Object (philosophy)

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Object is a technical term used in epistemology, a branch of philosophy concerning itself with the study of knowing. Aristotle had said,[1] "All men by nature desire to know." René Descartes expanded this knowing into the grounds of certainty with cogito ergo sum, typically translated as "I think therefore I am." The thinker cannot be certain of his thinking and his existing unless he knows it; that is, the very act of thinking delivers self-knowledge to the thinker. Descartes formulated this grounds as an answer to the dream doubt, which questions whether anything can be identified as real and not a dream. However, one cannot dream without thinking.

Consciousness therefore is an act of cognition that takes in the self, which can never be doubted, as it would have to be the self who doubts, and some doubtable notes, which philosophy calls objects, which carry with them the understood possibility of being in error. If not in error they are granted the status of objectivity, or reality, and are believed to exist without reference to the subject. Bertrand Russell updated this classical term with one more in use by science: the fact:[2] "Everything that there is in the world I call a fact." Facts, objects, are opposed to beliefs, which may be errors on the part of the knower; as their source is he, and he is the subject (who is certain of himself and little else), they are subjective.

This framework of presumptions is termed the Theory of the Real.[3] One cannot even doubt it without implying it, as all doubt implies the possibility of error and therefore admits the distinction between subject and object, subjectivity and objectivity. The knower, whether considered mind, soul, thinker or some other subject, is limited in his ability to discern fact from belief, objects from true objects. An individual engages in reality testing, an activity that will result in more or less certainty regarding the reality of the object. According to Russell,[4] "we need a description of the fact which would make a given belief true" where "Truth is a property of beliefs." Knowledge is "true beliefs".[5]

Until that distinction can be made, every object must be viewed as possibly true; that is, a quasi-object. This credibility extends even to the notes that are known to be subjective; that is, the population of knowers (or thinkers, etc.) or individual knowers may agree or determine to create a logical or rational entity to be treated as quasi-real; for example, a corporation, a fund, a population of elves, etc. These are typically the subjects of cultural anthropology.

Where object in a strict sense is used to refer to independent being, in a general sense it is any entity subjective or objective. Thus objects are things as diverse as the pyramids, Alpha Centauri, the number seven, a disbelief in predestination, and the fear of dogs. The pragmatist Charles S. Peirce defines the broad notion of an object as anything that we can think or talk about.[6]

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