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I am currently reading a paper by Ian Hacking called "Let's Not Talk About Objectivity". I am not a native English speaker and I am having trouble undestanding the following sentence:

The Adjective “Objective” Does the Work for the Abstract Noun, but in a Negative Way: In Any Single Situation, One or More of the Host of Ways to Fail to Be Objective Is What Matters

What does he mean? The abstract noun is obviously "objectivity". Is he talking about what is objective objectivity? I just don't get what he means with "does work for"...

Here is a link to Google Books for context. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-14349-1_2.

Thank you so much in advance.

  • Since you are not a native English speaker, I will simply add for now that as a native English speaker...I have no idea what is meant! Also, I don't think, in this case, that @jobermark is being helpful. I don't grasp his answer, and suspect it is based on opinion, in this case. – Nelson Alexander Mar 22 '16 at 2:08
  • @NelsonAlexander the objection is that the definition works in a negative way which allows a host of ways to fail (as does any implicitly negative characterization)... How hard is that to comprehend? The only thing wrong with the English is all the annoying capital letters. He even used the colon correctly, and in a way that pretty much forces the interpretation I made. – jobermark Apr 21 '16 at 15:29
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The problem the author has is that he wants a constructive definition, rather than a definition by contrast.

Standards of objectivity themselves tend to demand constructive definitions from the other things they judge. Completely negative characterizations implicitly create an infinite regress, where each thing can be judged, but doing so would take infinitely long. And that is generally seen as evading the demand for objectivity.

So not being able to say what is objective, but only what is not, becomes hypocritical if your standards for objectivity are high. And most people's notion of objectivity is by contrast, or involves "the set of all observers" which cannot be constructed, or would itself take infinite work to express.

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