Direct/Naive Realism

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  • Created by: Emily
  • Created on: 15-05-13 18:58

What is Direct Realism?

This can be known as direct/naive/common sense realism.

Direct realism says that:

  • The qualities of the things we perceive exist within the object (e.g. the colour and smell of a flower actually exist within the flower).
  • We can assume that others see the same objects we do, as there is nothing between the perceiver and the object other than public space.
  • The world causes our perceptions, and we perceive the world directly. Another way of putting this is that our perceptions are unmediated (nothing comes between the perceiver and the object).
  • There are material objects that do not depend upon the perceiver (when we leave the room, the table remains brown and square whether we are looking at it or not).
  • There is also a causal relationship between the object and our perception.

We could summarise direct realism as 'what you see is what you get'.

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Support for Direct Realism


  • We all operate on the basis that there are material objects with real colours, tastes, smells etc. The fact is that we do lead our lives successfully, making naive realism pragmatic, if nothing else.
  • The fact that there are material objects with properties would explain the consistency and regularity in our perceptions, for example the fact that when we leave a room and go back in, the furniture is in the same place.
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Problems with Direct Realism

David Hume said that 'the slightest philosophy' would show naive realism to be false, the criticism can be broken down into four main areas:

  • Illusions and hallucinations
  • Perceptual variation
  • Time-lag
  • Science
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Illusions and Hallucinations

How can you distinguish between an illusion or hallucination, and a real perception?

Supposedly, we see objects directly, but what about when we have an experience of something that is not really there? 

In other words, there seems to be instances in which we do not perceive objects directly (hallucinations, where there are no objects causing our experiences) and instances where we do not see objects 'as they really are' (illusions).

For example, when you press the corner of your eye, you see everything in double. According to direct realism this should mean that the world actually doubles, but of course it doesn't! So we can't be seeing the world as it really is.


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Defence of Direct Realism against Illusions

The direct realist would say that in the case of an illusion (for example, a stick in water may appear bent) there are not two things involved, but rather one thing (a stick which has the property of looking bent at that time.

If we were to bring a separate thing into existence - the 'sensation' as a separate thing from the object itself, this is known as reification. 

It could also be argued that we are able to work out when illusions are occurring. Using science, we can explain illusions (such as the way light refracts to explain the stick in water).

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Defence of Direct Realism against Hallucinations

Austin claimed that hallucinations are a rare occurrence that most people do not have. Therefore we do not need to concern ourselves too much.

Equally, hallucinations are distinct from real perceptions, or we would not be able to recognise that they were hallucinations.

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Perceptual Variation

What about when you have a cold and your food seems tasteless? Has the food changed or have you? Or when you dim the lights and colours appear grey?

The conditions of the environment and state of a perceiver seem to affect some of the properties of the object. So do some of the properties depend on the perceiver rather than the object itself?

There are also times when we perceive objects differently to the person next to us, for example colour blindness.

If something appears to differ when experienced from different positions or under different conditions it is said to be perspectival.

The problem can be summarised thus:
- My perception of an object changes according to what conditions I perceive it under.
- The object itself remains constant and does not change.
- Therefore my perception and the object must be separate. 

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Defence of Direct Realism against Perceptual Varia

One could argue that there is a 'real' colour, taste, smell and so on for every object, but you have to have optimum conditions for experience. Strawson claimed that a piece of cloth may look purple in a certain light when it it really green.

But...

How do we define what the optimum conditions are for experience are? How do we define what the 'best light' is to see the 'real colour' of a flower?

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Defence of Direct Realism against Perceptual Varia

One could argue that there is a 'real' colour, taste, smell and so on for every object, but you have to have optimum conditions for experience. Strawson claimed that a piece of cloth may look purple in a certain light when it it really green.

But...

How do we define what the optimum conditions are for experience are? How do we define what the 'best light' is to see the 'real colour' of a flower?

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Time-Lag

When you look at the night sky and see stars, do you really 'see' the stars? Light takes a long time to travel from the star to Earth. By the time the light hits your retina and you experience the star, it may not even exist anymore. So this would suggest that there are two things, the star and our experience of it, as the experience exists when the star does not.

The same applies on a smaller scale since light waves have to be reflected before you perceive something: how can you be perceiving the object directly? 

An example of time-lag in sound can be seen at big music festivals, when speakers are placed at the front and half way through the crowd: it takes longer for the sound to get to the second set of speakers.



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Defence of Direct Realism against Time-Lag

The direct realist would claim that it is not the case that we see light waves but not the object, they would claim that the light waves are how we see the object. The object isn't 'blocked' from us in some way; rather, the light waves allow us to see the object.

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Science

Science also tells us that objects perhaps do not contain all the properties we think they do. It is the arrangement of molecules in a flower, for example, which reflects the light and allows me to see the colour of the flower.

It is arrangement at molecular level that allows us to smell and taste objects, and sound experienced due to emission waves. It is only in experience that we need the concept of colour. 

When we look at a red rose under a powerful microscope, we would see particles but it would appear colourless (suggesting the property of colour is not in the object).

So again, perhaps the objects do not have all the properties we thought they did.

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