Reality (Part One)

Does reality exist? Increasingly we can find articles, theses and theories that explain that what we perceive by our senses is far from fulfilling the canons by which we refer to “reality” as something immutable, universal, material and true.

Throughout the history of the humanity, countless thinkers of diverse areas have been questioned about the knowledge of the reality. A number of theories have emerged in this respect from areas as diverse as physics, anthropology, psychology, neurosciences, philosophy, epistemology …


Greek philosophers

Beginning with the Greek philosophers, Socrates rejects the use of the senses to know reality because it emphasizes the purity and wisdom of the soul. It raises the question of how to be sure if the present experience is a reality or if rather it is something that is being dreamed, since in both circumstances the soul maintains firmly the truthfulness of its beliefs, reason why in a certain way it would not have way to determine what is real and what is not.

According to Aristotle the mind is a tabula rasa without any prior knowledge and on which knowledge is constructed through experience.

Protagoras with his view that man is the measure of all things, advocates the subjectivity of knowledge and the experience of reality, in that ideas and objects are not in themselves in a certain way, but that each individual assigns them certain characteristics from their own perspective and perception of reality.

Xenophanes stands out because of his skepticism in the sense that he states that you cannot know the truth about anything, since there are only opinions.

Anaxagoras considers the intellect as the first cause, so his point of view emphasizes the importance of reasoning in the knowledge of reality.

Parmenides raises a thesis similar to that of Socrates about how the senses can be deceived and faced with an illusion, so according to this thinker, logical thinking is what must be taken refuge to ensure a true understanding of reality.


Centuries later, from Gnosiology (branch of philosophy dedicated to studying nature, the origin and scope of knowledge), intersubjectivity is taken into account, which is defined as “the idea that a belief must be acceptable to any rational subject to be admitted as true knowledge”. Berger and Luckmann (1986) say that: “Reality is fundamentally an agreement. What we remember as real is real”. Therefore, knowledge of reality cannot occur detached from the social context in which it is immersed.

To this day, a wide variety of currents of thought have appeared: realism, dogmatism, skepticism, criticism, relativism, positivism, rationalism, empiricism, idealism, constructivism, pragmatism, etc.


Realism, perhaps the position most commonly extended until a few years ago, maintains that there is a world of physical objects that exist even though it is not being perceived, and that it is this physical world that causes the perceptions that we have of it. By adopting this approach it is possible to explain why different people agree that they perceive the same things, even though each has its own mental representations. Perceptions do not depend on the subject’s will and cannot be changed at will.

Different modalities can be distinguished within realism. In addition to naive realism and natural realism, there is a third form of realism called critical realism.

Critical realism is the most popular among modern philosophers insofar as it is based on physical, physiological, and psychological arguments. In order to defend his thesis that there are objects independent of consciousness, he resorts to the differentiation between perception and representation. Perception is intersubjective and representation is subjective. The intersubjectivity of perception allows deducing the existence of real objects. Perception is independent of the will of individuals and objects, which in turn are independent of perception.

Pascual F. Martínez Freire distinguishes between reality (independent of our minds) and the different worlds perceived by different species and by different individuals. Of all these perceptions it is possible to speak with sense of a shared reality.


Idealism (psychological idealism) maintains two theses: The first and main that there is no physical world outside the mind and its mental representations (consciousness), and second, as mental representations exist only while they are in a mind, Likewise, the perceived only exists if there is a mind in which it is represented, and only during the time in which they are represented in the mind. The reality is therefore in the consciousness of the subject.


Phenomenology indicates that both the notion of a physical world independent of the mind and that of a mind independent of the physical world are not notions that can be known with certainty, but are only inferences that are drawn from something whose existence We can be completely sure, and it is called the given. This theoretical position asserts that we cannot know things as they are, but only as they appear to us. It is accepted that there are real things, but we cannot know its essence. We can know that things are, but not what they are. Consciousness has an a priori organization, which is imposed on the world at the moment of perceiving it. Therefore, we can only know appearances and not objects in themselves.


Perspectivism, on the other hand, comes to affirm that “given” – the perspectivism calls “perspective” – ​​is formed by two elements that cannot exist separated from each other; two elements that are the self and the world, and whose coexistence is reality.


Spinoza‘s notion of reality, his notion of “substance” as he called it, was something extremely distant, which seems to be the only reality compatible with modern physics and which, at the same time, can be conceived as being “in itself.” The substance of Spinoza is very far from our daily experience. According to Spinoza it contains modes, thought and extension, more or less on an equal footing and which conceives as existing both statically, one could say, within the very substance.

In the light of the progress made so far, I think in particular that it is no longer possible to accept the letter of this view of two modes, thought and extension coexisting simultaneously. I think rather that they should be considered as engendering one another. The thought, let’s say if you want, we ourselves in a certain way create the extended phenomena because it is the way we have to see reality. We can only see in the form of phenomena spread between separate objects. And conversely, of course, in essence, objects engender thought. Finally it is in this way that I better understand the realistic philosophy. But I think that such a philosophy is always quite far from anything that can be called a materialistic philosophy, since the substance is in it the matrix of “thought” as directly as it is in it the “extension” matrix.

It will continue in the second part…


If you want to know a little bit more…


Berger, P. y Luckmann, T. (1986) La construcción social de la realidad (Cap. III). Buenos Aires: Amorrortu.

Martínez Freire, P. F. (2001) La realidad desde la mente. En Contrates. Suplemento VI. Filosofía actual de la Mente. Martínez Freire Ed.

Martínez Freire, P. F. (1996) La filosofía de la mente hoy. Revista de Historia de la Psicología, 1996, Vol. 17. Nº 3-4. pp. 299-304.

Damasio, A.R. (1999) How the brain creates the mind. Scientific America. December 1999 issue.

Damasio, A.R. (2012) Y el cerebro creó al hombre. ¿Cómo pudo el cerebro generar emociones, sentimientos, ideas y el yo?. Booket Ciencia. 8 de mayo de 2012.

Mark, J.T., Marion, B.B. y Hoffman, D.D. (2010) Natural selection and veridical perceptions. Journal of Theoretical Biology 266 (2010)pag. 504–515.

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