In Bertrand Russell’s, ‘Appearance and Reality’, he launches the idea of what philosophy really is. In his view philosophy is the critical analysis of life’s question. This is because in many cases, ordinary people and even scientists will answer life’s questions ordinarily and even simply. But philosophy explores the opportunity to critically analyze these issues awhile looking at all angles. People will often make assumptions about what they see, what they feel and generally about their own experiences as well as those of others. However, this is usually because people don’t take their time to really scrutinize these experiences. In his writing, Russell believes that a bit of scrutiny may lead to a discovery that things are not always simple and straight forward, and sometimes things may be deeper than we understand them.
In his paper, Bernard looks at a questions that most people would imagine to be quite simple. Is there a knowledge on earth that is could not be contradicted by any form of information? That is, a knowledge that is certain beyond any reasonable doubt, for example, the rotation around the sun. But he believes everything can be contradicted if it was keenly looked at. Furthermore, he argues that certainty is in human experience since all of the knowledge we possess is derived from our experiences.
The paper then presents what Russell considers to be one of the major issues of philosophy. That is the issue of distinguishing between reality and appearance. While people always imagine, everybody sees things the way they themselves see it, Russell believes that we cannot see things similarly, because no two people can see an object from the exact same view. An expert at a certain field strives to know what things seems to be while the ordinary person and the philosopher desire to know what they are. The difference between the ordinary person and the philosopher is that the philosopher strives to acquire a deeper knowledge on the subject.
The writer, uses an example of a table that appears to be oblong, brown and shiny on first sight. But he explains that the table cannot look the same from everyone’s point of view. For example the color of the table will be dependent on the spectator’s angle of seeing. While one spectator’s point of view may be affected by the amount of light reflected on the table, another person may be affected by conditions such as color blindness. Similarly, while the table may look smooth with the naked eyes, under a microscope some level of roughness is visible. This is the case with other aspects of the table such as the shape of the table. Difficulties will appear when we use our sense of sight, touch and hearing. So should human beings really trust what they see with their eyes or feel through touch if these aspects keep changing from different points of view?
Because of the changing perspectives of different spectators, Russell questions even the existence of the table all together. But if there is a table, it is clear that the immediate experience one has with the item is not entirely correct. Therefore, it is safe to argue that an initial experience with an object will often interfere with a deeper knowledge on the item. Two questions are useful in the philosophical analysis of the table. Is the table real? And if it is, what kind of object can it be? Russell’s writing incorporates the ideas of past philosophers such as Berkeley who believed that anything we describe as matter is non-existent is independent of us. According to these philosophers, matter exists because we can perceive it in our mind thus anything is not perceived in the mind is non-existent. Russell dismisses this argument as fallacious (Feinberg and Shafer-Landau 196).
We gather knowledge from our life experiences and our observation of the world. But the question is whether what we see and perceive as real in the world is even real. Human senses gather data on characteristics of what is referred to as matter. But what our senses gather is not always reality according to Russell thus the distinction between reality and appearances. I believe that we miss certain aspects and significant components of an objects when we simply glace at the item. And a more scrutinizing look at the item may reveal a vast amount of knowledge that one could have missed by simply glancing at the item. Therefore, I am in complete agreement with Bertrand that for one to understand something deeper they must take a closer look.
‘Appearances can be deceiving’ is a common phrase among ordinary people. Many times we think we see one thing but when we get closer, the view becomes clearer and more often than not, the view is different from our initial sight. Furthermore, while one person may see an object in one way another person may see it completely differently. This is because people can never look at something from the same angle and circumstances and points of view vary. This ideology makes us question the whole idea of reality and its existence.
