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46 Responses

  1. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney September 30, 2010 at 6:47 pm |

    I said it on your blog, but I’ll repeat it here:

    IMO, neutrality benefits power due to a refusal to critique it. Impartiality is often nothing more than fence sitting when the fence is the line between talking about injustice and pretending that committing injustice is morally and/or ethically equal to fighting it. hence when newscasters talk about the ~controversy~ regarding clinics that provide abortions vs. clinic bombers (happened in the 90s especially) or between ADHD advocates and people who insist ADHD is not real.

  2. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney September 30, 2010 at 6:48 pm |

    Also, so-called neutrality is also used to maintain an unjust status quo, because the reporting itself is not truly unbiased, even while it is presented as such.

  3. Dank
    Dank September 30, 2010 at 9:11 pm |

    While I understand your point, I have to disagree about the value of objectivity. Objectivity is not just falling in with the dominant point of view; it is an ability to consider all points of view, and figure out what truths are not dependent on any of them. Not to say that having opinions hinders truth. It’s just also important to understand the border between fact and opinion, understand why your opinions exist, and perhaps most importantly, understand why opinions you disagree with exist.

    1. Lauren
      Lauren September 30, 2010 at 10:13 pm | *

      I think it’s possible to try to present the facts as best as possible while still acknowledging bias in our reporting of the facts. Presenting a normative idea and calling it objective fact obscures the reasons why a thing is normative, which is often obscuring marginalization and oppression. The point the OP is making is that we are all reporting and receiving news through lenses and filters, and those lenses and filters ought to be acknowledged for what they are.

  4. April
    April September 30, 2010 at 9:43 pm |

    Objectivity is a keystone of journalism that extends to institutions like Wikipedia; the idea that we can somehow remove our selves from the things we think about and the contexts we exist is a bizarre USian fantasy akin to the classist racist American dream.

    I am not sure that the American Dream by itself, as a concept, is necessarily classist and/or racist, although many of the ways in which it tends to be achieved certainly are. The concept is, quite simply, that if you work hard for it and pull your weight, you can be happy, healthy, successful, and prosperous. This isn’t inherently -ist in any way; but the US was founded on and continues to be run in such a fashion. That’s what needs to change, not the “dream” itself.

    It has its unpragmatic value: it hopes that just the facts will be enough, and that those recording those facts will report them without considering themselves, focusing on only the subject at hand.

    I really get what you’re saying about “normal” and how truths are different for everyone; I especially resonated with your menstrual cycle metaphor, which is easy to extrapolate to different areas of varying significance in life.

    The idea, though, that “objectivity” is something bad isn’t really true, though. I only want my news to be objective. I also want to hear and learn about personal, real examples with feelings attached, but I don’t want any slant, at all, when I am learning about a topic or subject. True objectivity is a lofty goal, sure, but it’s a good one, and it’s not unachievable.

  5. Gomi
    Gomi September 30, 2010 at 11:00 pm |

    Yes, we all have lenses and an inherently subjective perspective on the world, but that doesn’t mean that objectivity is normative, or that objectivity props up “normal” while knocking down “abnormal.”

    The suggestion in the OP that our innate subjectivity must be recognized, and thus used to confront our kyriarchal world (love that word), is a great point. But I don’t agree with the assessment of objectivity.

    I can objectively describe my own “abnormal” sexuality, but by doing so, I’m not necessarily emphasizing its abnormality. Similarly, and more importantly, I can objectively describe someone else’s “abnormal” sexuality, without belittling it’s divergence from a societal expectation.

  6. Heather Aurelia
    Heather Aurelia October 1, 2010 at 4:44 am |

    I never thought of neutrality before while blogging.

    When I do think of neutrality I think of Futurama Neutral Aliens.

    http://www.gotfuturama.com/Multimedia/EpisodeSounds/2ACV02/26.mp3

    “Your neutralness we have a biege alert!”
    Captain-”Tell my wife I said, hello.”

    It’s hard to be neutral, in writing and in life. But it is important to see the bias in your own writing.

