In philosophy, one of several metaphysical theories, many of which are not mutually compatible. Straight metaphysical realism is the view, roughly, that there exist mind-independent objects. It is often associated with a correspondence theory of truth, that is, that there is a correspondence between pieces of knowledge and their objects.

This theory is opposed by Hilary Putnam's internal realism, which has undergone revision several times (or at least been variously presented by Putnam), and is the view that no correspondence theory is required for a sound epistemology (or is even possible).

In addition to these two, there is also the so-called "common-sense" realism. According to this theory, the things we see, such as tables, chairs, and elephants, are just real. This isn't all just a dream. The questions the first two theories attempt to answer are considered pointless under this view.

All three realisms are in opposition to various antirealistic theories, including several which together are labeled relativism.

Realism was stimulated by several intellectual developments in the first half of the 19th century. Probably inspired by Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas, the first seeds of Realism in the modern period were sown by Francisco Goya in his painting The Family of Charles IV. Attempts at Realism have been made periodically through out history in all the arts; the term , however was not consciously adopted as an aesthetic program until the mid-19th century in France when it became major trend in French novels and paintings between 1850 and 1880.

The French proponents of realism rejected the artificiality of both the Classicism and Romanticism of the academies, insisting the necessity for contemporaneity in an effective work of art:

" They attempted to portray the lives, appearances, problems, customs, and mores of the middle and lower classes, of the unexceptional, the ordinary, the humble, and the unadorned. Indeed, they conscientiously set themselves to reproducing all the hitherto-ignored aspects of contemporary life and society--its mental attitudes, physical settings, and material conditions."<

Encyclopædia Britannica

Some artistc examples from that era:

Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857.

Honoré Daumier, Third-class Carriage, c. 1862.

Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (Nadar), Sarah Bernhardt, c. 1864.

Edouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, 1863.

In art a clearly defined realist school never evolved, but manefested itself at various times simply meant that "ugly" ogjects are represented as opposed to those considered "beautiful." Art used to descibe the humble life, the term was implied as a socila critism of social conditions.

Later versions of realism in art include surrealism and magic realism. Today, the term realist is applied in the most general sense, to any nonabstract work of art.

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

A school of political thought, often known as Realpolitik, which deals with international relations. Realism was very popular in the U.S. during the cold war. The person most often credited with the invention of realism as we know it today is Hans Morgenthau.

Realism treats the state as the primary unit of analysis. States are presumed to act coherently and rationally---that is, in their own best interests. The arena of international relations is assumed in Realpolitik to be anarchical: states have only other states to answer to for their actions. According to realism, the driving force behind international politics is power---the ability to cause another actor to act for one's own, instead of its, best interest. Power comes in many forms: military, economic, technological, etc.

Realism is seen by many as an extension of Ayn Rand's objectivism into the sphere of international politics.

(realpolitik) This theory of international relations draws heavily from thinkers like Machiavelli and Hobbes. Generally contrasted with idealism, it is marked by a degree of pessimism about human nature. Key axioms of realist theory include:

1. Each state must protect its territory and interests at any cost.
• Politics is aimed at acquiring, pursuing and increasing power in order to use it.
• There are no universal ethics.
National security issues are always of prime importance.
2. All states seek power, especially military power.
• Nothing else guarantees their survival and security.
• Sovereignty enshrines the principle of self-help in an anarchical environment
3. The world is governed by the law of the jungle
• The purpose of statecraft is survival in a hostile environment.
4. Relations between and among states are defined by amoral calculations
5. The principal actors in international relations are states.
• States are rational, calculating units that pursue their interests.
• States must moderate their quest for power because everyone else is also after it.
• Prudence and pragmatism are vital traits. 6. Respect for moral principles is wasteful and potentially dangerous.

There are also a number of assumptions behind realist theory:

1. People are amoral.
2. The lust for power is prevalent among all people.
3. The possibility of eliminating the lust for power is a utopian fantasy.
4. International politics is the struggle for power.
5. Survival is the goal of every state.
6. The anarchical international system necessitates the acquisition of military power sufficient to deter attack.
7. Economics is less relevant to national security than military power.
• Economics still plays an important role.
8. Allies may assist in defence, but should never be trusted completely.
9. Self-protection should never be entrusted to an international organization or law.
10. If all states seek to maximize power, a stable balance of power will evolve.

