The term “objective” is supposed to refer to a fully unbiased understanding of things as they actually are and treatment of things in a way that is mind-independent. By this definition, objectivity is not fully possible. While there are ways of knowing external reality more directly, it is impossible to know something in a way that is mind-independent. The term does, however, have meaning because it is used in a regular way and people who read this word or hear others use this word seem to understand what is meant by this usage. The following is an attempt to provide a more accurate definition of “objective”, based on the real life usage of the word: detailed knowledge of an object that is as unbiased as possible, using the most direct methods of perception that are available, with the aim being that anyone else should be able to have a very similar understanding of the same object using similar methods of observation and bias minimization.
To clarify, if any single thing can be known subjectively but not objectively, then this would be the minimum necessary for radical empiricism to be true and for scientism to be false. This only necessarily includes that which can be known subjectively but cannot be known objectively, if there indeed is any such thing. It will eventually be necessary to separately analyze each possible candidate for the designation of exclusively subjective knowledge and from this to judge whether each one can be known subjectively but not objectively.
In order to present the evidence in favor of expanding the definition of empirical knowledge to include some things considered subjective, perhaps including things such as experiences that may lead one to form beliefs regarding value judgments and prescriptive morality, it will be necessary to elevate some subjective knowledge to a more reputable status similar to that which is given to objectivity. First, it is necessary to analyze how knowledge can become objective, according to the definition provided earlier in this section.
The process described in this new, more accurate definition becomes possible only when an object is perceived and also – here is what is important – at the same time as when this perception is occurring, other people are observed who are judged to be perceiving this same object. Our minds automatically analyze our sense data and our minds should correctly conclude that there are other beings similar to ourselves. One can get an idea that other people are having similar subjective experiences based on their reaction to an experience. If someone else reacts to their perception the same way as oneself does, then it is reasonable to conclude that the other person is having similar subjective experiences.
The process of realizing through this kind of analogy that other people’s experiences are similar to one’s own is what I shall call social verification. Any knowledge gained from experience where one can reasonably conclude that other people can and do have very similar experiences is therefore socially verifiable, even if it has not yet been socially verified. Knowledge can be socially verified through a communications medium, such as the visual medium or the audio medium. There is a communications medium any time two or more people have the ability to act in a way that affects the other’s perceptions. The action is then a communication that travels through the medium and is perceived by the other.
For example, if we were to take a given rock and have two or more people touch the rock and pick it up and drop it an listen to the sound, and each of them could see the other’s reaction to looking at it and picking it up and dropping it, and discussing the features of the rock amongst themselves, then the features of the rock are then socially verified. This process has also allowed them to have a good idea of how the rock is in reality and to minimize biases that are introduced from their own personal point of view, since they have all had opportunities to eliminate prejudices they may have otherwise had towards the rock in the process of discussing it amongst themselves. Each person present therefore can be said to understand the rock objectively.
It should be noted that the process of social verification does not eliminate all biases, but does work to minimize them. Before the social verification process, each person had personal biases. Afterwards, each of them should have eliminated personal biases. It is possible, however, for societal biases to remain if each member of the group that conducted the social verification had certain biases towards the object that were shared amongst them. Though it may sometimes be difficult, it is possible for people to minimize societal biases and to get to the point where the only biases that remain are those that are inherent to people or perhaps to any sentient being. The question of how to minimize such societal biases is a question for social science, and this is a work on philosophy. But just to briefly attempt to solve this problem, people can understand their own societal biases by empathizing with people who have had different experiences in life. If person A observes other people from different cultures and different backgrounds and tries to get a feel for how these others conceive of a given object, then this can allow person A to understand this object with minimal personal biases and also minimal societal biases.
To look at another example, let’s say that two or more people not only looked at a rock but each dropped it on their own foot. Each of them therefore has an experience of pain from this, but this pain is not a perception of the rock. The experience of pain is real to each person, but this kind of experience is different from seeing and hearing in that it does not perceive a medium. This means that one can focus on their own experience of pain, but this experience of pain itself does not give them any understanding of other people’s pain. On the one hand, one is able to get a good idea of other people’s experience of sight and hearing by seeing and hearing, but one is not able to get a good idea of other people’s pain through their own experience of pain. They are able to conclude that other people have the experience of pain through seeing and hearing other people react to the rock hitting their foot. Since the other people’s reaction is similar to one’s own, each person can therefore conclude that the others have similar experiences.
There is an important difference between the first example and the second example in that in the first example the social verification of the experience occurred through the medium that the experience is the subject of, while in the second example the social verification of the experience occurred through a medium that is different than the subject of the experience. In the first example, it is the fact that social verification occurred in way that is so closely related to the experience itself that allowed each person to eliminate personal biases. In the second example, the fact that the social verification requires another level of analogy ends up making it much more difficult to eliminate personal biases. Therefore, it is unlikely that an experience such as pain can become objective.
This does not mean that pain is any less real than seeing or hearing. But it does mean that it is more difficult to understand other people’s experience of pain and other experiences that are not the subject of a communications medium. It may be unlikely that such knowledge can become objective, but in situations where such subjective knowledge has been socially verified amongst multiple sentient beings, this knowledge becomes intersubjective.
Because of this, we can talk about anything we can see or hear as objective, provided we have gone through the necessary processes to try to understand the object as closely as possible to how it actually is. If we have any subjective knowledge that cannot be made objective but where we have gone through the process of communicating details about this knowledge with others and from this we are able to reasonably conclude that others have similar subjective knowledge, then this can be called intersubjective.
Can anything be known subjectively but not objectively? Please let your voice be heard in the forum.