Fear of reality: On realism and infra-realism

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© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Hegeler Institute. All rights reserved. Two different sorts of claims are often conflated under the name "realism": (a) that a world exists outside the mind, and (b) that we can gain knowledge of that world. As recent examples of such conflation we consider Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude from the continental tradition and Paul Boghossian's Fear of Knowledge from mainstream analytic philosophy. These authors seem less interested in reality per se than in promoting mathematics and natural science, respectively, as exemplary means of reaching it. Boghossian implies further that "real" means "untainted by human construction," neglecting to note that society or literature have a genuine autonomous depth despite being causally dependent on humans. In this way, Boghossian joins the art critic Michael Fried in falling into what we might call an "antitheatrical fallacy." In closing, the article defends an "infra-realism" in which the real is always a surplus beyond possible knowledge of it, and traces this position to no less a figure than Socrates. Only infra-realism can avoid the lapse into Meno's Paradox found in realisms of knowledge such as those of Meillassoux and Boghossian.

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