Realism is a theory of international relations, which is to say that it is a way of understanding relations between countries. I do not intend in this write-up to explore the academic theory of realism, which is often dry and esoteric. The basic idea of realism is incredibly simple to grasp and was expressed by one of the earliest historians; this has endowed it with what its proponents see as a timeless nature. Realism, they say, is rooted in human nature, a nature that is timeless. Their theory has an immense plausibility, also endowed by its simplicity, but also - like all generalizations of human conduct - imperfections.

The basic idea of realism is that in relations between countries, what matters most of all is power. Might does not make right, but it exposes the irrelevance of what is right. Thucydides, the historian who is held to be the father of the theory, wrote that: "The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." While this is not a situation that sounds pleasing to us, it is indisputable that it is an accurate description of a great deal, if not all, of what goes on in relations between states. Realism is an essentially pessimistic worldview because it denies the possibility of transcending this state of affairs and recommends instead that we accomodate ourselves to it.

Realists hold that the driving force of the international system is power and the ability to use it, and draw a great number of inferences from this basic fact. Because international relations takes place in an essentially lawless environment - one in which war is accepted as the acceptable final recourse in a dispute - countries always have to worry about the capabilities and intentions of others and react accordingly. They enter arms races and form alliances because of this basic insecurity, and these actions themselves can contribute towards war because they, in turn, make others insecure. This is called the "security dilemma", and realism sees little hope of ever transcending this either. War is hence inherent in the structure of international relations and an inevitable fact of life.

To a realist, the job of the statesman is to be fully aware of the facts of the environment his country lives in - essentially the military capabilities and intentions of neighbours - and steer the ship of state appropriately so as to advance its interests. Sentiment should not enter into it; how one would like the world to be, as opposed to how it actually is, should be irrelevant. And so opponents of realism have stated that the theory's pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it denies the human ability to structure the world in ways that improve it. These opponents, who are grouped under the label "liberals" (which has a different meaning to the one it carries in domestic politics) argue that states can decide to transcend constant competition and instead forge agreements that remove the constant threat of war. The success of the European Union has strengthened their argument.

Yet realism's continuing plausibility and explanatory power, if not for all inter-state relations but a great proportion of them, rests on the problem of mistrust between states. A state can only make an agreement with another state if it trusts it, and states always remain concerned that their partners could change their minds. Russia's sudden change of heart about the sovereignty of its neighbours shows why a country always has to base its policy ultimately not just on the intentions of other countries at a given point in time, but ultimately their capabilities to use power; intentions can change at the drop of a government, and military capabilities forever remain a potential threat for as long as they exist.

The only reliable way to transcend the logic of realism has hence proved to be to build trust through reducing capabilities. The European Union has allowed European countries to bring their military force levels to historical lows, whereas the common market means that no country can any longer afford to wage war on the other because their economies are so interwoven. Similarly, after the Cold War, Russia and the West agreed a treaty that set limits on the level of military forces in Europe and agreed to mutual inspections. By monitoring each other's level of military capabilities, the two sides learned not to let dark fantasies dictate their policy, as they did just before the Cuban Missile Crisis when there was widespread fear of a "missile gap" between the U.S. and the USSR, which turned out to be illusory.

Ultimately these agreements can be undone, but they prove that those who claim that there can never be an escape from realism are, at the very least, simplifying matters. In contexts where it is possible to build trust and agreements can be concluded, war can be staved off by the human capacity for ingenuity. But the realist's complete banishment from the classroom of international relations remains a fantasy for so long as states have contradictory interests and live in a finite world, and history shows that the theory's terrifying logic always ultimately prevails over periods of peace. Many generations of Europeans have shared the conceit that they were different and had forever banished war, and they were wrong. We do not know if we are different. What we do know is that the costs of being wrong are incalculably higher than they ever were before.

Re"al*ism (?), n. [Cf. F. r'ealisme.]

1. Philos. (a)

An opposed to nominalism, the doctrine that genera and species are real things or entities, existing independently of our conceptions. According to realism the Universal exists ante rem (Plato), or in re (Aristotle).


As opposed to idealism, the doctrine that in sense perception there is an immediate cognition of the external object, and our knowledge of it is not mediate and representative.

2. Art & Lit.

Fidelity to nature or to real life; representation without idealization, and making no appeal to the imagination; adherence to the actual fact.

<-- 3. the practise of assessing facts and the probabilities of the consequences of actions in an objective manner; avoidance of unrealistic or impractical beliefs or efforts. Contrasted to idealism, self-deception, overimaginativeness, or visionariness. -->


© Webster 1913.

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