Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is the Notion of Objectivity Useful?

"All models are wrong. Some models are useful."

- Anonymous


What is objectivity? The naive view is that objectivity represents reality. That, however, is a metaphysical assumption, because we have no experience of an objective reality -- all experience is subjective, and we are merely speculating when we posit that an objective reality exists.

That raises the question of how -- and even whether -- the concept of objectivity is a useful model of reality.

What do you think?

8 comments:

Brendan said...

Objectivity is subsumed in the concept of usefulness. It's faith that there is no induction problem with most of the important conclusions I reach about the relationship between things and how they are likely to behave that helps me make almost all the decisions I'll make today. If I couldn't rely on the perception of "objective" truth in my inductive conclusions about reality, I'd freeze up, unable to act.

That doesn't change that there still is an induction problem, or that inductive conclusions, no matter how thoroughly tested they are, are neither true nor ever truly non-subjective.

Patty said...

Objectivity represents reality as we can know it.

What does "metaphysical assumption" mean?

I used to believe as you do, until Brendan introduced me to the linguistic construct; and then I realised that we experience the subjective reality every bit as much as we experience the objective reality. Both represent reality as we know it, but from two different perspectives.

Objectivity is useful to explain things.

laurie said...

""All models are wrong. Some models are useful."

- Anonymous"

That is a terrific line...one for my files.

Paul said...

Hi Patty,

I see objectivity as a useful fiction. Whether it is true or not that an objective reality exists, it is quite often beneficial to act on the assumption that one exists.

It does not matter to me whether it is metaphysically the case or not that an objective reality exists (About that, I am an agnostic). That is, what fascinates to me is not what do we know, but how do we know what we think we know?

So far as I can see, it is through experience that we know anything at all. But experience is by definition subjective, isn't it? Am I mistaken about that?


Hi Brendan,

Wasn't it Hume who first raised the induction problem?

Patty said...

Objectivity does exist, Paul. It is something we do: make representations of reality as if true in the forms of things we perceive.

Brendan said...

"It is something we do"

This sort of "objectivity" is a subjective judgment. The point, Patty, is that we assume the truth of things absent an observer (because in most cases in order to function, we must so assume). Thus, there is a subjective judgment of ontological "objectivity," but epistemelogically, there is no objectivity.

You seem to be fixated on responding to assertions about objectivity regarded as a matter of epistemology with statements about "objectivity" as an ontological judgment. But keep in mind that statements about the lack of "objective" knowledge as a matter of epistemology are NOT a denial that we make subjective assertions about an "objective" reality outside of knowledge (ontology).

Patty said...

And therein is my problem - if it doesn't exist "epistemelogically," why do people fixate on talking about that as if it was the only objectivity, or indeed as if it was objectivity at all?

Brendan said...

It's not necessarily the case that they do. Neither Phil nor I do. I'm quite aware that there is more than one sense of "objective" and one of my main organizing ideas is clarifying the confusion between the two. Be careful not to always take any statement about a lack of objectivity as a denial of subjective judgments of "objectivity," without consideration of the context. It's the context that illuminates what is being considered as a lack of "objectivity."

Frankly, I'm not aware of any well thought out argument that denies that we don't make subjective judgments that some perceptions and judgments represent an objective truth.