in the use of the words “real”, “reality”, “two great concepts originally distinct, but today mixed so closely that one cannot, most often, make the distinction”:

  • A sense attaches to the idea of ​​a thing “as an object of thought” (something); it is the actual, the given: “it comprises all the matter of knowledge, all that is present or presented”. But “actual” and “actualité” (related terms: actuel and actualité in French; wirklich, Wirklichkeit taken in the literal sense in German) having little more than a temporal value, “real” and “reality” have inherited this meaning”.
  • A meaning also attaches to the idea of ​​”thing”, “but in the full sense of this word: that which constitutes a definite, logical, permanent object, having a certain autonomy; which has a character of efficiency, of common value […]”. This thing or this real can then be conceived “as entirely phenomenal, as immanent in the representation”, and this is even how the word “real” is most commonly used, says Lalande, giving the example of “the rainbow” which is not a real object while air is (reference is made to Identity and Reality by Émile Meyerson). According to him, “The constructed real is opposed to the given real. One is the terminus a quo, the other is the terminus ad quem”.

Relationship to existing worlds

“Philosophy finds itself gravely embarrassed when it has to indicate in what consists the character of being-real, its existentia. Reality is a fundamental mode of the being of beings in relation to possibility and necessity. Everything that is real is also at least possible but not always equally necessary […] Thus conceived, reality is taken for an ontological modality of things […]. Man tries to get out of this dilemma by relating the objective being to the subject who represents it to himself. If the representation is not subject to the arbitrariness of the subject, if the latter cannot combine the contents of the representation at will, but experiences a positive constraint, the object will be said real” writes Eugen Fink, in his book The Game as a Symbol of the World.

For Plato, it is necessary to go beyond the sensitive, fleeting and changing appearance of things, to access the world of ideas, which founds everything that exists in the sensitive world, and allows knowledge of it. The sensible appearance is therefore a form of illusion, in any case of imperfection of the perfect archetype. The physical world in which human beings evolve is only a representation, a copy, of Ideas. Kant, on the other hand, considers that reality for the human being is nothing other than that which appears to him, his sensible manifestation; it is therefore of a phenomenal order, the thing in itself being unknowable. Suddenly, because of this dissociation, reality is not conceived as identical or equivalent to truth.

Karl Popper's "three worlds".
Credit: Cuman14, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tres_Mundos.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0 license

(Karl Popper’s “three worlds”. )

The philosopher Karl Popper proposed a different approach to reality. He cut the real into three worlds (Metaphysics of the Three Worlds):

  1. world 1 of physical objects, living or not
  2. world 2 of feelings and experiences, conscious and unconscious
  3. world 3 of the objective productions of the human mind (both objects and theories, or works of art)

According to this approach, the contents of thought such as dreams, fictions, theories are part of reality. The real is therefore taken in a sense of “everything that exists”. However, Raynald Belay points out in the Dictionary of Philosophical Concepts that “[e]ven if it conceptually presupposes identity, permanence and univocity, reality can only be invoked on the basis of a primary difference between itself and what we distinguish it from (appearance, phenomenon, simulacrum, dream, illusion, idea or ideal…), which raises a difficulty, since what is not reality and is sometimes confused with it must participate in this reality to demand this discrimination”.

Includes texts from Wikipedia, translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu

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