  7. machina
    machina October 1, 2010 at 6:04 am |

    I think maybe there’s some conflating of objective and balanced going on here. Objective journalism seeks to simply present facts. The facts that are chosen to be presented will depend on social norms, and conveyance will be impeded by the weakness of language, but it should aim for presenting facts as they are. Balanced jounalism seeks to represent a range of opinions around an issue. Balanced journalism is then subject to social norms, as the range of opinions will be balanced around them. If slavery is legal, then a piece discussing slavery is likely to take into account pro-slavery positions. If slavery is illegal, this is fairly unlikely. And of course, what is balanced can be misrepresented fairly easily.

    1. Lauren
      Lauren October 1, 2010 at 7:17 am | *

      @machina, In which case I question which facts are presented and why. We’re all subjective agents.

  8. Tei Tetua
    Tei Tetua October 1, 2010 at 8:38 am |

    So if I hear of something that until than I had no knowledge about–and I want to pick up some information–what am I supposed to do? Read or hear a selection of opinionated points of view and decide which wagon to climb aboard? I’d really hope to get something I could consider objective and then, add what people say about it, recognizing the difference between facts and opinions. Otherwise, how can we claim to “know” anything?

  9. Jessica
    Jessica October 1, 2010 at 9:49 am |

    Even after reading your post, I do not really understand why you are questioning the value of objectivity in writing. While opinion pieces can be incredibly powerful, I believe that the ideal of objectivity can be incredibly useful too. It’s certainly something I search for – trying to find news sources that are as objective as possible (and searching out contradicting sources in an attempt to get a more balanced view of an event).

    While most people realize that true objectivity isn’t possible, by striving for objectivity a writer is forced to reflect upon how their personal bias has affected their interpretation of a situation and what assumptions they are making. Even though it is ultimately impossible, this excersize is an incredibly important tool – regardless of whether or not the writer goes on to write an opinion piece.

    Journalists strive for objectivity in reporting because they believe that the more objective an article is the better readers are able to interpret the facts and come to their own opinion.

  10. bhuesca
    bhuesca October 1, 2010 at 10:44 am |

    What about, for example, science? I think I can state pretty objectively that an atom’s nucleus is capable of containing neutrons and protons, but not electrons. What about climate change? Is is possible to be objective in measuring temperatures, or, as the OP states, do biases come into play here (as many believe – otherwise there wouldn’t be so much debate/discord!) ?

  11. Jadey
    Jadey October 1, 2010 at 11:07 am |

    Human objectivity is a false consciousness, a red herring, a smokescreen, and a false god. Chasing it doesn’t bring us closer to truth, it encourages us to fail to think critically and reflexively about our own lenses.

    We don’t need to know that we know things for certain and without bias. We need to remember that although out of necessity and practicality we will often operate as if we know some things for certain (we simply must), we should always hold onto a measure of self-confident skepticism (that is, that we can be wrong and it’s still okay – I’m not talking about confused, insecure anxiety) that allows us to change and adapt when our tentative certainties shift.

    That says a hell of a lot more about the scientific method than does objectivity. (Pardon me – I do not have a journalistic background, so I’m speaking to objectivity as I experience it personally. I also despise almost all journalist sources I’ve come across save a very, very small few, because of philosophical differences like these ones.)

  12. Jadey
    Jadey October 1, 2010 at 11:29 am |

    Continuing, I think that in general there is insufficient awareness of the issue of framing and how objectivity functions as an incredibly powerful framing device. I think most of us are familiar with the idea and the effects of framing, but we often neglect to look for it in places we don’t expect to see it. It’s not that people undertake objectivity in order to deliberately create and uphold particular norms and normative views – it’s that the philosophical underpinnings of the notion of “objectivity” (the lineage of which is directly connected to Enlightenment rationalism, which is only one of many, many interesting and compelling theories of knowing) confer upon it an unwarranted authority with respect to its capacity to reveal and determine truth, especially in respect to other possible ways of knowing. It’s this problematic authority that lends itself to the bolstering of normative standards.

    It’s also important to consider that people are frequently considered to be more “objective” for extremely subjective reasons – perceived maleness, whiteness, and other markers of social status. So the norms that are reinforced are rather obvious ones.

  13. Jadey
    Jadey October 1, 2010 at 11:38 am |

    @ bhuesca

    Thomas Kuhn writes really excellently about objectivity in the sciences, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I won’t say there aren’t those who disagree with him, but yes, human objectivity (as opposed to the objectivity of a string of randomly generated digits or the physical properties of matter) is not sacrosanct even in the sciences. The issue is moreso in interpretation of data and the design of data collection procedures, both of which are under the influence of the overriding paradigms of particular scientific disciplines, rather than the data themselves.

