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What is objectivity?  Common definitions of scientific objectivity call for a ‘view from nowhere’ (echoing Thomas Nagel), or guaranteed repeatability of results (notwithstanding the Replication Crisis), or getting nature to reveal herself, and often imply some kind of inerrancy: if I say something is objective, you’re not allowed to argue!  Each of these has serious problems, and Heather Douglas proposed that the concept is just irreducibly complex [1].

This new paper offers a completely different definition that re-connects objectivity and subjectivity with the older concepts of subject and object that you might know from grammar:

A general theory of objectivity: contributions from the Reformational philosophy tradition (Gunton RM, Stafleu MD & Reiss MJ, Foundations of Science, 2021, doi: 10.1007/s10699-021-09809-x)

I teamed up with Dick Stafleu in Utrecht to write this paper after discovering that he had described ‘objectivity’ on the basis of the Christian philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd.  Michael Reiss, at UCL, helped flesh it out and bring in more examples from the sciences.  See the Church Scientific Facebook page for a link where you can access the paper for free.

[1] Douglas, H. (2004). The irreducible complexity of objectivity. Synthese, 138, 453–473.

Generic cover of Foundations of Science journal

Author Richard Gunton

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