In line with the idea that the epistemic authority of science relies primarily on the objectivity of scientific reasoning, we focus on the role of objectivity in scientific experimentation, inference and theory choice. To call a thing objective implies that it has a certain importance to us and that we approve of it. Claims, methods and results can be more or less objective, and, other things being equal, the more objective, the better.
Using the term “objective” to describe something often carries a special rhetorical force with it.
Given the centrality of the concept for science and everyday life, it is not surprising that attempts to find ready characterizations are bound to fail.
For one thing, there are two fundamentally different ways to understand the term: product objectivity and process objectivity.
Understanding the role of objectivity in science is therefore integral to a full appreciation of these debates.
As this article testifies, the reverse is true too: it is impossible to fully appreciate the notion of scientific objectivity without touching upon many of these debates.A room may feel hot or cold depending on the climate one is used to but it will, at least possibly, have a degree of warmth that is independent of one's experiences.The object in front of a person does not, at least not necessarily, disappear just because the lights are turned off.This article discusses several proposals to characterize the idea and ideal of objectivity in such a way that it is both strong enough to be valuable, and weak enough to be attainable and workable in practice.We begin with a natural conception of objectivity: faithfulness to facts, which is closely related to the idea of product objectivity.We motivate the intuitive appeal of this conception, discuss its relation to scientific method and discuss arguments challenging both its attainability as well as its desirability.We then move on to a second conception of objectivity as absence of normative commitments and value-freedom, and once more we contrast arguments in favor of such a conception with the challenges it faces.There is a conception of objectivity that presupposes that there are two kinds of qualities: ones that vary with the perspective one has or takes, and ones that remain constant through changes of perspective. Thomas Nagel explains that we arrive at the idea of objective properties in three steps (Nagel 1986: 14).The first step is to realize (or postulate) that our perceptions are caused by the actions of things on us, through their effects on our bodies.The ideal of objectivity has been criticized repeatedly in philosophy of science, questioning both its value and its attainability.This article focuses on the question of how scientific objectivity should be defined, whether the ideal of objectivity is desirable, and to what extent scientists can achieve it.