  14. bhuesca
    bhuesca October 1, 2010 at 11:51 am |

    @ Jadey – I think you draw a great distinction between objective data (water=two hydrogen atoms + one oxygen atom) and objective interpretation of said data – and that this is what might be causing some of the upthread confusion!

  15. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm |

    bhuesca: I think you draw a great distinction between objective data (water=two hydrogen atoms + one oxygen atom) and objective interpretation of said data

    False dichotomy. All “objective” data is filtered through human consciousness and reason. Everything is subjective, unknown, and likely unknowable. Which is why this:

    We don’t need to know that we know things for certain and without bias. We need to remember that although out of necessity and practicality we will often operate as if we know some things for certain (we simply must), we should always hold onto a measure of self-confident skepticism (that is, that we can be wrong and it’s still okay – I’m not talking about confused, insecure anxiety) that allows us to change and adapt when our tentative certainties shift.

    is critically important even vis-a-vis things we assume are objectively factual like the composition of water…which may in *R*eality be composed of something all together different.

  16. konkonsn
    konkonsn October 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |

    Your last point, Jadey, is really good. I remember reading this article in the NY Times where scientists could not figure out how two eggs were getting into albatross’ nests when the females were supposed to only lay one a year. Someone finally said, “Hey, maybe we’re getting two females pairing off together instead of male/female” (ok, it was more complicated than that). But the thing is, there are quite a few scientists who want to believe everything proceeds according to Darwinism, and gay just doesn’t make sense in that context. Bias, bam, right there.

  17. April
    April October 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |

    Bias, bam, right there.

    No, more like scientific process. No one person or any team can possibly account for all possibilities, nor can journalists or bloggers who strive for objectivity. That doesn’t negate the ideal of objectivity, though. And any trustworthy journalist, scientist, etc., would continually seek out additional or different information, and humbly correct oneself when proven wrong. It happens.

  18. Ergo
    Ergo October 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm |

    Reclaim objectivity as a concept! The default kyriarchal perspective is NOT objective at all: it’s totally myopic and it doesn’t take into account the facts of oppression and the cultural limitations of ‘normal’. It’s fallacious to describe that standpoint as objective just because they call themselves objective. Everyone is capable of being truly objective and rational; it’s not solely reserved for rich/white/straight/cis/Western men. Please don’t throw out the concept just because it’s been co-opted in this way. Rationality is valuable.

    Scientific interpretation is a good example: good science is minimally informed by transient cultural factors. Good science is not designed to support the status quo. Good science is not sexist pop-evo-psych or 19th century racial classification studies.

  19. Jadey
    Jadey October 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm |

    Even the construct of what constitutes “data” in many cases is subjectively and even arbitrarily decided. Take the example of crime scene. TV shows often present the idea of trace analysis and discovering minute clues (a single fibre! a smattering of DNA!) that lead to enormous case breaks, but to actually apply those techniques within any practical scope means first limiting the area within which one searches for that kind of data, generally through more traditional methods (e.g., past experience, suggestions or mandates from recognized authorities, intuition, perceived likelihoods), or else end up with billions upon billions upon billions of uninterpretable data points. That’s why I mentioned data collection in addition to interpretation: different methodologies (and there are many) influence the data we subsequently observe and interpret.

    True objectivity is like true randomness – a nice idea, but practicably impossible. A more conservative approach is what RMJ described: to acknowledge our subjectivity and to attempt to be as transparent with our various lenses as possible, and in fact actively incorporate self-critical lenses. When I switched from major news sources to blogging and social network information resources as my primary mode of engagement with world events, I was greatly soothed by the increase in self-awareness and contextualization of the information and opinions. Incorporating the acknowledged flaws of our human perspectives enhances the quality of our discourse, it does not diminish it.

  20. Miranda
    Miranda October 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm |

    This is great. What I appreciate most about the writing in the feminist blog community is that it explodes the unproductive myth of objectivity. Writing is just better when it acknowledges and engages with bias.

  21. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin October 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |

    I was in grad school with the intention of being a history professor, and what I learned quickly is that historians don’t write strict nonfiction. The very nature of objective truth is elusive and bound to be slanted. Even if I don’t consciously take a bias, there are still subtle flourishes in what I write which reveal myself and my own perspective.

