The Key to Objectivity

In my previous entry, I attempts to define “objective” and “subjective” using the dictionary, as this would convey the common meaning of those words.

I defined objective knowledge as “unbiased knowledge about the world around us” and subjective knowledge as “that which exists in the mind and pertains to the one who holds the knowledge.”

The problems with these definitions are as follows:

1. All knowledge exists in the mind.

2. It is not clear that unbiased knowledge exists, and even if it did, it would constitute a tiny fraction of our knowledge.

3. Whether or not knowledge is biased is not relevant to its validity. If I hated cats, for example, that would not invalidate my subjective claim that cats tend to scratch up furniture.

4. Subjective claims are often about the world around us. For example, if I claimed that President Bush was the worst president in US history, this is a truth claim about President Bush and US history.

So we need something better that these dictionary definitions. Let me thus propose something that George Cooper offered on the ASA list:

Could we not simplify define “objective” as being that which can be measured by all parties who should obtain the same result given an appropriate range of accuracy?

Measurement is thus the key to objective knowledge. And it has to be a form of measurement whereby everyone would get basically the same result. And this explains why we tend to associate science with objectivity, as science is built around instruments that measure as part of an experimental design.


4 responses to “The Key to Objectivity

  1. What about books, DVDs and other media? Don’t they contain knowledge?

  2. I think objective knowledge existed before we were able to measure it: there were facts about the world that everyone agree were true, even thought there was no way of measuring those factrs.

    I’m guessing that it was with the invention of the number system, including “0,” that the ability to measure — in other words to more accurately quantify some of our objective knowledge — that the “hard” sciences of physics and chemistry became possible.

    But just as you pointed out that it wouldn’t be difficult to find a physicist who denies that sociology is a science, you could find many sociologists who would claim that it was. So I think we should stick with the traditional distinction between “hard” science and “soft” science. “Soft” sciences would be the ones where the ability to measure is still difficult to do. However, people could still agree about many of the objective facts in those disciplines.

  3. Helio George

    I like the use of “soft” and “hard” sciences since it presents a sense of which sciences benefit more or less from the potential availability of objective evidence.

    The harder the better, but limits abound. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Taking the Measurement of Objective Knowledge - Telic Thoughts

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