Introduction – Theories and debate on human perception of the external world
According to empiricism theorists, only what a person experience is real, which means that there is a problem with the way on which humans can check the truthfulness of their perception. Therefore, all knowledge humans obtained is based on observation, which validates such knowledge. From this view, three main theories have emerged to explain perception and acquisition of knowledge: Realism, Idealism, and phenomenalism.
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However, while each of them is effective in explaining the human view of the external world, the problem is to determine which of the three theories that are most plausible within the context of human perception of the external world. The degree of acceptance and plausibility of these theories differ significantly, with several philosophers rejecting and accepting these theories depending on their degree of credibility. Empiricism and perception are greatly intertwined in the philosophy of knowledge acquisition.
Within this context, theories of realism, idealism, and phenomenalism have emerged as some of the most effective paradigms of explaining the perception of the external world. Noteworthy, each of these theories has some inherent strengths and weaknesses that affect the applicability in philosophy. However, due to its emphasis on the principle of the existence of real objects perceived through the human five senses, realism presents a more plausible theory than both idealism and phenomenalism.
Realism: Focus on the principle of real existence objects
In its simple terms, the theory of realism states that the nature of the external world is more or less the way humans perceive it (Cohen, Hilpinen, and Renzong 72). Realism is studied concerning other aspects such as minds, mathematical entities, the future, and the past, thoughts, and the materials world.
Therefore, there is a strong debate relating to the question of whether realism theory is the most plausible theory in explaining how humans perceive the external world. In general, realism is a strong theory because it holds two major facts that explain the nature of the external world. First, the theory of realism emphasizes the existence (Cohen, Hilpinen, and Renzong 122). According to this facet, objects such as rocks, water, the moon, and air are in existence, which means that facts also exist.
For instance, the sun is spherical, and shinny or rock is made of granite. Secondly, the theory emphasizes the aspect of independence (Macionis, 88). According to the theory, facts about objects exist independently of human linguistic practices, conceptual themes, or any other aspect. This generic realism takes the existence of objects and their attributes as explanations that cannot be changed concerning differences in human perceptions.
For instance, if a, b and c are distinctive objects with distinctive properties F, G, and H respectively, then the three objects a, b and c are in existence and have the properties such as being F, G, and H respectively. It follows that the properties of being F, G, and H are independent of human beliefs, conceptual claims, and linguistic properties (Cohen, Hilpinen, and Renzong 189).
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These objects remain as they are, regardless of human thinking about them. It is worth noting that this concept is one of the strengths that the theory posses. Other theories fail to develop such a simple but effective procedure to show the relationship between human senses and physical objects in the external environment.
The plausibility of this theory is acceptable in philosophy for several reasons. First, it is evident that this theory is grounded on the existence of real objects in nature, which are perceived through the five senses in hams. It creates a space of science that is related to human perception. Humans must first perceive objects such as seeing the sun to develop some inference into it.
Opponents of realism argue that the theory fails to consider the fact that the objects that are immediately known to humans are not the physical objects that a lay person might consider. However, they also fail to note that a child is born without knowledge of any object until it starts experiencing them through touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. With time, exposure of human to objects that produce stimuli affecting any of these senses makes a child start perceiving the external world based on the “sense-data” obtained from experience.
This data corresponds to the perceived physical objects. Human sense-date is situated within the private spaces in mind and is in the form of space of sight, touch, vaguer, taste, and hearing (Cohen, Hilpinen and Renzong 54). It is through experience that humans can correlate the wide range of private sense data spaces with the physical space that knowledge of the external world is achieved.
Therefore, this theory is the most plausible because it states that humans perceive their external world based on the impact that the elements of the external world have on the five senses. There is no other way humans can learn of their external world apart from the five senses.
Moreover, this is supported by science because biologically and chemically, physical objects transform, produce or convey energy in the form of sound, heat, chemical signals or molecules and light, which are readily perceived by animals through touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. Thus, these are the data packets transformed from nature and processed in humans as “sense-data.” It is therefore worth arguing that this theory is both philosophical and scientific and, thus, it is highly plausible.
Idealism theory: How plausible is it?
Given idealism theory, the principle is that reality if fundamentally immaterial because it is fundamentally within the human mind and is constructed mentally. It contradicts the realism notion in that it does not consider the existence of objects as reality. It stresses the central role of an idea or spiritual in the human interpretation of the external world as observed or experienced.
According to idealism theorists, the world and reality exist as consciousness and spirits within human minds. Here, laws and abstractions are important in reality than in human sensory objects. Also, it holds that anything that exists is known in terms of its dimensions, which are fundamental constructs of the mental ability as human ideas.