  22. Ergo
    Ergo October 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |

    Jadey: Yes. I would actually say that all of those considerations you’re mentioning, especially the acknowledgement of biases and lenses, contribute to objectivity and accurate/rational reporting.

  23. machina
    machina October 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm |

    Lauren: @machina, In which case I question which facts are presented and why.We’re all subjective agents.  

    Yeah. I did say that, “The facts that are chosen to be presented will depend on social norms.” There’s more to it than that though, subjectivity of the reporter is one part, but the intended (subjective) audience and what will interest them is another. Regardless, objectivity can still be a goal in the actual reporting of the facts.

  24. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney October 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm |

    April,

    I am not sure that the American Dream by itself, as a concept, is necessarily classist and/or racist, although many of the ways in which it tends to be achieved certainly are. The concept is, quite simply, that if you work hard for it and pull your weight, you can be happy, healthy, successful, and prosperous. This isn’t inherently -ist in any way; but the US was founded on and continues to be run in such a fashion. That’s what needs to change, not the “dream” itself.

    You can’t separate the concept out from the culture. The culture says if you work hard and pull your weight, you can be happy and wealthy and successful, right?

    Except that’s not true. It never was true. It can’t be true. It’s racist because people of color – let’s focus on Latin@ and Black people – do not have the same economic access that white people do. They have additional barriers that white people do not. These barriers can’t just be disappeared if you want to succeed enough. You have to work much harder for the same results.

    It’s classist because poor people don’t have access to the best institutions. Not health care, not education, nothing. It sells an idea that hard work is all you need when this is not true and never has been true. No one has ever succeeded without a lot of support, and most have never succeeded without a lot of resources.

    It’s ableist because people with disabilities cannot put the same effort in to get the same results, and people with disabilities have to deal with not just our own difficulties in getting results, but with the prejudices against us that TAB people and NTs have against us. I don’t know how your idea of “just work hard enough” is supposed to work for people who aren’t able to work hard enough.

    It’s transphobic because trans people have to work super hard for minimal reward often. Unemployment for trans women is at least twice the rate for the entire population, and there must be a reason for this, and all the willingness to work in the world does no good if no one will hire you, right?

    And the American Dream exists in this context, not some fantasy where oppression doesn’t exist. The American Dream exists to harness people’s energy to support capitalism, to support the people on top, and never question because someday, maybe they too can be on top. Except the vast majority never are. It’s a scam, a lie. The occasional success doesn’t prove it’s true, it simply reinforces that lie.

  25. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney October 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm |

    (my focus on Latin@ and Black people specifically because I have a lot more information about their economic status relative to white people, although I then failed to expand on that point – apologies for that)

  26. shah8
    shah8 October 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm |

    I think a large part of the problem is that people as a general rule–not scientists in their fields, not minorities coping with majority rules, are simply not prepared to bang their heads on a wall in a productive manner.

    I think if more people had to genuinely pass real math and science (philosophy too) courses, then they’d be more aware of just how fine-grained reality is, and just how meticulous pretty much everything that they live with must be designed just to pass the laugh test. Objectivity means a great deal different to people who’s had to routinely try to solve a problem over and over and over again until they get it right, with no benefit from “good enough”. When you have to wrestle with your own biases to see something you want to accomplish clearly, objectivity just looks different. While it’s quite true that scientists and doctors and engineers can have really odd and wrong “objective” views, that’s mostly a result of a belief in competence in one thing leads to competence in another. In a society where everyone has this sort of experience, this is rather easily countered and eloquently dismissed.

    In general, this isn’t really about “objective” or “neutralness” being wrong, but about very small space and large grained paradise of the minds. The more experience and knowledge that accumulate and connected to each other, the better the quality of your “objective” is. Science as a social pursuit is fundamentally aligned to archaic religious concepts of transcendent knowledge. As such, it competed and cooperated with other pursuits of absolute knowledge–much of it as simple as white is right or having a penis is a vote of potency. So we had many unholy marriages, like social darwinism, and many of these ideas, good and bad inform us today what is objective and what is not, regardless of whether science *now* supports that view. Charles Murray is going to continue writing, after all. I think that as science ceases to support more and more of the narratives desired by social elite, we are seeing a bifurcation of societies as imposed narratives are ever more aggressively encouraging those that listen to it, to ignore and dismiss what is present in the varieties of open societies that *must* incorporate a rational worldview, if we like things to work.

