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Contemporary Debates

Since the 1960s the debate about the objectivity of knowledge in English-speaking countries concentrated on explaining the history of science. Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996) and others demonstrated that there are no simple objective scientific facts because scientific concepts are always embedded in conceptual frameworks, and so are confirmed holistically. After Kuhn, those who believe that science offers objective knowledge attempt to explain scientific change by referring to internal scientific reasons, the interaction between theory and reality. Those who claim that science is at least in some cases not objective, including sociologists of knowledge of "the strong program" (which is based on a critique of traditional philosophy of science), feminists (such as Helen Longino, Miriam Solomon, and Kathleen Okruhlik), and postcolonial thinkers explain scientific change by external social factors. They may be divided into moderates who argue that in many cases science did not adhere to its objective criteria, and radicals who claim that the very ideas of objectivity and rationality reflect the biases of male, heterosexual, and white European scientists.

These debates led contemporary philosophers like Nicholas Rescher to attempt to understand objectivity without referring to the world or truth conditions, to reduce objectivity to universal impersonal reason that should lead to the same cognitive output given the same informational or evidential input. Objectivity then is a general human point of view, avoiding the idiosyncratic.

One of the most influential twentieth-century discussions of objectivity was introduced by Thomas Nagel. He considered objective–subjective propositions to have different degrees of reliance on an individual's makeup and position in the world. Since there is no "view from nowhere," a point of view is inevitable. The subjectivity of consciousness is irreducible to its physical properties (the brain). In ethics, moral subjectivism considers moral principles personal; moral objectivism argues that moral judgments are defensible rationally and moral values exist objectively. Nagel considered the good to be subjective and irreducible, since we cannot act impersonally. According to Nagel the problem facing contemporary philosophy is the integration of our subjective-personal and objective-impersonal views of ourselves in the same worldview.


Megill, Allan, ed. Rethinking Objectivity. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994.

Nagel, Thomas. The View from Nowhere. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Natter, Wolfgang, Theodore Schatzki, and John Paul Jones, eds. Objectivity and Its Other. New York: Guilford, 1995.

Rescher, Nicholas. Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason. Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1997.

Aviezer Tucker

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP) to Ockham's razorObjectivity - History Of The Term, Contemporary Debates