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In common usage, reality is the totality of the real . On the one hand, something is referred to as real that is not an illusion and does not depend on the wishes or beliefs of an individual . Secondly, it is real , especially something that in truth is as it seems, and the specific characteristics " robust " - not just in one respect and not just temporarily - send (→  authenticity ). In this sense, reality is that to which “determinateness” can be ascribed. An intentional object (e.g. a belief, an assessment, a description, an image, a film or a computer game) is considered realistic if it reflects the properties of the reality to be represented in many ways and without distortions (→  realism ).

The term comes from the Latin realitas , 'reality'; about res , 'thing', 'thing', 'essence'. The plural realities as a synonym or collective term for someone's real estate is mostly out of date today. Only in Austria (and occasionally, more and more rarely, also in the Upper German dialect area of southern Germany) is it still used regularly.


A precise understanding of what is to be understood by reality is based on the one hand on the philosophical assumptions made; this also applies to the understanding of reality in the individual sciences. For the natural sciences , reality is that which is accessible to scientific observation and research. Things that cannot be measured should not be used as a basis for the formation of scientific theory . It is primarily about methodically ascertainable interactions. Contents of ideas, feelings, wishes, perceptions and the like are initially considered not to belong to reality. However, the identification of reality and reality is not without its problems (see realism debate ). Of positions that strive to differentiate, the term “reality” means a reality that is restricted to things that interact with other things that have already been recognized as real. In addition, everything is understood as reality that can be understood as an object of individual consciousness, precisely also social facts , assumed spiritual objects and both foreign and personal feelings and attitudes, insofar as these cannot be traced back to mere arbitrariness , but rather themselves as subordinate Rules are presented standing up. This broad concept of reality, which is also shared by certain positions in the social sciences , is usually limited to different social contexts: what is considered real, for example, in logic, in a court of law, in a dispute between partners or in a church, are in each case very different entities that can only be taken to be equally real at the same time to a limited extent. In general, positions that set positive criteria for the reality of something are called "realistic" .

Depending on the context, the concept of reality has different content. One can differentiate between different concepts of reality or criteria for reality. However, none of these provisions are unproblematic:

  • A physical reality encompassing all objects of the outside world . It is controversial
    • Whether things that are not immediately perceptible (e.g. electromagnetic radiation, neutrons) are real or only theoretical entities, see the realism debate .
    • Whether the contents of consciousness are real or whether they are metaphorical descriptions for neuroscientific phenomena, see Philosophy of Mind
  • Objectivity , this criterion also includes social, aesthetic or historical circumstances.
    • Here the question arises whether there are differences among such abstract structures that depend on human thought and action, whether the objects of the "ideal sciences" mathematics or logic correspond to a greater degree to objective reality than, say, beauty or a historical event whether there are also objective values, see ethical realism , and whether this reality can claim more than just provisional validity, see historicism .
  • Consciousness independence, all consciousness-dependent phenomena such as color, qualia , and the primary qualities of space, time and shape should be excluded from reality,
    • Again, however, there is debate about the limitations of the term, including with regard to intent, dreams, and sensations (of which qualia are a part).
  • Factuality , in which "given" facts are marked as real as opposed to only possible and impossible, see fact .
  • Truth as a criterion leads to the questions of what the bearer of truth is and according to which criterion it is determined.
  • Contrasted with fantasy or imagination, cf. Independence of consciousness.
  • Appearance dependency as opposed to merely conceptual determinacy. z. B .:
    • The content of the term triangle can only be thought of using a concrete example, just as the number 10 is only presented as a symbol (digits) or as a number of ten units, see synthetic judgment a priori .
  • Materiality , d. That is, a real core of being is presumed behind a deceptive everyday experience of being ,
  • Content or materiality as opposed to formality , the concrete, the non-general, see universal dispute .
  • General as well as individual, insofar as it can be precisely defined conceptually, see rationalism .
  • Experience or perceptibility , see empiricism or sensualism ,
    • Whereby the reality of abstract regularities becomes a problem in empiricism, see induction problem and in sensualism the existence of objects in general (in favor of qualia).
  • Intended sense of an utterance or an action, see Sense (semantics) .
  • Over-individual recognition , see social constructivism .
  • Reality in general as dynamic reality:

Deviating, but not without reference to the modern concept of reality, the scholastic- rationalist terminology up to Immanuel Kant understood reality to be the category of positive qualitative determination. The object that should have the maximum combination of positive determinations was called ens realissimum . In the Critique of Pure Reason , Kant ruled out that existence itself is a qualitative determination (a “real predicate”), but rather only expresses the being given in a real experience, i.e. a relationship between object and subject. As a result, the identification of ens realissimum and God was no longer an ontological proof of God , so Kant suggested in the section on "The transcendental ideal" under ens realissimum not God, but the totality of the empirically experienced world and also the pantheism of Baruch de Spinoza read with this in mind.