    Hmmm, at the end of this ramble, I guess I could say that objective viewpoint is just an attribute of the Big Guy In the Sky that puny humans would like for itself, whether that was ever possible for the mudborn. I would not dismiss it, since many really care about perfect perspective, but despite what Indian Subcontinent religions might promise, there isn’t a neutral point of view available at all.

  27. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays October 2, 2010 at 4:38 am |

    The problem with this is that the kyriarchal perspective isn’t actually an objective one at all. When you see it being given weight in reporting, that’s not a sign that the journalist is being objective. In fact, it’s a pretty good sign that they’re not being objective. Unconsciously so, most of the time, but they most certainly are displaying unconscious bias when they adopt the idea that the status quo is “normal” and don’t question it even when it would be logical given the nature of the story to do so.

    A perfect feminist example would be how rape is usually reported. When a reporter jumps right to an attempt to explain why the victim was raped based on what she did/wore/drank, that’s not an objective approach at all, it’s deeply biased.

    (Pedantic reporter is pedantic.)

  28. Jadey
    Jadey October 2, 2010 at 12:14 pm |

    Ergo: Jadey: Yes. I would actually say that all of those considerations you’re mentioning, especially the acknowledgement of biases and lenses, contribute to objectivity and accurate/rational reporting.  

    The caveat being that we can’t be objective about our subjectivity either. :) But we can try to reinforce a mindset, our own and that of our audiences and critics, that is more open to change, flexibility, and openness to uncertainty.

  29. Rkel
    Rkel October 3, 2010 at 7:06 am |

    So: because many fail to understand that they still have undiscovered biases, objectivity does not exist?

    Because the vast majority of people do not understand every possible lense of oppression that plagues society, objectivity is false?

    So you think it is not even worth pursuing?

    Perhaps you should think of it this way – those who claim to be objective are at least trying to do so. That doesn’t mean they’ll succeed, and if they fail, they fail. That doesn’t make objectivity a lie and a conspiratorial reflection of the kyriarchy. Because, with all due respect, that’s a fucking amazing jump of logic.

  30. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm |

    Rkel: So: because many fail to understand that they still have undiscovered biases, objectivity does not exist?

    No…because you are human, with the limits of human cognition and perception, you like all humans are incapable of objectivity. Whether objectivity *exists* is a non-useful question. It’s impossible for us to perceive or verify objectivity even if it did exist.

    The belief in objectivity gives people the unwarranted impression that their observations are some indication of *T*ruth rather than mere perception.

    Often these perceptions will align with kyriarchial norms (because our perceptive filters were created within the kyriarchy) and our belief that these perceptions are a reflection of the “T”ruth reinforces those norms.

    So…not a leap of logic…just a logical progression.

  31. RMJ
    RMJ October 3, 2010 at 11:55 pm |

    Hey there, this is the OP checking in. I don’t have a lot to add, but I wanted to thank Lauren for reposting this, and thank all for their universally intelligent and interesting comments (but particularly Lisa H, Lauren (again), Jadey, and Kristen J, who answered many critiques more insightfully than I could).

  32. Rkel
    Rkel October 4, 2010 at 6:03 am |

    Kristen J.: Often these perceptions will align with kyriarchial norms (because our perceptive filters were created within the kyriarchy) and our belief that these perceptions are a reflection of the “T”ruth reinforces those norms.

    A logical progression?

    What is logical about throwing the notion out the window entirely simply because we cannot entirely attain the perfect form of objectivity? There are no compromise conditions?

    So, science too is not worth following since theories are often only mostly correct, considering our understand of phenomena evolves over time?

    I hope you’ll forgive me in saying that this is bullshit. Just like it is bullshit that all views are valid, since this is ultimately what this about.

  33. Ashley
    Ashley October 4, 2010 at 8:46 am |

    I’m blown away that commenters on a feminist site have so much trouble with this concept! That really emphasizes for me just how deep this runs, and how important the unraveling of the concepts of “objectivity” and “rationality” is for ending oppression. I have yet to engage in a conversation about kyriarchy with someone invested in continuing it where those two ideas were not used as a weapon, and I have yet to see a form of oppression not invested in that paradigm. The idea of the perfect observer (who is of course white, male, imperialist, straight, cis, wealthy, able-bodied, thin, young and conventionally masculine) is used to make the perspective of every oppressed group invisible. It’s an essential tool of kyriarchy up there with really basic stuff like the myth of the solitary individual disconnected from others, the idea that all difference implies hierarchy, and the idea that aggression can solve problems without consequence.

