In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Naïve Realism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Motivations for Naïve Realism
  • Traditional Arguments against Naïve Realism
  • Naïve Realism and Epistemology

Philosophy Naïve Realism
Bill Fish
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0340


Naïve realism is a theory in the philosophy of perception: primarily, the philosophy of vision. Historically, the term was used to name a variant of “direct realism,” which claimed (1) that everyday material objects, such as caterpillars and cadillacs, have mind-independent existence (the “realism” part); (2) that our visual perception of these material objects is not mediated by the perception of some other entities, such as sense-data (the “direct” part); and (3) these objects possess all the features that we perceive them to have (the “naïve” part). In this, the theory contrasted with theories such as scientific direct realism (which rejected (3)), indirect realism (which rejected (2) and (3)), and phenomenalism, which rejected (1). Today, however, most philosophical theories of visual perception would endorse at least claims (1) and (2), and many would also endorse (3). In this setting, “naïve realism” has taken on a more precise use. As understood today, the naïve realist claims that, when we successfully see a tomato, that tomato is literally a constituent of that experience, such that an experience of that fundamental kind could not have occurred in the absence of that object. As naïve realism, thus understood, sees perception as fundamentally involving a relation between subjects and their environments, the position is also sometimes known as “relationalism” in the contemporary literature. Typically, today’s naïve realist will also claim that the conscious “phenomenal” character of that experience is shaped by the objects of perception and their features, where this is understood in a constitutive, rather than merely a causal, sense. On such a view, the redness that I am aware of when I look at a ripe tomato is a matter of my experience acquainting me with the tomato’s color: the redness that I am aware of in this experience just is the redness of the tomato. As such a view appears to commit its proponent to a version of claim (3) above—that for one to see an object to have a feature, the object must actually have that feature—the inheritance of the name “naïve” realism seems appropriate. As for whether there can be naïve realist theories of senses other than vision, this is an issue that awaits a more detailed exploration.

General Overviews

As naïve realism—particularly in its more contemporary guise—is a relatively new approach in the philosophy of perception, introductions to the area are few in number. Fish 2010 is a gentle introduction to the philosophy of perception and contains a chapter on disjunctive theories that has some introductory discussion of naïve realism. Crane and French 2015 is an encyclopedia entry on the problem of perception that also has a section devoted to naïve realism. Nudds 2009 and Genone 2016 provide relatively detailed overviews of the discussions surrounding naïve realism at the times they were written: Nudds focuses on the connections between naïve realism and disjunctivism, while Genone covers a wider range of issues. Brewer 2011 connects contemporary discussions of naïve realism with the work of Berkeley and Locke through seeing them each as rejecting one of the three elements of an “inconsistent triad” of plausible claims. Hellie’s PhilPapers entry on Naïve and Direct Realism is also a useful general resource, which is regularly updated.

  • Brewer, Bill. Perception and Its Objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199260256.001.0001

    In chapter 1, Brewer lays out an inconsistent triad of plausible claims about perception and the external world and uses this to connect the contemporary discussions of naïve realism with the work of Locke and Berkeley.

  • Crane, Tim, and Craig French. “The Problem of Perception.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2015.

    Excellent overview of the wide range of issues discussed in the philosophy of perception, with a dedicated section on naïve realism.

  • Fish, William. Philosophy of Perception: A Contemporary Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    A textbook introduction to issues in the philosophy of perception, with a chapter that focuses on naïve realism and disjunctivism.

  • Genone, James. “Recent Work on Naïve Realism.” American Philosophical Quarterly 53.1 (2016): 1–26.

    A more recent overview article than Nudds 2009. Particularly useful on the relationship between naïve realism and direct realism and the question of whether naïve realism and representationalism are compatible.

  • Hellie, Benj. “Naïve and Direct Realism.” In PhilPapers. Edited by David Chalmers and David Bourget.

    Online reference list of resources on naïve and direct realism.

  • Nudds, Matthew. “Recent Work in Perception: Naïve Realism and Its Opponents.” Analysis Reviews 69.2 (2009): 334–346.

    DOI: 10.1093/analys/anp039

    An overview article focusing on M. G. F. Martin’s use of disjunctivism as a means to support naïve realism.

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