Anti-realists always begin with reality – and reject it. Because, they argue, it is obscure, misleading, and subject to different interpretations. So anti-realists begin again, this time with an idea of theirs. Even materialists begin with an idea, the idea of materiality. Thus anti-realists substitute their ideas for reality.
In contrast, realists begin with reality and accept it. Because, we argue, it is reality whether we like it or not; it is sufficiently perspicuous; careful observation and reflection can overcome misleading appearances; and interpretations should be based on reality.
All of this applies to writings as well. Anti-realists turn away from the inherent meaning of the text in favor of their interpretations of the text. Realists accept the inherent meaning of the text, yet are also free to discuss its significance and application.
These considerations apply in particular to texts that are foundational for a people, such as scriptures and laws. Consider the Bible, as in these examples:
Dennis Bratcher’s Genesis Bible Study: “the text is primarily theology, telling us about God, humanity, and their relationship”.
“The aim of Theological Interpretation is to read the Bible as Scripture, that is, as somehow God’s transformative address to the Church here in the present. We may contrast this with the past two centuries of biblical scholarship whose interests have been primarily historical: that is, they were aimed at reconstructing the life, religion, and history of ancient Israel and early Christianity.”
If the Bible is primarily theological, then it is theologians who determine its meaning. What about the other aspects of the Bible, for example, the historical chronicles? Should ideas about theology replace the inherent meaning of the text as simply history? The anti-realist says, Yes; the realist says, No.
Many would agree that the theology is the most important aspect of the Bible, but the theology is related to or built on the history, the geography, and other aspects. Interpretation of these aspects should focus on their significance rather than replace them. The chronicles in the Bible are real chronicles prior to any theological meaning they may also have.
Textualism is realism about legal texts.
Textualism is a method of statutory interpretation whereby the plain text of a statute is used to determine the meaning of the legislation. Instead of attempting to determine statutory purpose or legislative intent, textualists adhere to the objective meaning of the legal text.
Textualism is related to originalism. Originalists seek one of two alternative sources of meaning:
- The original intent theory, which holds that interpretation of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with what was meant by those who drafted and ratified it. This is currently a minority view among originalists.
- The original meaning theory, which is closely related to textualism, is the view that interpretation of a written constitution or law should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have understood the ordinary meaning of the text to be. It is this view with which most originalists, such as Justice Scalia, are associated.
Textual realism takes the text seriously as a form of communication, rather than a canvas for spinning interpretations. Without realism about texts, they will lose their significance and be replaced by canonical interpretations – which then become the new texts, and so they never escape the reality of the text.