  34. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 4, 2010 at 10:33 am |

    Rkel,

    Science is useful regardless of its truth value. I perceive that I sit in a thing that I identify as a chair. To me that perception/belief is useful. The *R*eality or objective *T*ruth of the chair is immaterial. My experience of the chair and my understanding of the shared human experience of things we sit on is that the object I identify as a chair is useful to me as a chair.

    Similarly, medicine is useful to me as something that provides healing or comfort regardless of the truth value of our explanations of how they work or what we believe they are made of. The *R*eality may be that tiny magic fairies respond in specific ways to heal us when we ingest certain chemical formulas. (Indeed, for science there is always a “+ fairies rule” – anything you can explain with science, I can explain with science plus fairies with equivalent predictive power.)

    But arguing over the truth value of fairies or not fairies is useless, much like objectivity. We cannot perceive or verify either the postulated fairies or objectivity. Thus these arguments produce no work.

    This doesn’t mean that you have stop, turn around, and go home. Truth value isn’t the only value. We can accomplish things even in our ignorance. If medicine works is it really critical that we know whether or not there are fairies involved? If I sit on the thing I identify as a chair does it really matter if its a bucket?
    But in moving forward toward useful knowledge it is necessary to acknowledge the limits of our perception and cognition.

    There is no truth value (or if there is by randomness we wouldn’t be able to perceive it) in our perceptions or beliefs. To accept the converse leads to scientific, moral and social dogma.

    All of which are bad.

    So no, no compromise. The belief in objectivity is unnecessary and harmful. It does no work and leads people to erroneous conclusions.

  35. Nobody
    Nobody October 4, 2010 at 11:35 am |

    The spectre of Richard Rorty continues to haunt the left apparently…

  36. shah8
    shah8 October 4, 2010 at 12:19 pm |

    Hmmm…

    No, there is truth value in our beliefs. To me, abstract systems of thought, from religion to mechanisms of currency or environmental protection, are fundamentally about the perception of social groups. There is no such thing as a social “I”, or a social “I think”, but we pretend that there is such a thing, because the truth values accessible to the social group, but not to individuals, are valuable to us. Some people find them valuable to themselves, once they hijack the ideological environment of the group to his or her own purposes.

    There are lots of truths. Many of those truths have vectors that are really strange to our perspective, such as the processes that allow quantum computing. There are other truths that are quite…architectual. There is very little that is “true” about it, but it allows us to hold truths that matter to us easily in our heads. That is what religions, for example, are supposed to do. That they don’t is a matter of how difficult it is to maintain saneness and consistency in very wild environments of many different vectors.

    Let’s not get too caught up in the trap of post-modernism. There is no such thing as an ultimate perspective, however, there are many, many, many perspectives that are more than urgently true enough, many of them extremely tangent to our generalized perspective despite that urgency.

  37. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm |

    Shah8,

    By truth value I mean absolute Capital T – truth. Not what we find useful to get through our lives. My distinction was specifically about the difference between *T*ruth and perspectives.

  38. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm |

    Which means I agree with you in case that wasn’t clear. I agree that all those small t truths are important and *useful* although not necessarily reflective of the *T*ruth.

  39. latinist
    latinist October 5, 2010 at 3:35 pm |

    This is mostly “what Jadey @21 said,” but:
    “I focus on giving people basic facts and then making it clear what I think about it.”

    Okay, but you have to decide which facts are “basic” (and, for that matter, which are “facts”). Bias is, of course, inescapable, but “objectivity” and normality are inescapable too: you can’t communicate at all without assuming some amount of shared perspective.

  40. Sammi
    Sammi October 6, 2010 at 9:33 am |

    Kristen J.: So no, no compromise. The belief in objectivity is unnecessary and harmful. It does no work and leads people to erroneous conclusions. Kristen J.

    Wow! Isn’t that nihilistic?

