“Modern philosophy has tried anything and everything in the effort to help the individual to transcend himself objectively, which is a wholly impossible feat; existence exercises its restraining influence, and if philosophers nowadays had not become mere scribblers in the service of a fantastic thinking and its pre-occupation, they would long ago have perceived that suicide was the only tolerable practical interpretation of its striving. But the scribbling modern philosophy holds passion in contempt; and yet passion is the culmination of existence for an existing individual—and we are all of us existing individuals.”
–Soren Kierkegaard,Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swanson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941), p. 176
“What is the truth of this world? It is not the masses of substance, not in the number of things, but in their relatedness, which neither can be counted, nor measured, nor abstracted. It is not in the materials which are many, but in the expression which is one. All our knowledge of things is knowing them in their relation to the Universe, in that relation which is truth. A drop of water is not a particular assortment of elements; it is the miracle of a harmonious mutuality, in which the two reveal the One. No amount of analysis can reveal to us this mystery of unity. Matter is an abstraction; we shall never be able to realize what it is, for our world of reality does not acknowledge it. Even the giant forces of the world, centripetal and centrifugal, are kept out of our recognition. They are the day-labourers not admitted into the audience-hall of creation. But light and sound come to us in their gay dresses as troubadors singing serenades before the windows of the senses. What is constantly before us, claiming our attention, is not the kitchen, but the feast; not the anatomy of the world, but its countenance. There is the dancing ring of seasons; the many-coloured wings of erratic life flitting between birth and death. The importance of these does not lie in their existence as mere facts, but in their language of harmony, the mother-tongue of our own soul, through which they are communicated to us.”
–Rabindranath Tagore, “Creative Unity” in Great Works of Rabindranath Tagore (Delhi: Rose Publications, ____), p. 489
Objectivity as a philosophical issue is basically a matter of epistemological concern—a knowledge matter. From this emanate the questions: (1) Is there objective knowledge? (2) Are there other types of knowledge besides the objective? (3) What may be considered as objective knowledge? (4) When is knowledge objective? (5) Why is objective knowledge important? Perhaps more related questions could spontaneously arise along the way in the course of an extensive discussion of this issue.
Meanwhile, it is essential to initially get to the phenomenology of knowledge to set the baseline of the discussion. In this connection, we locate the occurrence of knowledge and in the process bring to light its fundamental components as a human phenomenon. Knowledge starts off in the act of knowing where a conscious knower (noesis) comes across an object of knowing (noema). Knowledge then is a condition wherein an object—i.e., an objective entity—is comprehended by the subjective consciousness of a knower. At this point begins the problematization of whether knowledge is subjective or objective. On the one hand, we assert that if knowledge is an event that occurs in a conscious mind, then it must be subjective. Nevertheless, it is likewise equally asserted on the other hand that in the occurrence of knowledge, something is “captured” by a conscious mind and hence knowledge must be objective. This “tug-of-war” triggers a question: Is knowledge one´s conscious grasp of something (and thus subjective) or is it something that is grasped by consciousness (and hence objective)? Or, better: What necessarily defines knowledge, the subjective comprehension of an object or the objective entity that is comprehended?
The act of knowing, which leads to the emanation of knowledge, is an act of conscious signification wherein a subjective knower “connects” with an objective entity that is known. Thus, as a matter of signification, knowledge is basically subjective. In this sense, what matters more is my—and not anybody´s—knowledge of something. But the issue doesn´t end here as we direct our attention on the something. Knowledge—as a matter of consciousness—does not stand alone; it is always knowledge of something (as the eminent phenomenologist Edmund Husserl stressed in the same vein that there is no consciousness as such but always consciousness of something). In the phenomenology of knowledge, it is not therefore possible to isolate from each other the noesis (the consciously knowing subject) and the noema ( the consciously known object).
