Objectivity (GS Paper 4)


Objectivity and Subjectivity:

  • Objective fact means a truth that remains true everywhere, independently of human thought or feelings. For instance, it is true always and everywhere that ‘2 plus 2 equals 4’.
  • On the other hand, a subjective fact is one that is only true under certain conditions, at certain times, in certain places or for certain people. For instance, ‘That painting is beautiful’ may be true for someone who likes it, but not for everyone.
  • The words ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’ have different meanings according to whether we are speaking ontologically or epistemologically.
  • Ontology is about things. Ontological statements are statements about what we think is real. Epistemology is about knowledge. Epistemological statements are statements about what we think is true.
  • In the realm of ontology, objective things are mind-independent and subjective things are mind-dependent.  In other words, objective phenomena are those that exist outside of, or independently of, the human mind. This includes things like rocks, trees, physical bodies, and concrete behaviours. Subjective things, on the other hand, exist only in the human mind. This includes thoughts, feelings, perceptions, motivations, desires, fears, dreams, and so on.
  • In the realm of epistemology, a statement is objectively true  if it is true for all rational observers, that is, if all rational people, exposed to the same evidence, would be able to agree on the same conclusion.  A statement is subjectivity true if even rational observers exposed to the same evidence would be unable to agree on the same conclusion.
  • So, for instance, a rose is objectively real – that is, ontologically objective – because it is a physical object which exists independently of the human mind.  A statement like “this rose has seven thorns on its stem” is epistemologically objective because it can be verified and agreed on by all rational observers.  However, the statement “this rose is beautiful” is considered subjective because beauty is considered something that rational observers may legitimately disagree on.

Objectivity in Decision Making:

  • Subjective refers to personal perspectives, feelings, or opinions entering the decision making process. Objective refers to the elimination of subjective perspectives and a process that is purely based on hard facts.
  • Objective decisions are not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. Taking an objective approach to an issue means having due regard for the known valid evidence (relevant facts, logical implications and viewpoints and human purposes) pertaining to that issue. If relevant valid evidence is denied or falsified, an objective approach is impossible. An objective approach is particularly important in science, and in decision-making processes which affect large numbers of people (e.g. politics, beurocracy).
  • In decisions affecting large numbers of people (such as in politics, administration) ignoring relevant evidence or alternative interpretations could lead to policies which, although perhaps well-intentioned, have the opposite effect of what was really intended.
  • Taking an “objective approach” may not always be relevant, particularly in cases where it is impossible to be objective either because the relevant facts and viewpoints necessary are lacking, or because it is the subjective opinion or response that happens to be important.
  • Sometimes an objective approach is impossible because people will naturally take a partisan, self-interested approach. That is, they will select out those views and facts which agree with their own.
  • A scientist or politician may never be “neutral” (they may have a vested interest in particular theories or policies) but they might also take an objective approach in the sense of remaining open to alternative viewpoints and new evidence.
  • Taking an objective approach often contrasts with arguments from authority, where it is argued that X is true because an authority Y says so. The presumption is that Y is an authority capable of taking the most objective approach.
  • There’s a limit to our objectivity as human beings, but with practice and with solid strategies in place, one can make the most objective decision possible.

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