Characters in the Dialogue on Knowledge and Reality

© by Jan Garrett

Revised: October 6, 2008

Note that these positions are concerned with the possibility of knowledge, or true thoughts, about realities outside the mind of the thinker. They are simplified versions of views introduced among classical Greek philosophers from ca. 500 to 250 B.C.E. I have been partly influenced by T. Irwin's Classical Thought (first edition), chapter 4. Note that the definitions of terms like "metaphysical realism," etc., vary to some extent among writers, so those who use them should always state how they define them.

Rea, the metaphysical realist who holds a correspondence theory of truth
There is a reality external to the mind, and what makes a thought true is correspondence or agreement between the thought and reality.

Eve, the na´ve realist
External reality is knowable. We can form true thoughts about it. It is more or less as it appears to the senses, when our sense organs are functioning normally and we examine things carefully. (Sometimes this view is called naive empiricism.)

(Although Aristotle is not a na´ve realist, in some of his inquiries, e.g., biology, he seems to presuppose a data-gathering phase of research that corresponds to Eve's approach to reality.)

Sy, a critical or scientific realist
Reality is knowable. We can form true thoughts about it, but not all our thoughts about it are accurate.

Naturalist version (for example, Democritus' philosophy; Sy's critical realism is of this type): Some sense perceptions reveal what is out there in the physical world; we can have knowledge of it. Only what is quantifiable in nature can be genuinely known. Size and shape and relative position and motion are features of reality. Color, sounds, taste, odor, and tactile qualities like hard and soft, hot and cold, are not. (If Eve's position is called naive empiricism, then Sy's might be considered a form of critical empiricism.)

Platonic version: Our sense perceptions do not give us direct access to reality (i.e., the Forms), but we can come to know it by use of the proper method, i.e., dialectic.

There might be still other versions.

Neal, the nihilist (inspired by Gorgias the Sophist?)
We have and can have no genuine knowledge of the "external world." Since knowledge correlates with reality, we can conclude that there is no reality "out there."

Schuyler, the skeptic
It is not reasonable to claim knowledge of an external world. Still, an external reality may well exist.

R.E. Lativ, the extreme relativist
Appearances are true, real, or known relative to a perceiver, theorist, or group.

(Something like this view is attributed by Plato, in his Theaetetus, to Protagoras. R.E. holds the "perceiver" version of this theory.)