Have you ever found yourself asking the question’ what do I know ’? Why do I know that which I know? Is that actual, genuine and valid knowledge that I possess? Have you ever pondered the truth value of all matter?
Objectivity and subjectivity are an inseparable pair of words that are often used in our everyday life. It is often used to describe the level of neutrality, truthfulness or the opposite of an information source or media outlet. I do not necessarily view these two as exact opposites, but they are often perceived that way. The term ‘’subjective’’ has always had somewhat of an arbitrary and unwanted tone, whilst ‘’objective’’ is something sought after. The news deemed objective are the ones which supposedly avoid apparent biases and retain neutrality, whilst the subjective media outlets are the ones where extra attention and information filtering is required. But what really is objective? Because every news is written by people, can they even reach any level of objectivity and general neutrality?
According to the theory of knowledge, all of that which we supposedly know comes from 8 different ways of knowing: sense perception, language, emotion, reason, imagination, faith, intuition and memory. This does not necessarily imply that these are the ways we obtain knowledge, for example, one does not learn anything that has not been know before via memory – it is only used to recall experienced events. Furthermore, I would suggest that every bit of knowledge that humans obtain comes through senses. One might argue that mind can derive knowledge on itself via reason, but I tend to side with the famous philosopher John Locke and his ‘’Essay Concerning Human Understanding’’ – mind cannot derive something ex nihilum. Rather, it operates with past experiences that are accumulated through senses. Thus, I can come to a conclusion that all knowledge is directly or indirectly obtained through senses, while mind is, so to say, a blank slate that is ready to operate with the experiences.
Before exploring this matter further, I would like to establish certain definitions.
1. By objective I understand that which is the case independently of the individual’s mind.
2. By subjective I understand that which is perceived and interpreted by the individual.
illustrations by Egor Buimister
To reduce this to a simple example: if we were to suppose that a specific thing objectively existed, that would mean that it existed even if there was no being to see, touch, smell or in any other way confirm its existence, it existed independently. The problem is, we cannot fundamentally declare anything objective, because the very process of verification itself would require us to perceive the esteemed thing. We cannot physically know if anything is objective, therefore following Ockham’s principle of simplicity I believe that everything that we can acknowledge is subjective.
To further prove my point, I will return to the first preposition regarding our ways of obtaining knowledge. Because our information sources are only our senses, we have no way of judging their objectivity without the use of them. Using senses to prove the objectivity of them is somewhat circular reasoning.
So, what does this come down to? Every possible obtainable piece of knowledge is subjective? Yes, however there are two exceptions that I can point out, over which I still have contemplations. I have no doubt that many people with little interest in philosophy have heard the famous ‘’Cogito ergo sum’’ or ‘’I think, therefore I am’’ by the great Rene Descartes.
Essentially this means that the very notion of doubt pertaining to anything, the notion of thought, while it may be subjective, still acts as a proof of our existence in some form, possibly unknown to us. Myself, I would adjust Descartes’ thesis because in my opinion it is slightly flawed. In the premise ‘’I think’’, he already assumes existence. Afterwards he concludes that he exists, but he already pointed that out in the premise. I’d rather define his thought as ‘’there is thought, therefore there is not nothingness’’ as I think that assuming my existence based on the process of mind is a leap of faith.
With one of the two objective knowledge bits being the denial of nothingness, the other might be the laws of logic. This one is tricky, though, because while it appears there is no way that, let’s say, the law of non-contradiction could not be true, it could also be the case that the human mind is incapable of perceiving the concept of something existing and not existing at the same time.
illustrations by Egor Buimister
After this epistemologically nihilistic analysis the scene seems rather grim. If we cannot be sure of anything, what’s the point in doing something? I would propose that the concepts ‘’subjective’’ and ‘’objective’’ are understood through a different definition in everyday life. An objective starting point has to be assumed, even though, as proved before, it is not so. One could assume that our senses are objective, therefore creating the objectivity framework that people lead their lives in.
What are we left with in conclusion? Everything could be the way we see it, or it might not be so – we will never know. However, that does not take away meaning for life because we have set ourselves a specific epistemological framework in which we live in, not worrying about metaphysical issues in our everyday life. As for the much-contemplated duo of concepts – subjectivity and objectivity – we must accept that each one of these has two definitions, one for philosophical reasoning and one for slamming media, criticising politicians and any other casual use.