    With that world-view, how could you distinguish between (for example) the useless water magic of homeopathy and effective modern medicines? Is a twoo-believer’s profound faith in homeopathic charlatanry as valuable as results from a well-run medical trial?

    How should a bridge be designed? Whether it is beautiful or not is a purely subjective matter, whether it is strong or not is measurable and objective. That a bridge stands up is clearly desirable. On social issues, what is desirable (good?) is often less immediately clear (and subject to disagreement), but that does not preclude an honest attempt to untangle principles, aims, processes, results.

    I think your belief in eyes-closed non-objectivity is far more harmful than honest attempts to understand the world, both the natural world and the people in it. Perfection might be unachievable, but it is still worthwhile to make the effort to move in the right directions!

  41. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 6, 2010 at 9:57 am |

    Sammi: With that world-view, how could you distinguish between (for example) the useless water magic of homeopathy and effective modern medicines?

    You failed to read the entire comment. Try a few paras up.

    This doesn’t mean that you have stop, turn around, and go home. Truth value isn’t the only value. We can accomplish things even in our ignorance. If medicine works is it really critical that we know whether or not there are fairies involved? If I sit on the thing I identify as a chair does it really matter if its a bucket?
    But in moving forward toward useful knowledge it is necessary to acknowledge the limits of our perception and cognition.

    It’s not nihilistic. There are all sorts of meaning. If the only source of meaning you can finding in the universe is absolute truth, I suggest you’re going to run in to the limits of your brain, thus any sense of certainty you have about the universe is illusory. You can run a medical trial, a marathon or a corporation without believing you can comprehend absolute *T*ruth.

  42. Jadey
    Jadey October 6, 2010 at 10:14 am |

    SammiI think your belief in eyes-closed non-objectivity is far more harmful than honest attempts to understand the world, both the natural world and the people in it. Perfection might be unachievable, but it is still worthwhile to make the effort to move in the right directions!  

    Thanks for clearly not actually considering a single argument we’ve made. Your points have already been addressed throughout the thread and in the original post.

  43. Sammi
    Sammi October 6, 2010 at 5:00 pm |

    Jadey:
    Thanks for clearly not actually considering a single argument we’ve made. Your points have already been addressed throughout the thread and in the original post.

    I’m sorry I annoyed you. That was not my intention. My apologies if pressure of time and interruptions meant that I did not read and understand everything as fully and carefully as I should have.

    Kristen J.:
    You failed to read the entire comment.Try a few paras up.If medicine works is it really critical that we know whether or not there are fairies involved?

    Thank you for your explanation. To answer the question (sorry if it was rhetorical!): yes, I think it does matter, very much. With some sort of albeit imperfect understanding of the underlying biochemistry, we can move on to design better medicines. But if we start from the premise that fairies are involved, well, putting cakes and a glass of milk out to cheer up the little people would seem as good a strategy as getting out the test tubes.

    I suppose I still think if you sit on a bucket, it’s still a bucket, not a chair. If only because it’s better for carrying water in than a chair is? But that shows the limits of labelling, not the limits of action A chair is something designed for sitting on, but that does not make everything you can sit on a chair.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your rejection (if I have understood) of an Absolute Truth. I don’t think there is one (does anybody?). I’m not arguing for an Absolute Truth. I just think there are wide ranges of “truthiness”.

    Of course, social structures are our main interest and there is a dearth of “truthiness” there – beyond bald statistics of births, marriages and deaths all is subjectivity and distorting paradigms. A society is not a chair. So how does one identify the pressure points to prod to promote change?

    Thanks for listening. I think I’d better shut up now because better minds than mine in this group have obviously considered these issues in greater depth. Apologies again for the annoyance.

  44. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 6, 2010 at 7:59 pm |

    Sammi: With some sort of albeit imperfect understanding of the underlying biochemistry, we can move on to design better medicines. But if we start from the premise that fairies are involved, well, putting cakes and a glass of milk out to cheer up the little people would seem as good a strategy as getting out the test tubes.

    You miss understand the rhetorical device of the fairies and what is meant by usefulness. If the “Truth” is science plus fairies…then our explanation of the world with science will have identical explanatory power as would science plus fairies. It will just happen to be wrong. The point is that all of science is essentially built on explanatory power not on absolute truth…(see Occam’s Razor for example)…so we can have science without the need for absolute truth or even the goal of absolute truth.

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