Theory of Knowledge


Additional Information


  Representative Realism


As you should by now begin to see, the direct or naïve realist has great difficulty in differentiating between true and false perceptions. This is because the only appeal that such a view can make is to perception itself. As we saw in the above situation, perception alone could not help us: the kettle was there, and now it's gone.

However, there is another version of realism that deserves some exploration. This is called Representative or Indirect Realism. This view argues that we experience reality indirectly by perceptions that represent the real world. So, if we see a brown table, what we are actually seeing is not the table itself but a representation of it. In this way, differences of perception which occur due to changes in light conditions, position of viewer, etc., can be easily explained: it is not the object which is changing, only the perception of it.

Whereas naïve or direct realism is a two part theory (perceiver and perceiver), representative realism has three parts: the perceiver, the perception of the object and the object itself.


This view is the most popular among philosophers - we have already seen Descartes, Locke and Hume use versions of it. However, this view too has its problems.


Imagine this situation: A man is standing on the corner of a busy road and witnesses two cars collide. Neither driver is hurt, but both step out of their cars to inspect the damage. Driver A is a young mother with a young child in the back of the car; driver B is a business executive in a hurry; the witness is an old man wearing glasses. As the two drivers argue about whose fault it was, the man approaches them and offers to confirm what he saw happening. What do each of them see? Whose is the correct view?

Criticisms of Representative Realism

As you can see, it is difficult to clearly define what a real or objective experience might consist of because every description is also another viewpoint. This is the same with anything, from physical objects to ideas. The problem then seems to be that if we can only ever experience perceptions of objects (what Locke would called secondary qualities), who is to say that they actually exist?

Although this is an extreme point of view, there have been philosophers - such as Berkeley - who have used this argument to point out the problems with the representative theory.

We are next going to look at how these criticisms gave birth to something called Idealism.

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