The delimitation of the concept of reality is a problem in different fields of philosophy. Thus ontology deals in general with the question of whether there is an existing reality of being, epistemology with the question of what kind of reality is accessible and whether it can be delimited from subjective imagination, error and subjective presumption, which the philosophy of science examines under what circumstances a theoretical entity is real or or whether the everyday reality to a certain class of things in arrangements fundamental forces and so not fully or partially reduced can be. Even in ethics is asked whether certain objects in the world (or about people or animals) get real values or whether there is objective ethical obligations regardless of the intentions of individuals or social conventions. In logic, there is a debate about the reality or unreality of semantic objects that are not identical to the reference object of a sign (see Sense (semantics) ). These realism debates often combine skeptical or anti-realistic positions with relativism , even if relativism and anti-realism are not congruent.

The epistemological realism is stronger insofar as it is assumed that there is in principle an existing reality that can also be known in some way. There are, in turn, a multitude of highly different opinions about the degree of recognizability. The opposite position is solipsism , which assumes that reality is based solely on intellectual achievements and denies the existence of an external reality.

Finally, the proponents of epistemological realism believe that theories about reality can be set up that are in some respects true. From the point of view of analytical philosophy, Michael Dummett formulated this thesis in such a way that the truth of a statement is independent of the possibility of its justification. The counter-thesis advocated by Dummett is anti-realism.

History of philosophy

From antiquity to the Middle Ages, only the dispute about the reality of general terms ( universal dispute ) is known, that is, a naive or at best critical realism can be assumed for this period. The idea of ​​a pure construction of the world in consciousness, as in the subjective idealism of Fichte or in today's radical constructivism, did not exist at that time. It was not until Descartes ' philosophy of consciousness and the idealistic interpretation by Berkeley ( Latin esse est percepi, “existence is to be perceived”) that the realism debate began in philosophy. Above all, it shaped the debate between rationalism and empiricism in modern times, for which Kant sought to find a mediating position.

Immanuel Kant used the term “things in themselves” to describe the outside world. For him this term was a borderline term because he did not see the properties of the outside world as recognizable to humans. Only perceptions affected by the external world, which he called phenomena, reach consciousness. Since the way of knowing is the same for all people, the perceptions can be checked intersubjectively, so that there is an objective knowledge on the level of the appearances .

For Kant, however, reality also encompassed the realm of pure understanding and pure intuition, the so-called intelligible world, which a priori lies in man. Regardless of the things, humans have perceptions of space and time as well as thought structures, the so-called categories, with which they structure the appearances and convert them into terms and judgments (statements) according to rules. Even if things in themselves are not immediately recognizable for humans, they must necessarily be accepted, because otherwise no intuitions can arise. On the other hand, human concept formation is required to allow a reality to arise in consciousness. In addition, there were so-called regulative ideas for Kant, namely God, freedom and the soul. These are absolute concepts that are formed by reason without an empirical basis, because the striving for an unlimited expansion of knowledge is in the nature of man. In his postulate - doctrine, Kant also assigned reality to these pure contents of consciousness as conceptual entities.

When the representatives of German idealism denied the assumption of an outside world (of things in themselves), they came to the view that reality arises through a system of the spirit. Spirit and nature are to be understood as a unity that can be traced back to an absolute principle such as B. the ego, nature or the world spirit. This way of thinking, trapped in speculation, was not suitable for making positive contributions and reflections on the rapidly developing natural sciences. For idealism , reality depends only on mental performance. At the same time, therefore, positions that represented the reality of the experience of the outside world and the objects contained therein were called realism. On the other side of the spectrum there is sensualism, as in Ernst Mach , which borders on solipsism .

The discussion was given a new perspective in the linguistic turnaround, with which language alone was given priority for questions of knowledge. As a consequence, most of the representatives of analytical philosophy are anti-realists, such as Michael Dummett and Donald Davidson . In his much discussed neo-pragmatic approach, Richard Rorty comes to the view that the realism debate is ultimately useless and that instead of this question, concrete scientific topics should be dealt with.

As a counter-development to idealism, a highly realistic worldview gained the upper hand in positivism. A classic representative of critical realism is Nicolai Hartmann . Karl Popper's critical rationalism solution is similar. Since Popper did not consider the possibility of epistemological proof of an outside world to be guaranteed, he instead assumed that it makes pragmatic sense to consider the position of critical realism to be sensible. In connection with the fallibilism he developed, Popper also speaks of a hypothetical realism .

At the end of the 20th century, Jean Baudrillard ( agony of the real ) as a thinker of post-structuralism sees current reality as determined by an “ agony of fixed references, agony of the real and the rational”, with which the age of simulation arrives. The story had "withdrawn", a "fog of indifference leaving behind, although crossed by currents, but emptied all of their remuneration". Baudrillard sets up theories of hyperreality , in which the sign gains power at the expense of what it originally designated.


