Putnam, Hilary (1926–2016)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q117-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved December 09, 2023, from

8. Internal realism

Internal realism is also referred to by Putnam as ’pragmatic’ or ’natural’ realism. Like the American pragmatists, Putnam holds that commonsense realism, which he respects, requires no ’deeper’ philosophical foundation. He also follows pragmatism in rejecting the fact/value dichotomy, and opposes moral relativism as firmly as he opposes cognitive relativism (see Pragmatism). A critic of reductionism and naturalism, he maintains that there are forms of nonscientific knowledge and that reason and morality cannot be naturalized. He distances himself from ’end of philosophy’ philosophies, and seeks to renew philosophy so as to reconnect it with human challenges and aspirations.

Internal realism is meant to avoid the pitfalls of both metaphysical realism and relativism, but Putnam has been accused of slipping back into these polar positions. At one point he was close to identifying internal realism with verificationism, with long-term warranted assertibility replacing the notion of truth. Later he rejected this view, as well as other attempts to eliminate truth.

While a long philosophical tradition sees realism and antirealism as exhaustive alternatives, Kant, the American pragmatists, and Wittgenstein, all strove to overcome this dichotomy. Putnam identifies with the latter camp. In his earlier writings, he represented realism as a kind of explanatory hypothesis, on a par with scientific theories. Internal realism, however, is not intended to play an explanatory role. Wittgenstein’s influence, and particularly, his suspicion of philosophical theories, is perceptible here, not only in the subtle similarity between the extended Löwenheim– Skolem theorem and the rule-following paradox, but also in the change of perspective that constitutes the response to these related problems. When we realize that internal realism is not an alternative theory but a call for a change of perspective, it emerges that much of Putnam’s earlier work, far from being undermined by his later philosophy, finds its proper place within it.

Citing this article:
Ben-Menahem, Yemima. Internal realism. Putnam, Hilary (1926–2016), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q117-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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