I'm looking for some names/essays/philosophers on the topic of objective reality. Questions like, "Can we experience anything objectively?" and, "Is there an objective reality?"

Anyone have any suggestions? I appreciate all answers.

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  • Aren't experiences subjective by definition? – Rortian Apr 21 at 12:55
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    Welcome to the SE! Your question may get closed for being "too broad". What that means is that an answer will probably approach book size. – christo183 Apr 21 at 13:25
  • "Too broad", huh? @natojato, if you (or anyone) wants to resolve this question in your own thinking, I'd be happy to support you in doing that. I dropped an answer below; anyone who's intent on figuring that issue out can drop a question about those quotes in my chat space. – Rortian Apr 23 at 12:01

As a preparatory to his "Ethics Demonstrated in the Geometric Method", Spinoza produced a short Treatise titled "On the Improvement of the Understanding". It is often referred to as the TIE for Tractatus Emendatione Intellectus. It is brief because it is unfinished, [43 pages].

In it he maintained that before undergoing an Epistemological and Metaphysical investigation that it is vital to carefully delineate the types of knowledge which are available to human understanding, how we come about 'capturing' that 'knowledge' and which type should be employed to obtain to certainty [your objective reality].

What he determined he incorporated into to his unique take on the notion of 'idea'. He maintained that through the active agency-in-act accessible to the human mind and its innate interconnection to 'the whole of nature', that objective reality was both possible and doable. The difficulty lies in being able to discern what he termed an 'adequate idea'. This occurs when the co-identity between an object, event or person in experience and the corresponding thought in the mind are experienced as 'causally' identical.

Limited space and the need for each person to read and reflect on precisely what Spinoza means by 'idea', 'adequacy', and 'interconnection' means that your reading the TIE is much more important than me trying to explain it.

You can locate it and download for free at Project Gutenberg.

All the Best, Charles M. Saunders

  • your objective reality Charles, does this mean that everyone has different objective reality? – Rortian Apr 21 at 12:56
  • @Rortian No, unless by object we say that everyone experiences a different sun, or ocean or rainstorm. CS – Charles M Saunders Apr 21 at 23:16
  • Well, CMS, I've got that piece, which I studied with a very thoughtful expert fifteen years ago. Baruch is another one of my greatest heroes, who actually gave up his social life rather than sacrifice his philosophical integrity or submit his brilliant discourse to the closed minded authorities. I’ve upvoted your erudite response, which I believe is compatible with the views I’ve inherited from my philosophical forbears. – Rortian Apr 21 at 23:55
  • Also, it may be the same sun, but even so our experiences of it are different, right? – Rortian Apr 21 at 23:59
  • Quantitatively different yes, but qualitatively no; – Charles M Saunders Apr 22 at 15:50

In my experience, subjective and objective have been thought to be mutually exclusive, but they're no longer being applied in contemporary scholarship as absolutely distinct from each other. In philosophy definitions vary, and technical concepts get transformed over time.

Have you read this article on objectivity? It contains this:

Despite plausible ways of arguing that intersubjective disagreement indicates error and agreement indicates some probability of truth, defenses of objective knowledge all face the philosophically daunting challenge of providing a cogent argument showing that any purported “mark” of reliability (including apparent intersubjective agreement) actually does confer a high likelihood of truth. The task seems to presuppose some method of determining objective truth in the very process of establishing certain sorts of subjective impressions as reliable indicators of truth. That is, we require some independent (non-subjective) way of determining which subjective impressions support knowledge of objective reality before we can find subjectively accessible “markers” of the reliable subjective impressions. What could such a method be, since every method of knowledge, judgment, or even thought seems quite clearly to go on within the realm of subjective impressions? One cannot get out of one’s subjective impressions, it seems, to test them for reliability. The prospects for knowledge of the objective world are hampered by our essential confinement within subjective impressions.

As for objective reality, it does seem that there is some, doesn't it? I like the idea that there must be something external to our minds, but there's a very wide consensus among professional scholars (experts in many fields have learned this bit of philosophy by now) that we can't know for certain the exact truth about that reality. I like the work of the late Nelson Goodman, described here:

Although some of Goodman’s work is highly technical (in which mode he made a major contribution to the problem of induction – see sidebar), his key ideas are vivid, easily graspable, and attractive unless you are an unbending realist, and believe that concepts have an eternal existence independent of human minds, and the world as something to be discovered through these concepts. Constructivists like Goodman, on the contrary see themselves as making worlds. For them there is no fixed objective world with a unique characterisation: there is instead the creation of a plurality of worlds, tailored to fit particular outlooks and experiences.

Art is one of the ways of making worlds. Art, in all its various forms, is treated by Goodman in terms of a language of symbols, and is put on the same basis as the sciences. Throughout his life, Goodman continued to resolutely refuse to admit any sharp divisions between art, science, and everyday experience.

Goodman was well aware of the blurred boundary between objectivity and subjectivity. He wasn't the only one...many experts understand the limits of objectivity rather well (see this article).

Kant had a good idea, he called it practical reason:

Using Kant’s distinction, intersubjective agreement would seem to be not only the best evidence we can have of objective truth but constitutive of objective truth itself. (This might require a theoretically perfect intersubjective agreement under ideal conditions.) Starting from the assumption that we can have knowledge only of things as they appear in subjective experience, the only plausible sense for the term “objective” would be judgments for which there is universal intersubjective agreement, or just for which there is necessarily universal agreement. If, alternately, we decide to restrict the term “objective” to the Ding an sich, there would be, according to Kant, no objective knowledge. The notion of objectivity thus becomes useless, perhaps even meaningless (for, say, a verificationist). Dwayne H. Mulder, IEP.

Does this support you in getting a better sense of these issues?

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