Monday, April 06, 2009

Understanding the concept of objectivity

• What is it for something to be an objective matter? An objective matter is about which it is possible to be mistaken. Let’s take
1) 2 + 2 + 4 or
2) The earth is round.I
f someone says something that contradicts these claims, we quite straightforwardly say that they are wrong. There is, for example a Flat Earth society, headquartered in Illinois. (If you’ve ever been to Illinois, you might understand why people who live here are tempted to think the earth is flat). These people sincerely believe that the earth is flat, but there is little temptation to say that they the earth is really flat for them, even though it is round for the rest of us.
• Contrast this with
3) McDonald’s burgers are better tasting than Burger King’s
4) Belching after dinner is rude
In the first instance, we are inclined to suppose that the statement in incomplete; in order to assess its truth or falsity we have to ask “better tasting to whom?” It’s a matter of individual preference, and no further debate or discussion is necessary. In the second case, most of us are inclined to suppose that while it may have been true in our home, there are cultures elsewhere in the world where it is manifestly false, where an after-dinner belch is required by good manners to indicate that one is satisfied with the meal that has been prepared. In neither case are most of us inclined to think that the people who differ with us about 3 or 4 have false beliefs.


Steven Carr said...

Is it purely subjective whether or not the quarterback should run every play into his own end zone for a safety?

Are we ever inclined to say that quarterbacks have false beliefs if they believe they are good quarterbacks if concede a safety on every play?

Is it possible to be mistaken about which football play is the best play, just as it is possible to be mistaken if you believe the Dragon is the best defense for Black?

Tor Hershman said...

A fast-food burger, is a fast-food burger and I've got the quintuple heart bypass to PROVE (Cheese helps as well as Hostess Ding Dongs
{aka King Dongs, aka King Dons - Hostess took awhile to get the penisesque reference outta their mindset})that.
Hey, speakin' of ideas.....

Hiero5ant said...

"An objective matter is about which it is possible to be mistaken."

Eh? That's what makes something cognitive, not objective, which is a matter of mind-independence. Is Bayesian rejection of Frequentism really the doctrine that it's not possible to be mistaken about probability?

Gustatory taste is another odd duck. If you take them as descriptions of brainstates or culture-states or whatever, then once you fix the indexical, it is indeed possible to be mistaken.(I happen to think statements of taste are more than "merely" reports of brainstates, but that's neither here nor there.) The truth of them is dependent on some subject's beliefs or attitudes, hence they are subjective, for the same reason theistic ethics are subjective.

The Family said...

Perhaps an 'objective' truth the way you are expressing it is one that is human-independent, that is to say a truth which would have been true before there were humans. So football payers and burgers eaters need not apply :)

Gregory said...

Stuart Hackett's Rediscovery of the Highest Good has finally gone to publication (Wipf and Stock, 2009).

I read it in manuscript form years ago. I owe a good deal to his writings, so I offer this reference as a tribute. It's for anyone who cares to read a brilliant Christian thinker concerning the subject of meta-ethics and moral objectivity.

Doctor Logic said...

Take a systems approach. When we observe some property of an object, we want to know whether the property is in the object itself, or whether it is an "artifact" of our perception of the object.

The object provokes a set of reactions within my self which I perceive:

Object + Me = Reaction1 + Reaction2 +...

Unfortunately, being a very complicated entity, some of my reactions are reactions to reactions. I have memory, so some of my reactions in the present are actually the result of my interaction not just with the present object but with many past objects. For example, if I had a bad experience with a particular triangular object, I might perceive anxiety whenever I see other triangular objects. However, it's obvious that the property of "producing anxiety" is not inherent in triangular objects, but only in the triangular-object/Me system. It's subjective. It's a personal bias.

Hence, when taking a systems approach, we make an objective/subjective distinction by isolating reactions and removing bias.

Isolation and elimination of bias requires controlled experimentation. This is why geology and algebra are objective, and morality is not. Morality predicts nothing except how an individual will feel, so it's just a statement about the subject's biases.

Objective properties affect entities that lack memories and subjectivities. The Earth isn't spherical only to human perception. It behaves spherically with respect to the moon, also. Apples aren't massive just for humans, but for ponds, too.

Being a subjective reaction, morality doesn't affect non-subjective matter. This is not question-begging. It's empirical. Stolen gasoline burns exactly the same as fairly purchased gasoline. That needn't have been true a priori.