Discipline: Art


Realism in the NOVEL and in painting was identified and defended in mid-19th century France and applies paradigmatically to the practices of the novelists STENDHAL (1783-1842), HONORE de BALZAC (1799-1850) and GUSTAVE FLAUBERT (1821-1880); by extension, to much 19th-century English fiction.

It is a mode of fictional representation which gives an illusion of a world experienced as a reader might experience life. Techniques vary, but they include a high level of specification of material details, concentration on mundane incidents and problems, focus on a single life, straightforwardness of temporal POINT OF VIEW, consistency of FOCALIZATION, and backgrounding of NARRATOR ('impersonality'). See also SOCIAL NOVEL, naturalism and verismo.

GUSTAVE COURBET (1819-1877) epitomizes the Realist painter; his paintings, produced in naturalistic and verist style, depicting everyday life rather than grand historical subjects.

R Wellek, 'The Concept of Realism in Literary Scholarship' [1960], Concepts of Criticism
S G Nicholls, ed. (New Haven, 1962), 222-55
G J Becker, ed., Documents of Modern Literary Realism (Princeton, 1963)


Discipline: Philosophy

Often associated with the work of Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid (1710-1796), and German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Usually used in either of two ways:

(1) the view that abstract concepts have a real existence and can be studied empirically;
(2) the doctrine that the physical world has a reality separate from that of the mind.

Over the reality of universals (see Platonism) and other abstract objects, realism contrasts mainly with nominalism and conceptualism (see also: resemblance theories of universals).

In dealing with the reality and status of things around us, it contrasts with idealism and phenomenalism. It contrasts with anti-realism on the possibility of truths independent of our powers of verifying them or manifesting knowledge of them.

All this suggests that realism (like 'real') is mainly defined by contrast. As with many philosophical terms, 'realist' can apply to some features of a view to other features of which some contrasting term applies.

Compare with: causal realism, critical realism, modal realism, naive realism, perspective realism

D N Robinson, An Intellectual History of Psychology (London, 1976)

Discipline: Political Science

View of international relations as the pursuit of interests.

States pursue their own security and prosperity in international relations, whatever their apparent aims, alliances or moral claims.

Graham Evans and Jeffrey Newnham, The Dictionary of World Politics (Hemel Hempstead, 1990)


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