Reality, What a Concept!

The study of reality is generally called "ontology," so if you look up that word in the index of our textbook or in Wikipedia, that should be allow you to get started. Alternatively, you could sit down with a nice cup of coffee, and think about what the word "real" means to you. If somebody tells you that something (ghosts, dragons, unicorns, aliens...) is real, how would the truth or falsity of that statement affect your life? If something is real, how might your life be different if it was not real? If something is not real, how might your life be different if it was real?

Here's one way to get started.

1. Make a short but diverse list of real and unreal things in which it's easy to tell which is which..

2. Try to make another list of real and unreal things in which it's _hard_ to tell which is which.

3. For each item the easy list, say why it's real or not real.

4. For any item the hard list, say why it's real or not real, and explain why it's hard to tell.

5. Try to explain how you decided what things were real and what things weren't.

6. Think about how you decided which things are real and which aren't, and try to come up with a rule to determine when things are real or not real. ("A thing is real if . . . " "A thing is not real if . . . ")

7. Compare your rule to some other ontology. For instance, if you pick Plato's ontology, you would look at images of various kinds, sensible objects, laws of nature and Plato's forms. Which of these are real according to _your_ rules? Which are unreal by your rules?

8. Try to figure out which ontology is better, yours or the other guy's. Give whatever reasons you can for your way, and try to explain Plato's reasoning for his ontology before explaining overall reasoning on this question.

As always, answer the question based strictly on logic. Don't speculate, don't make unsupported sweeping generalizations and don't make any controversial claim that you don't back up with reasons. It's okay to admit you don't know something. It's not okay to make a claim you can't back up.

Copyright 2005 by Martin C. Young

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