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FEB 2009

Assess whether direct realism can be adequately defended against the

arguments from illusion, hallucination and perspective difference.

Realism is when you believe there is a real world, outside your mind. It is the belief
in an objective reality separate from any one observer. When you close your eyes,
everything is still there. That is realism.

Direct realists are of the view that you perceive exactly what is there. You are seeing
the world exactly as it exists. They would argue that when you look at an object say
a pencil, that is what it looks like, nothing else, it has those properties and those

Others would argue that illusions disprove direct realism as, it is not an observation
of world as it really is. Direct realists would counter and say illusions are merely
when there exists some kind of physical incident that causes an abnormal effect. A
pencil in water is not bent, but the light is. It just what a real pencil, in a glass looks
like when you observe it, the water just bends the image. Another example could
be the Doppler Effect. The Doppler Effect is when, for example a car comes towards
you, it sounds like the noise of the engine changes pitch, but it is not actually
changing. However it could be said in a similar way that it is just the way it seems
when a car comes towards you.]

A. J Ayer said that if you saw a barn that had been disguised as a church, you think
it was a church. But this doesn’t mean you are not seeing the real world. You are
just seeing what a barn disguised as a church looks like. He would apply this
argument to all illusions. They are not a fault of your perception, just some kind of
physical incident that causes an abnormal effect that you observe.

Another criticism of direct realism is the existence of hallucinations. Surely when

we see things that don’t exist at all in the real world it must prove that we are not
seeing the real world directly. Examples could include Mirages, Phantom limbs and
so forth. Some would argue that this is because what we see is just our
interpretation of the real world. Though you could say that anybody would see the
real thing but in a different way, so hallucination is their interpretation of reality, or
just a condition you are in, so when you are in the desert and you see a mirage it
just because you are dehydrated or some other reason you mind is being deceived,
but is no reason to say that everything we see must be indirect.

Another thing that could be said is that in most cases hallucinations can be
disproved with the other senses. So that someone with a phantom limb could check
this against their other senses, e.g. they could see the absence of their limb. In the
play Macbeth he sees a dagger, but as it is a hallucination, when he tries to take it,
it is absent. A Direct realist would say that hallucinations are just anomalies in the
way of your vision, much like illusions but within your head.

A final point against direct realism is the idea of perspective difference. For example
when you look at a table from an angle it doesn’t look the same shape as from
another angle. This, say enemies of direct realism shows that we are not seeing the
real world directly but our own point of view. Direct realists would say that actually
this is the same argument again. As such they would use the same response. For
example ‘That’s just what a table looks like from that angle’ , Just because we have
perception based on location, doesn’t mean that it is not a direct observation of
reality. In the same way one could say, just because dogs or bats see the world
differently doesn’t mean its not direct, just a segment of the real world.

All of these arguments seem to be trivial , when you are shown the direct realist
response. We could apply Ockham’s razor and see that as it is the simplest solution
available, and it seems to fit the evidence, then it is the best explanation. Any other
model of observation would be uselessly complex.