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The appeal to consensus arises from the fact that humans do not fully understand or agree upon the nature of knowledge or ontology, often making it uncertain what is real, given the vast inconsistencies between individual subjectivities. We can, however, seek to obtain some form of consensus, with others, of what is real. We can use this consensus as a pragmatic guide, either on the assumption that it seems to approximate some kind of valid reality, or simply because it is more "practical" than perceived alternatives. Consensus reality therefore refers to the agreed-upon concepts of reality which people in the world, or a culture or group, believe are real (or treat as real), usually based upon their common experiences as they believe them to be; anyone who does not agree with these is sometimes stated to be "in effect... living in a different world."
Throughout history this has also raised a social question as to the effects of a society in which all individuals do not agree upon the same reality.
Children have sometimes been described or viewed as "inexperience[d] with consensus reality," though are described as such with the expectation that their perspective will progressively form closer to the consensus reality of their society as they age.
In considering the nature of reality, two broad approaches exist: the realist approach, in which there is a single, objective, overall reality believed to exist irrespective of the perceptions of any given individual, and the idealistic approach, in which it is considered that an individual can verify nothing except their own experience of the world, and can never directly know the truth of the world independent of that.
Consensus reality may be understood by studying socially constructed reality, a subject within the sociology of knowledge. (Read page three of The Social Construction of Reality by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann.)
Consider this example: consensus reality for people who follow a particular theocentric religion is different from consensus reality for those who follow another theocentric religion, or from those that eschew theocentric religions in favor of science alone, for explaining life and the universe.
In societies where theocentric religions are dominant, the religious understanding of existence would be the consensus reality, while the religious worldview would remain the non-consensus (or alternative) reality in a predominantly secular society, where the consensus reality is grounded in science alone.
In this way, different individuals and communities have fundamentally different world views, with fundamentally different comprehensions of the world around them, and of the constructs within which they live. Thus, a society that is, for example, completely secular and one which believes every eventuality to be subject to metaphysical influence will have very different consensus realities, and many of their beliefs on broad issues such as science, slavery, and human sacrifice may differ in direct consequence because of the differences in the perceived nature of the world they live in.
Some idealists (subjective idealists) hold the view that there isn't one particular way things are, but rather that each person's personal reality is unique. Such idealists have the world view which says that we each create our own reality, and while most people may be in general agreement (consensus) about what reality is like, they might live in a different (or nonconsensus) reality.
Materialists may not accept the idea of there being different possible realities for different people, rather than different beliefs about one reality. So for them only the first usage of the term reality would make sense. To them, someone believing otherwise, where the facts have been properly established, might be considered delusional.
The connotation of the term "consensus reality" is usually disparaging: it is usually employed by idealist, surrealist and other anti-realist theorists opposing or hostile to this "reality," with the implication that this consensus reality is, to a greater or lesser extent, created by those who experience it. (The phrase "consensus reality" may be used more loosely to refer to any generally accepted set of beliefs.) However, there are those who use the term approvingly for the practical benefits of all agreeing on a common set of assumptions or experiences.
Singers, painters, writers, theorists and other individuals employing a number of means of action have attempted to oppose or undermine consensus reality while others have declared that they are "ignoring" it. For example, Salvador Dalí intended by his paranoiac-critical method to "systematize confusion thanks to a paranoia and active process of thought and so assist in discrediting completely the world of reality".
In summary, Putnam has shown that existing formal versions of objectivist epistemology are inconsistent; there can be no objectively correct description of reality from a God's eye point of view. This does not, of course, mean that there is no objective reality--only that we have no privileged access to it from an external viewpoint.