With regard to epistemological realism, the following positions are usually distinguished:

  • Naive realism : Reality can be clearly described and is composed as it is recognized, even if errors and progress in knowledge are possible. This position can hardly be found in view of the advanced scientific knowledge.
  • Critical realism : Reality is only reflected through perceptions and intellectual achievements as phenomena in the consciousness of the person. But there are recognizable relationships between real objects and appearances, so that, for example, two people who perceive the same thing also have the same appearance. Critical realism is based on an advance in knowledge, that is, the approximation of knowledge to the actual conditions in the outside world.
  • Semantic realism : In semantic realism it is assumed that there is a clear interpretation for the outside world.
  • Epistemic Realism : The above views can besummarizedas epistemic realism. They all share the opinion that meaningful statements can be made about the outside world.
  • Weak realism : There is indeed a reality and this is in a certain relationship to the perceiving subject, but this fact does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the world itself. For man there is only what is recognizable for him. Any other inference is speculative metaphysics. The human senses are affected (whether according to atomistic association psychology or gestalt psychology is irrelevant) and a transformation process occurs that leads to the phenomena in human consciousness ( Kant or Kuhn , in the latter case the effects are called stimuli). A reality without interpretive signs is inconceivable ( Günter Abel ). According to John Hick, areality can beimagined as experience-as (roughly "experienced-as").

The concept of representation , in which the appearance of the object in consciousness is understood as something mediated, does not quite fit into the above classification . The spectrum of ideas about representation ranges from physical depiction and sensory data to isomorphism between reality and language or signs. The conceptions of representation are also called phenomenalisms.

When evaluating the basic positions presented, it must be established that none of them can be empirically proven, but are based on more or less plausible interpretations of our consciousness or our ideas of the world, so that they are all as metaphysical as radical skepticism .

The anti-realist has a relatively easy position in this debate, as he can insist that human cognitive faculties do not allow empirical evidence of the outside world. Against this position, however, speaks the plausibility of everyday experience that obviously all people have a largely similar experience of the world and the practical argumentation of the natural sciences, which can refer to the successes of research with a realistic world view. The classic example is the prediction of the deflection of light waves by gravity based on the theory of relativity , which was then confirmed in retrospect by the observation of position shifts of very distant astronomical objects.

Philosophy of science

In order to satisfy their self-image, the natural sciences need a concept of reality that assumes entities and the possibility of measurements to be true, since otherwise regularities would not be observed and forecasts would not be possible. The possibility of conceptions ranges from a strict metaphysical realism to the view that the objects of science are abstractions. When it comes to statements made by science about reality, it is hardly disputed that

  • They translate reality into symbols (mathematical signs and a theoretical language) and
  • The scientific data arise on the basis of theories (are theory-laden) and are interpreted.

Correspondingly, one can speak of possible natures about the object of natural science, just as philosophy speaks of possible worlds.

Scientific realism is a special variety , which also considers non-observable facts such as neutrons or X-rays to be real because these theoretical objects have empirically verifiable effects. A prominent representative of entity realism is Ian Hacking , who does not ascribe theories to an independent reality.

Everyday scientific life (research, publications, teaching) is now limited to the application of a number of tried and tested methods. Questions about the relation to reality arise only in a few exposed areas, such as climate models or the big bang theory.

Physics: realism and quantum mechanics

When interpreting quantum mechanics , the problem of defining the term "reality" was exacerbated. Because the objects to be observed appear differently depending on the experiment, once as particles, once as light waves ( wave-particle dualism ). This led Einstein , Podolsky and Rosen to the following criterion of physical reality:

"If one can predict the value of a physical quantity with certainty (that is, with the probability of 1) without disturbing a system in any way, then there is an element of physical reality that corresponds to this physical quantity."

Although this definition sounds very cautious, it seems to cause problems when, for example, the results of the EPR experiments are to be explained.

See also


  • Günter Abel : Signs of Reality. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-518-29251-X . (Interpretationism as weak realism)
  • Peter L. Berger , Thomas Luckmann : The social construction of reality. A theory of the sociology of knowledge . Fischer TB, Frankfurt a. M. 1993, ISBN 3-596-26623-8 .
  • Nicolai Hartmann : Possibility and Reality. 1938. (Critical Realism)
  • Jürgen Mittelstraß : Reality. , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd Edition. Volume 7: Re - Te. Stuttgart, Metzler 2018, ISBN 978-3-476-02106-9 , pp. 15 - 17 (detailed bibliography)
  • Vanderlei de Oliveira Farias: Kant's Realism and the Outside World Skepticism. Olms, 2006.
  • Hans Günther Russ: Theory of Science, Epistemology and the Search for Truth. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-17-018190-4 . (Critical Realism from the Perspective of Critical Rationalism)
  • Paul Watzlawick : How real is reality - delusion, deception, understanding. 1978 ISBN 3-492-24319-3 . (Radical constructivism)
  • Marcus Willaschek (Ed.): Realism. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 1999. (Collection of essays with very different positions by American philosophers)

Web links

Wiktionary: Reality  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Reality  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. roughly based on: Anton Hügli , Poul Lübcke (Ed.): Philosophielexikon. People and concepts of occidental philosophy from antiquity to the present. 5th edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-499-55453-4 .