The use of a simple analogy as a table make Russell’s argument a strong one because if an object as simple as a table can have so many distinct and contradictory views about it, what about the complex world that we live in (Jager 51). I think Bertrand strongly explains his argument by taking simple aspects of an objects such as color, texture and sound of a table to prove the point that appearances are not always reality. This analogy makes us question complex knowledge and information such as the rotation of the earth, or the growth of plans that scientists have explained so plainly and simply. It is possible that all the scientific materials that we consider to be factual to be simply an interference of appearance that scientist saw at a glance. Furthermore, it is possible that if these scientists were to look deeper of take a different view, contradictory information may be discovered.
According to authors Feinberg and Shafer-Landau, when a person sees an object that the senses recognizes, the first sense data that is collected is not the entire truth about an object because the object is not part of the observe. Therefore, the data is simply the truth about certain aspect of the sense data with is often dependent on the relationship between the object and the observer (Feinberg and Shafer-Landau 195). In Russell’s strengthens his analysis when he uses the analogy of a table and a painter. How the painter of the table will perceive the color of the table is not how an ordinary person will see the color of the table. While a practical will quickly rush to find out what he color is, the painter analyses it further to discover what it seems to be. I believe that Bertrand clearly demonstrates that appearance is a relative issue that is dependent on the viewer’s perspective. Therefore, one object will mean different sense data for different observers.
This raises the issue of reality which the philosopher describes to be distinct from appearance. Looking at things closely seems to change their appearance and the closer a person looks the difference in appearance (Bode 701). In my opinion, Bertrand’s argument is further strengthened by his observation that the appearance differ even when the observer is the same. For example, when he questions the texture of the table when viewed with naked eyes, a microscope and later a stronger microscope. In all these scenarios, the appearance of the texture keeps changing. Thus begs the questions on whether the appearances data collected can be trusted as reality. I think, the varying manner of our appearances causes then to simply be ideas in our minds as opposed to reality.
The manner in which Russell makes his readers aware of how simple things such as a table that is familiar to most people has become a problem in the surrounded with many possibilities. Therefore, it is difficult to know if the strangest of hypothesis is can hold some truth (Feinberg and Shafer-Landau 195). The questions raise by the realist raises questions of what is real. Bertrand ends his ideas by questioning the existence of the table and if it exists then he questions its real characteristics.
Bertrand Russell is a realism who contradicted the ideology of most philosophers in his time who believed in idealism. However, in his argument of appearance and reality, the philosopher seems to attack the ideas other philosophers by arguing against their philosophy. Russell goes as far as describing idealists’ argument that matter does not exist independently of man as deceitful. I think this aspect of Russell’s argument fails to capture the meaning of his own perspective. Instead it contradicts the philosophical school of thought idealism and dismisses without concreate justification. In my opinion, this shows a weaker sided of the realism ideology.
Russell’s view was a somewhat a negative response to the doctrines of philosophers like Bradley. The realist seem to be in many battles at ones (Jager 63). He strongly condemns the idea that although matter exists as when it’s no longer in sight, matter only exists in the mind and ideas of people. Therefore, what man cannot perceive in his mind is non-existent. Russell dismisses this argument by past philosophers as fallacious but fails to provide his own point of view on the existence of matter and its relationship to his appearance and reality perspective. In my opinion, the conflict of ideas between Russell and other philosophers weakens his argument on what reality is.
In conclusion, Russell presents a strong argument by raising questions on the validity of the data collected by our senses as truth. He further strengthens his argument through a simple analogy of a table that leaves readers wondering on the matter of the reality of simple appearances. However, Russell fails to provide a conclusive perspective on reality. Instead he conflict with past philosophers on the existence of matter. His argument on appearances and reality leaves many unanswered questions.
Feinberg, Joel, and Russ Shafer-Landau. Reason and Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy. Princeton, N.J: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2013. Sound recording.
Jager, Ronald. The Development of Bertrand Russell's Philosophy. London: Allen and Unwin, 2002. Print.
Bode B. H.The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 15, No. 26 (Dec. 19, 1918), pp. 701-710. Journal of Philosophy, Inc.Article DOI: 10.2307/2940674