Some generations before Husserl was the great German critical idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant who theorized on the preclusion of our knowledge of “substantive” objects in the world which he called “things-in-themselves” or noumena. He contended that we can only know the perceived properties or sense data which constitute the phenomental aspect of a noumenon but never its substantiality. In other words, we can only know phenomena and never the noumena. In the light of this theory, the subjective aspect of knowledge is apparently more pronounced than the objective. This conception should not however be confused with the subjective idealist presupposition of the Irish empiricist George Berkeley who theorized that reality is all in the mind and no objective entities are actually out there. In Berkeley, there is no objective reality, whereas in Kant, there is, except that it is unknowable, being inaccessible to human perception. As far as the Kantian assumption is concerned, “objective” knowledge is possible as long as what we mean by “objective” refers to the phenomenal or perceived properties of a noumenon and not to the noumenon itself. But at this juncture, the critical issue is not necessarily the perceived properties abstracted as they are but rather the diversity—and hence, a probable dissimilarity—of perceptions from the viewpoints of different individual perceivers (or preceptors). We cannot therefore automatically declare absolute objectivity of knowledge in the face of this unassailable condition.
Nevertheless, generally similar perceptions of objects and circumstances by a majority of perceivers are a reality. We call this “intersubjective” perception that leads to “intersubjective” knowledge. By virtue of the spontaneity of human cognitive processes that expand from individual consciousness to collective agreement and conventional acceptance, intersubjective knowledge is in effect raised to the level of the objective thereby possibilizing the reality of objective knowledge.
But where and how important in concrete terms is objective knowledge? Objective knowledge is indubitably the inalienable foundation of the general field of physico-natural science from whose dramatic progression through generations have tremendously developed modern (and post-modern) technologies by leaps and bounds and from which humanity has enormously benefited.
“ . . . Appeals from the depth of the scientific and the analytic convince the intellect to sing paeans of praises to the comfort and delight bestowed by the achievements of modernity—the wonders of technology, the life that has been made easy by a myriad of gadgets, instruments and equipment that rule households, offices and workplaces, even classrooms and game-boards of the modern age.”
[From “Fragments of Philosophy (or Philosophical Fragments) on the Sensitivity and Sensibility of Human Life Towards Transformative Philosophizing” in Sophophilia: Critical Readings in Philosophy by Ruel F. Pepa . . . http://issuu.com/kspt/docs/sophophilia ]
Objectivity or being objective is a necessary condition of the mathematical, the scientific and the technological. We cannot do away with the established standard of objective precision in matters of science and technology. None of the sciences can ever tolerate less than the minimum limits of what is deemed objective.
Yet, over and beyond all the preconditions of the mathematical, the scientific and the technological is the personal which is essentially grounded on the reality of subjective existence. It is this very reality that bestows meaningfulness to one´s being. It is this very reality that measures and values the significance of all scientific and technological circumstances in the human world. Even the very essence of objectivity becomes irrelevant unless subjectively signified and appropriated as valuable, functional and advantageous in the human condition.
A critical shift of philosophical paradigm from the epistemological efficacy of the objective (veering towards the scientific) to the ontological (matters of being and existence) and the axiological (matters of philosophical valuation) magnitude of the subjective which maintains its philosophical footing is of the essence as we attempt to balance the scientific and the philosophical. In parting, let me quote from the conclusion of my essay, “Fragments of Philosophy” (or “Philosophical Fragments”) on the Sensitivity and Sensibility of Human Life Towards Transformative Philosophizing” (. http://issuu.com/kspt/docs/sophophilia ):
“TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHIZING takes us into the depth of the distinction between the objective and the subjective. In the context of how we deal with reality through the predominantly modernist approach of our generation, the scientific and the analytico-mathematical are generally taken to be objective. Objective considerations are defined not only in terms of the observable but more so in terms of the measurable/ quantifiable and the experimentable. If certain aspects of reality are deemed to be objective, it is therefore assumed that to do justice to their objectiveness/objectivity, the most appropriate step to an inquiry into or an exploration of it is via the scientific and/or the analytico-mathematical terrains. In other words, the objective is best analyzed and evaluated in scientific and/or analytico-mathematical terms. In modernist terms, we cannot really disengage the objective from the scientific and/or the analytico-mathematical.
“On that basis, it is truly difficult to deal with the objective in other terms. And since on the other side of the reality divide, the subjective rules, another field of human intellectual endeavour should be appropriated for its signification: the philosophical. The philosophical, therefore, associates itself with the subjective and vice versa. Matters of value and virtue, the choice of anything that suits individual, subjective preference, are matters of philosophy. . .”
© Ruel F. Pepa, 12 February 2014