Therefore, Idealism emphasizes on two basic aspects. First, metaphysical idealism asserts that an ideality of reality exists within the human mind and is fundamentally mental.
Despite this, the plausibility of idealism is also questionable, which means that it cannot be used to provide the absolute explanation of human view and understanding of the external world. For instance, opponents have shown that idealism is unreal because it is purely abstract and metaphysical.
Therefore, it is far from the realities of the world and life. Secondly, it employs conservatism ideas as its tactics in explaining the human understanding of the external world. According to opponents, idealism seems to emphasize the divine rights of things and that it realizes the actual rather than the ideal. These aspects affect the degree of plausibility of idealism in explaining the human view of the external world.
Phenomenalism theory: A weakly plausible theory
Phenomenalism is an empiricism theory that emphasizes the view that physical objects exist as perceptual, sensory stimuli, or a perceptual phenomenon located within the limits of time and space.
Therefore, it refutes the claim that physical objects can justifiably be considered to be in existence in themselves. It aims at refuting the claim of the existence of physical objects and replaces it with an idea of bundles of “sense-data” as to how things exist. Therefore, this theory is considered as a radical empiricist theory rooted within ontological ideologies.
According to the theory, the claim by idealism that human knowledge comes through their senses holds. Also, Phenomenalism tends to shift from the idea of knowledge as “object by itself” to a new paradigm that emphasizes the human experience of knowledge.
It is worth noting that Phenomentalism theory is based on the idea of the truth rather than an account of human perception. About the external world, Phenomenalism theory argues that when people talk about something such as a rock, they referring to their perceptions of that thing.
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Phenomenalism is also faced with criticism due to its consideration of human perceptions as an element of explaining knowledge of the external world. For instance, the idea that there is no truth apart from human experience or perception is highly refuted. Critics argue that one cannot say the truth based on perception or stimuli. In other words, the presence of an object holds whether one perceives or has experience with it or not. Secondly, the emphasis on sense-date has been criticized as unreal.
Therefore, Phenomenalism seems to have several weaknesses that make it less plausible and effective in explaining the external world.
Analysis: Strength of Realism over other theories
In 1983, John Berger published a book “ways of seeing” in which he addresses the problem of perception in a simple but clear statement: “seeing emerges before words. For example, a child looks at something and recognizes it before he or she can speak” (Macionis 88). In this statement, Berger tends to support the argument that “what people see is what they get.” In his book, the author argues that there is still another sense in which the act of seeing is before words.
He argues that seeing functions by establishing a human’s place in the surrounding world, which means that a person explains the world with words. However, these words cannot refute the fact that humans are surrounded by the world (Macionis, 93). In this context, it is evident that the author argues that the relationship between what is seen and what is known cannot be settled.
Nevertheless, perception drives knowledge, but explanation and knowledge can never fit the sight. Empiricism and perception have greatly been studied with the aim of describing how humans gain knowledge about the external world.
Reviewing the three theories show several weaknesses in each of them. However, realism is a plausible theory because it is grounded in science and psychology of human understanding of nature. Unlike realism, the plausibility of idealism is questionable because it relies on assumptions rather than scientific facts, which means that it cannot be used to provide the absolute explanation of human view and understanding of the external world.
For instance, opponents have shown that idealism is unreal because it is purely abstract. Phenomenalism is also faced with criticism due to its consideration of human perceptions as an element of explaining knowledge of the external world. These two theories are generally weak and less applicable compared to realism.
The degree of acceptance and plausibility of these theories differ significantly, with several philosophers rejecting and accepting these theories depending on their degree of credibility. Empiricism and perception are greatly intertwined in the philosophy of knowledge acquisition. Within this context, theories of realism, idealism, and phenomenalism have emerged as some of the most effective paradigms of explaining the perception of the external world.
However, realism theory seems to take into consideration the fact that humans learn their external world based on the information they obtain from the environment through the five senses of touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste (Macionis 123). Idealism and phenomenalism attempt to avoid these facts. They are largely based on assumptions rather than scientific and psychological facts.
Science proves that a child is born without information but with the capacity to perceive and process information. This is a fact that supports the theory of realism. Therefore, it is worth noting that due to its emphasis on the principle of the existence of real objects perceived through the human five senses, realism presents a more plausible theory than both idealism and phenomenalism.
Cohen, Robert, Risto Hilpinen and Qiu Renzong. Realism and Anti-Realism in the Philosophy of Science. New York: Springer, 2002. Print.
Macionis, John. Sociology 14th Edition. Boston. MA: Pearson, 2012. Print.