Objectivity (philosophy)

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Objectivity is both a central and elusive philosophical category. While there is no universally accepted articulation of objectivity, a proposition is generally considered to be objectively true when its truth conditions are "mind-independent"—that is, not the result of any judgements made by a conscious entity or subject.



"Objectivism" is a term that describes a branch of philosophy that originated in the early nineteenth century. Gottlob Frege was the first to apply it, when he expounded an epistemological and metaphysical theory contrary to that of Immanuel Kant. Kant's rationalism attempted to reconcile the failures he perceived in realism, empiricism, and idealism and to establish a critical method of approach in the distinction between epistemology and metaphysics.

Objectivism, in this context, is an alternate name for philosophical realism, the view that there is a reality or ontological realm of objects and facts that exists independent of the mind. Stronger versions of this claim might hold that there is only one correct description of this reality. If it is true that reality is mind-independent, it is thus inclusive of objects that are unknown and not the subject of intentionality. Objectivity in referring requires a definition of truth. According to metaphysical objectivists, an object may truthfully be said to have this or that attribute, as in the statement "This object exists," whereas the statement "This object is true" or "false" is meaningless. Thus, only propositions have truth values. Essentially, the terms "objectivity" and "objectivism" are not synonymous, with objectivism being an ontological theory that incorporates a commitment to the objectivity of objects.

Plato's realism was a form of metaphysical objectivism, holding that the Ideas exist objectively and independently. Berkeley's empiricist idealism, on the other hand, could be called a subjectivism: he held that things only exist to the extent that they are perceived. Both theories claim methods of objectivity. Plato's definition of objectivity can be found in his epistemology, which takes as a model mathematics, and his metaphysics, where knowledge of the ontological status of objects and ideas is resistant to change. Plato considered knowledge of geometry as a condition of philosophical knowledge, both being concerned with universal truths. Plato's opposition between objective knowledge and doxa (opinions) would become the basis for later philosophies intent on resolving the problem of reality, knowledge and human existence. Personal opinions belong to the changing sphere of the sensible, opposed to a fixed and eternal incorporeal realm which is mutually intelligible. Where Plato distinguishes between what and how we know things (epistemology) and their ontological status as things (metaphysics), subjectivism such as Berkeley's and a mind dependence of knowledge and reality fails to make the distinction between what one knows and what is to be known, or in the least explains the distinction superficially. In Platonic terms, a criticism of subjectivism is that it is difficult to distinguish between knowledge, doxa, and subjective knowledge (true belief), distinctions which Plato makes.

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