Realism without Materialism


After years of obsession with written texts, continental philosophy has recently raised the colorful banners of materialism and realism. The two terms are often linked by a hyphen or a slash. And yet everyone vaguely senses a difference between them, as can be detected in the more fashionable status currently occupied by materialism than by realism. This article will begin by driving an explicit and (I hope) permanent wedge between the two terms. It will conclude by asserting the minority position, exalting realism at the expense of materialism.

Nothing could be more urgent for present-day philosophy, which for two centuries has lost touch with all the specific real and fictional entities that populate the cosmos. My claim is that reality is object-oriented, and that a corresponding shift is needed from the analysis of consciousness and written words towards an ontology of dogs, trees, flames, monuments, societies, ghosts, gods, pirates, coins, and rubies. Despite appearances to the contrary, materialism can only ruin this shift. For it either undermines objects from below, reducing them downward to their material underpinnings, or it overmines them from above, reducing them upward to their appearance for human beings.

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