Tag Archive: objectivity

Knowledge without a knower

My first thesis involves the existence of two different senses of knowledge or of thought: (1) knowledge or thought in the subjective sense, consisting of a state of mind or of consciousness or a disposition to behave or to react, and (2) know­ledge in an objective sense, consisting of problems, theories, and arguments as such. Knowledge in this objective sense is totally independent of anybody’s claim to know; also it is independent of anybody’s belief, or disposition to assent; or to assert, or to act. Knowledge in the objective sense is knowledge without a knower: it is knowledge without a knowing subject.

Of thought in the objective sense Frege wrote: ‘I understand by a thought not the subjective act of thinking but its objective content…’. [108-9]

Russell’s theory of objective truth

Thus although truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs, yet they are in a sense extrinsic properties, for the condition of the truth of a belief is something not involving beliefs, or (in general) any mind at all, but only the objects of the belief. A mind, which believes, believes truly when there is a corresponding complex not involving the mind, but only its objects. This correspondence ensures truth, and its absence entails falsehood. Hence we account simultaneously for the two facts that beliefs (a) depend on minds for their existence, (b) do not depend on minds for their truth. [93]

Subjective objectivity

The ethos of objectivity that every proper scientist subscribes to requires that the search for truth about Nature be disinterested. If an experimenter is looking for observational facts, she has to accept what Nature offers, irrespective of whether it conveniently fulfills her expectations or awkwardly obstructs her pet hypotheiss. If a theorist is constructing a conjecture and throws it open for testing in the laboratory, he finally has to assent to the verdict of those tests even if it destroys the theory he has spent years developing. … Such demands on personal integrity are often hard to follow … but these demands are ultimately the foundation on which science rests. [216]

A mind thoroughly cleansed

So much concerning the several classes of Idols and their equipage; all of which must be renounced and put away with a fixed and solemn determination, and the understanding thoroughly freed and cleansed; the entrance into the king­dom of man, founded on the sciences, being not much other than the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, whereinto none may enter except as a little child. [I/68]

Popper’s absolute theory of truth

The objective theory of truth leads to a very different attitude. This may be seen from the fact that it allows us to make assertions such as the following: a theory may be true even though nobody believes it, and even though we have no reason for accepting it, or for believing that it is true; and another theory may be false, although we have comparatively good reasons for accepting it.

Clearly, these assertions would appear to be self-contradictory from the point of view of any subjective or epistemic theory of truth. But within the objective theory, they are not only consistent, but quite obviously true.

A similar assertion which the objective correspondence theory would make quite natural is this: even if we hit upon a true theory, we shall as a rule be merely guessing, and it may well be impossible for us to know that it is true. [305]

Step-by-step approximations to truth

The degree of corroboration of two statements may not be comparable in all cases, any more than the degree of falsi­fiability: we cannot define a numerically calculable degree of corroboration, but can speak only roughly in terms of positive degree of corroboration, negative degrees of corroboration, and so forth. Yet we can lay down various rules; for instance the rule that we shall not continue to accord a positive degree of corroboration to a theory which has been falsified by an inter-subjectively testable experiment based upon a falsifying hypothesis. (We may, however, under cer­tain circumstances accord a positive degree of corroboration to another theory, even though it follows a kindred line of thought. An example is Einstein’s photon theory, with its kinship to Newton’s corpuscular theory of light.) In general we regard an inter-subjectively testable falsification as final (provided it is well tested): this is the way in which the asymme­try between verification and falsification of theories makes itself felt. Each of these methodological points contributes in its own peculiar way to the historical development of science as a process of step by step approximations. [266-7]

Scientific objectivity

The words ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are philosophical terms heavily burdened with a heritage of contradictory usages and of inconclusive and interminable discussions.

My use of the terms ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ is not unlike Kant’s. He uses the word ‘objective’ to indicate that scien­tific knowledge should be justifiable, independently of anybody’s whim: a justification is ‘objective’ if in principle it can be tested and understood by anybody. ‘If something is valid’, he writes, ‘for anybody in possession of his reason, then its grounds are objective and sufficient.’

Now I hold that scientific theories are never fully justifiable or verifiable, but that they are nevertheless testable. I shall therefore say that the objectivity of scientific statements lies in the fact that they can be inter-subjectively tested. [22]

It’s not morality, it’s bigotry

It remains to be proved that society or any of its officers holds a commission from on high to avenge any supposed of­fence to Omnipotence, which is not also a wrong to our fellow-creatures. The notion that it is one man’s duty that an­other should be religious, was the foundation of all the religious persecutions ever perpetrated, and if admitted, would fully justify them. [ch. IV, 117]

Bacon’s dangerous anti-theoretical dogma

I shall now very briefly criticize Bacon’s anti-theoretical dogma and his view of science […].

1. The idea that we can purge our minds of prejudices at will and so get rid of all preconceived ideas or theories, prior to, and preparatory to, scientific discovery, is naïve and mistaken. It is mainly through scientific discovery that we learn that certain of our ideas such as those of the flat earth or the moving sun are prejudices. We discover the fact that one of the beliefs we held was a prejudice only after the advance of science has led us to discard it. For there is no criterion by which we could recognize prejudices in anticipation of this advance.

2. The rule ‘Purge yourself of prejudice!’ can therefore have only the dangerous result that, after having made an at­tempt or two, you may think that you have succeeded – with the result, of course, that you will stick more tenaciously to your prejudices and dogmas, especially to those of which you are unconscious.

3. Moreover, Bacon’s rule was ‘purge your mind of all theories!’ But a mind so purged would not only be a pure mind: it would be an empty mind.

4. We always operate with theories, even though more often than not we are unaware of them. The importance of this fact should never be played down. Rather, We should try, in each case, to formulate explicitly the theories we hold. For this makes it possible to look out for alternative theories, and to discriminate critically between one theory and another.

5. There is no such thing as a ‘pure’ observation, that is to say, an observation without a theoretical component. All observation – and especially all experimental observation – is an interpretation of facts in the light of some theory or other. [86]

The limits of freedom and individuality

No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an ex­cited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard. Acts, of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind. The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts according to his own inclination and judgment in things which concern himself, the same reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove also that he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost. That mankind are not in­fallible; that their truths, for the most part, are only half-truths; that unity of opinion, unless resulting from the fullest and freest comparison of opposite opinions, is not desirable, and diversity not an evil, but a good, until mankind are much more capable than at present of recognising all sides of the truth, are principles applicable to men’s modes of action, not less than to their opinions. [ch. III, 71-2]

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