There are 2 cases. Either (1) Some of our concepts (thoughts) resemble what really exists out there or (2) None of our concepts (thoughts) resemble what really exists out there

If we take (1) = p then (2) is ~p

But everything I can say using words is/are a thought/thoughts inside my mind. Therefore 2nd one is a thought inside my mind.

So if I take none of my thoughts resemble the reality as true, the very statement has resembled the reality. That is I have a thought that resembles the non-resemblance of my thoughts to reality.

Which means 2nd one leads to a contradiction. Therefore we are left only with one possibility, some of our thoughts resemble reality.

Has any philosopher or philosophers argued along this line to show that some of our thoughts resemble reality and the way we picture world is at least partially true ? If yes what are the names of those philosophers and the books/articles they have written regarding this ?

(This is not to say I agree with this reasoning. I personally reject this claim)


  • 2
    I suspect that your 'p/not-p' as defined here are not a true contradictory pair as defined by Aristotle. If not then we should not and need not choose between them. It would be possible to reject both of them. Both assume there is a world 'out there' and this is a vast assumption. Many philosophers would say nothing 'really exists out there' and that as presented this is a false dichotomy.
    – user20253
    Mar 13, 2018 at 11:51
  • Please, be careful in "playing with words"... philosophy must be something different. A thought in our mind is not "soemthing out there". In what sense a thought about the non-correspondence of concepts to reality "resembles" to a thought: we are speaking of corerspondencebetween thouth (concepts) and reality "out there". Mar 13, 2018 at 16:39
  • Not so much. The biggest problem is with explaining what "concepts resemble what really exists" means, most realist theories run into problems explaining that. Besides, (1) is too weak to be of any interest. Perhaps there is one concept that "resembles" something out there (whatever that means), it could be so by mere accident. That our concepts "mostly resemble reality", even if we could make sense of it, is a much stronger claim that this argument does nothing to advance.
    – Conifold
    Mar 17, 2018 at 4:35

3 Answers 3


Master Ludwig Wittgenstein, specifically the posthumously published "Philosophical Investigations." Although, that work is arguably much more fruitful if one has read his "Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus"; for much of the former (as well as his unique writing structure) are either refuted and/or restructured/expanded upon.

  • Where specifically has Wittgenstein answered the question? If would be good to quote the most relevant passages about how reality is resembled by our concepts. This would help the reader focus more closely on the relevant parts of Wittgenstein without having to read all of it. Jul 15, 2018 at 12:43

I seems to me that (as always with philosophical conceptualizations) that the terms used are not defined. From my perspective (First Principle: I experience, therefore I am.) the phrases 'thoughts resemble reality' and 'our concepts (thoughts) resemble what really exists out there' is conflating the two; reality (conceptualization) and existence (that which is out there). We experience (our senses being like an interface) existence (which is external (out there))and have the mental capacity (indeed proclivity) to conceptualize about it (which is internal). Not being entirely familiar with the literature on this, others may have said as much.


Resemblance and non-resemblance

Locke does not present his position along the exact line of argument you define but there is a strong likeness between your account and his of concepts that resemble reality and concepts that do not.

Locke thought that some of our concepts 'resemble' the things they are concepts of, and that others do not. Our concepts of primary qualities resemble qualities possessed by objects and our concepts of secondary qualities do not. Concepts of secondary qualities derive from the interaction between an object's primary qualities and our sensory apparatus. Barry Stroud explains in more detail :

Locke was a follower of the 'corpuscular philosophy' of Boyle and others, according to which the physical world is composed of a large number of solid atoms with size, shape, position, and motion or rest, but without colour, sound, odour, hardness, or heat. In saying that our ideas of the primary qualities of things 'resemble' qualities possessed by objects in the world but that our ideas of secondary qualities do not he was simply ex- pressing the scientific view that everything that happens in the world, including our perceiving the colours, sounds, odours, and so on that we do, is caused by the action of physical particles possessing only primary qualities of the sort listed. We do have ideas of such qualities, and all objects do possess such qualities. But what, in an object, correspond to our ideas of secondary qualities are only the powers the object possesses, in virtue of the primary qualities of its fundamental parts, to produce certain ideas in sentient beings who come into contact with it. In advancing this view Locke was not concerned with the problem of how we can reliably tell that things really are as they appear to be, nor did he argue for the asymmetry between our ideas of primary qualities and those of secondary qualities on the ground that familiar facts about the 'relativity' of perception hold for the latter but not for the former. He simply supposed, quite reasonably, that only the kinds of qualities referred to in physical explanations 'are really in them,-whether any one's senses perceive them or no: and therefore may be called real [or original or primary] qualities, because they really exist in those bodies'. (Barry Stroud, 'Berkeley v. Locke on Primary Qualities', Philosophy, Vol. 55, No. 212 (Apr., 1980), pp. 149-166 : 150.)

Frege's problem

Frege raises a problem about correspondence which is relevant to resemblance :

A correspondence, moreover, can only be perfect if the corresponding things coincide and are, therefore, not distinct things at all. It is said to be possible to establish the authenticity of a banknote by comparing it stereoscopically with an authentic one. But it would be ridiculous to try to compare a gold piece with a twenty-mark note stereoscopically. It would only be possible to compare an idea with a thing if the thing were an idea too. And then, if the first did correspond perfectly with the second, they would coincide. But this is not at all what is wanted when truth is defined as the correspondence of an idea with something real. For it is absolutely essential that the reality be distinct from the idea. But then there can be no complete correspondence, no complete truth. (G. Frege, 'The Thought : A Logical Inquiry', Mind, New Series, Vol. 65, No. 259 (Jul., 1956), pp. 289-311 : 291.)

The point is that, to adapt Frege's language, a concept can strictly resemble only a concept. The concept of a primary quality cannot strictly resemble the primary quality itself. The concept has no 'size, shape, position, and motion or rest'. If this is so, then Locke's basis for distinguishing between primary and secondary qualities collapses. He does not believe that concepts of secondary qualities resemble anything in the object; and it turns out that concepts of primary qualities cannot do so.

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