Realism

Realism is a very old philosophy which dates back to as early as ancient Greece. The many interpretations of realist opinion lead to several varieties of realism. “The most common thread of realism is what may be called the principle of thesis of independence. This thesis holds that reality, knowledge, and value exist independent of the human mind” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 39). The idea behind realism supports an environment in which material items hold an important place in the idea of reality. “For the realist, matter is real” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 39). The realist prioritizes a world of ‘things’ as opposed to a world of ‘ideas’” (Jacobsen, 11). “The realist asserts, as fact, that the actual sticks, stones, and trees of the universe exist whether or not there is a human mind to perceive them” (Ozmon & Craver,1995, 39). Realism in general regards the human being as a single substance composed of mind and body. “All persons naturally desire to know” (Power, 90). Humans are very curious in nature. Our dependable knowledge of external reality is possible. Physical reality is not mental. Matter is real and can be proven. Realism never ignores the possibility of error passing for truth, but it affirms that as human beings search for an infallible knowledge of what is, they have an ability to root out error and certify truth. The key to success is logic and evidence. Neither can be neglected” (Power, 91). One of the earliest proponents of realism was through classical traditions supported by Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), the Father of Realism. Page 1 of 11 Realism was developed through Aristotle’s interest in completing the unfinished business of idealism.

Aristotle was a student of Plato, the Father of Idealism, but gradually developed differences from the teachings of Plato. He never totally departed from Plato’s influence of idealism (Ozmon & Craver, 1995). Aristotle was the son of a prominent physician in northern Greece (Dunn, 25). His father’s occupation played a significant role in the events which occurred in his life. One of Aristotle’s father’s patients was the grandfather of Alexander the Great. At the age of seventeen Aristotle began to study under Plato, and remained at the Academy for approximately 20 years.

The next few years were spent “classifying what for him was the knowledge of a new world” (Jacobsen, 83-84). He then returned to his native land for the purpose of tutoring 13-year-old Prince Alexander of Macedon. “When Alexander became king and went to Athens, Aristotle accompanied him and continued to provide education in the areas of politics, rhetoric, and the natural sciences” (Jacobsen, 84). The relationship with Alexander the Great benefited Aristotle greatly. It enabled him to open his school, Lyceum.

Alexander the Great financed Lyceum as well as “sent tons of plants and animals and artifacts back to Greece which made it possible for Aristotle to synthesize the knowledge of his day” (Jacobsen, 84). Page 2 of 11 “Aristotle was both a scientist and a philosopher, and he believed that although we may separate science and philosophy artificially, there is a relationship between them in which the study of one aids us in the study of the other” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 41). “Aristotle viewed reality as a uniting of both actuality (form) and potentiality (matter).

Both must be united in order for something to be real or to truly exist” (Jacobsen, 85). Aristotle’s greatest belief was that form or ideas can exist without matter, but there can be no matter without form. Aristotle and Plato agreed that form is always constant but matter is always changing. They also believed that we should be very much involved in studying and understanding the reality of all things. “They differed, however, in that Aristotle felt one could get to form by studying particular material things and Plato believed form could be reached only through some kind of reasoning” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 40). Aristotle argued that the form of things, the universal properties of objects, remain constant and never change, whereas particular components do change” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 40). “People differ in their particular properties. They have different shapes and sizes, and no two are exactly alike” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 40). These characteristics would be considered matter. “Yet people do share in something universal, and this could be called humanness” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, Page 3 of 11 40). Humanness would be considered human form.

Humanness is reality and exists independently and regardless of any one particular human. In the development of people, we see that as children, individuals have the particular characteristics of children. As they grow, however, their bodies change and they enter the phase of growth called adolescence; later they become adults. Humanness remains even though the development process of the individual changes several times (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 40). Aristotle believed that matter is cyclical. He also believed all matter had an intelligent creator who designed it for some specific reason. Aristotle believed matter to be in a constant state of motion caused by four things” (Jacobsen, 86): material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause. The material cause is the matter from which something is made. The formal cause is the design which shapes the material object. The efficient cause would be the agent which produces the object. The final cause would be for the intent of the object (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 42). If one were baking a pizza, she would use each cause to prove that matter is real. The ingredients used to create the pizza would be considered the material cause.

The recipe used to create the pizza would be the formal cause. The chef creating the pizza would be the efficient cause, and the final cause would be that the pizza serves as nourishment for the body. Page 4 of 11 Aristotle was focused on how things are compared to Plato’s view of how things ought to be. Perception of things is not enough, according to Aristotle; we must think and delve into the world of logic. “Deductive reasoning involves a first or major premise, a second or minor premise and a conclusion” (Jacobsen, 86). All three premises together are referred to as a syllogism.

The first or major premise Aristotle considered to be a statement of truth. A statement that is irrefutable. The second or minor premise identifies a more specific relationship and employs a component of the major premise. The third and final component of the syllogism is the conclusion, which is predetermined and inescapable (Jacobsen, 86). “A famous simplistic version of it goes as follows: All men are mortal Socrates is a man Therefore, Socrates is mortal” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 43). Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), referred to as the ‘Angelic Doctor’, was a major contributor to religious realism. He became a Dominican friar, dedicating his life to obedience, poverty and intellectual toil” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 44). “Aquinas believed that God created matter out of nothing and God is, as Aristotle stated, the Unmoved Mover who gives meaning and purpose to the universe” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 45). “Thomas Aquinas served as a professor of theology and as an educational leader for the Dominicans. He became the leading authority Page 5 of 11 on Aristotle in the Middle Ages and found no great conflict between the ideas of the pagan philosopher and the ideas of Christian revelation” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 45).

