Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Objectivity is often thought of as a virtue in it’s own right. The more objective we can be about a situation the better.

What I want to show is that complete objectivity (in any given situation) is impossible, and that whoever seeks it is corrupt.

Now, what do I mean by the word objectivity? A statement is completely objective if it does not depend on a single frame of reference. In particular, the more independent a fact is on a person’s own point-of-view the more objective it is.

To clarify let me give some examples.

A scientific theory is said to be objective insofar as it can be confirmed by experiment and can be described by mathematics. Experiments show that the result does not depend on a particular observer, and mathematical descriptions tell scientists exactly what a theory predicts.

Whenever we are graded on a test or assessed on our job, we should get an objective report. This report is objective insofar as we have formalized criteria for grading. This way the rightness or wrongness of a test is less dependent on the student’s personal quirks, and it is less dependent of the teacher’s mood.

In both these cases individual frames of reference are removed from the facts so that the facts may be judged apart from our subjective quirks.

And it is clear that this process is a good thing. If we didn’t have any objective standards for talking with other people, we couldn’t talk with other people at all!
We couldn’t even make sense of our own thoughts! (More on this in another video.)

Since this is a good thing, we’re tempted to think that the more of it the better. But this is not the case. If we try to be completely objective about any subject, it turns out we can’t know anything about it at all.

Let’s pretend that we can be completely objective about say some subject. The first question we must ask is where do we begin? And the only answer we can give is, “Where it seems to us it is important to begin.”

But in order to say this, we include our own subjective appraisal of importance. And there is no way out of it. If we want to know something, we have to consider what is important about it, and it’s importance is always something relevant to ourselves, our own subjective selves.

Therefore whoever is seeking complete objectivity is seeking something that is impossible. In fact, following an implication of this argument, this pure objectivity seeker is seeking to remove all value from the world, and this is the definition of nihilism: to say nothing matters. Further, we have also seen that this person who says nothing matters, can never completely objectively begin learning things. So he must even say that true knowledge of the world is impossible. So he is a complete skeptic and nihilist. And insofar as he truly seeks complete objectivity he is utterly corrupt.