He agreed with Aristotle that God gives meaning and purpose to the universe. “The scholastics integrated Aristotle’s philosophy with the teachings of the church, and Aquinas fulfilled an important role in this task by working out the relationship between reason and faith” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 45). One of the chief problems of classical realism was its failure to develop an adequate method of inductive thinking. Modern realism developed out of attempts to correct such errors.

Of all the philosophers engaged in this effort, perhaps the two most outstanding realist thinkers were Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) and John Locke (1632 – 1704) (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 47). “Bacon completely separated religion and philosophy. He argued that the doctrines of religion could not be proved by thinking and that men should give up the attempt” (Frost, 29). He was ambitious and challenged Aristotelian logic. “Bacon believed that ‘knowledge is power’ and that through the acquisition of knowledge we could more effectively deal with the problems and forces that beset us on every side.

In order to accomplish these things, he devised what he called the inductive method” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 48). “Induction is the logic of arriving at generalizations on the bases of systematic observations of particulars. Bacon urged that we reexamine all our previously accepted knowledge” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 49). Page 6 of 11 John Locke contributed to realism through his investigations and certainty of human knowledge. Locke believed that we are born with our mind as a blank sheet on which ideas are imprinted. He believed all ideas are derived from experience by sensing and reflecting on the source of data.

Locke concentrated on how the mind gained knowledge. He insisted that what we know is what we experience. “His major contribution to philosophy was the development of an acute awareness of experience. Rather than speculate about innate ideas or essences, or an independent material reality, his field of investigation was human experience and human knowledge” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 50). Contemporary realism has developed around the “concerns with science and scientific problems of a philosophical nature” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 50). Two of the significant contributors of contemporary realism were Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947) sought out to reconcile aspects of idealism with realism during which time he was reconstructing the philosophical bases of modern sciences (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 51). “Process is central to Whitehead’s philosophy, for he held that reality is process” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 51). To Whitehead, the important things to be learned are ideas, but the ideas need to be connected with experiences. He felt ideas should be useful and capable of being articulated. Page 7 of 11 Another important contributor to contemporary realism is Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970). Russell was a controversial figure” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 52). He believed philosophy should be analytical and based on science. He held that the realist view should be based on the mathematical principal that detailed, verifiable patterns exist. He felt a need to merge the logical and mathematical pattern to be discerned both verbally and mathematically. “However, Russell felt that philosophy should be mainly analytical. It should base itself upon sciences, since only science has any genuine claim to knowledge” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 53). Realism has been a great influence on education to date. Aristotle’s greatest influence is related to his emphasis on an education that stresses the liberal arts and sciences, methodology, and attention to the individual, personal side of learning” (Dunn, 33). Aristotle believed humans should be educated in “the seven liberal arts consisting of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, plus music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy” (Dunn, 33). Aristotle believed all education should be public and it is the responsibility of the state. He felt the well being of the state and the individual were intertwined. Aristotle outlines different stages of education. The first stage is up to the age 7, the child should be reared at home and should not be directed to any study” (Dunn, 31), the main purpose is to learn through play. Children should have a purpose for their Page 8 of 11 play and it should mimic occupations of later life. “Schooling began when the child was 7, but the child should be a spectator at the lessons that the child will eventually learn. The child will slowly progress to formal education” (Dunn, 31). The next stage began at age 14 and then again at 21. All learning should follow a sequential pattern and should be related to the occupation chosen for life (Dunn, 31).

The aim of education is to promote the essentials in the classroom. This is done through educating children about moral and character development. “Human beings must be trained and instructed; they must learn to think and they must learn to act” (Power, 102). The methods of education must contain the teaching of the basic facts and how to arrive at them. Upon these facts, children can build on their knowledge and take part in enjoyable learning experiences. Realists believe that the material should be taught in an interesting way and allow for observation and experimentation.

They believe in formal teaching methods and consider self-realization valuable. Realists believe that through knowledge of the world, self-realization will follow. The development of an appropriate curriculum is essential to learning. Realists believe that the material presented should be practical and useful (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 62). “Many realists support competency, accountability, and performance-based teaching” (Ozmon & Craver, 1995, 63). They support the role of the teacher in the educational process (Ozmon & Craver, Page 9 of 11 1995). Teaching is a cyclical process. Professional educators constantly engage in the three-phase model of teaching which calls for planning, implementing, and assessing units of instruction” (Jacobsen, 85). According to Power, reality exists to be known; human beings are capable of attaining dependable knowledge. As an educational philosophy, realism makes no apology for its commitment to education’s overarching purpose: preparation for life. The educational opportunity must assume a huge part of the responsibility for preparing students to adjust to the social and physical world where they are destined to live (101).

The writer feels realism has greatly impacted education. Realism has great influence on how teachers teach in the classroom today. Teaching is very much a cyclical process, always changing and trying to improve education, but somehow always going back to the basics. The writer feels Aristotle’s stages of education are important learning stages for children, but in today’s world we are pushing children to learn in structured environments before they are ready. The writer feels the teacher plays a vital role in the education process, but students must foster their learning in order to be successful, productive students and citizens.

Page 10 of 11 Bibliography Dunn, Sheila G. Philosophical foundations of education. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2005. Durant, Will. The story of philosophy. New York: Washington Square Press, 1961. Frost, S. E. Jr. Basic teachings of the great philosophers. New York: Doubleday, 1962. Jacobsen, David A. Philosophy in classroom teaching: Bridging the gap. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. Ozmon, H. & Craver, S. Philosophical foundations of education. 5th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995. Power, Edward J. Philosophy of Education. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press Inc. , 1990. Page 11 of 11