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Workshop: Objectivity – New Perspectives on Objective Inquiry (6 May 2018)

Idea and Motivation

Objectivity is taken to be an epistemic virtue of inquiry – not only in the natural sciences but also in the social and historical sciences and, going beyond scientific inquiry, in journalism. The objectivity of inquiry takes center stage as a virtue: the inquirers themselves (scientists, historians, journalists) and the consumers or users of the outcomes of such inquiry (such as companies, policy makers, readers) rely on it. However, despite its central role, the notion of objectivity is surprisingly unclear. The contributions to this workshop aim at shedding new light on the notion of objectivity.




Attendance is free, but registration is required:


09:30 - 10:15 Kärin Nickelsen: Entangled Objectivities: Can Partisan Scientists with Doubtful Methods Produce Accurate Data?
10:15 - 11:00 Katherina Kinzel: Objectivity in Historiography – The Nineteenth Century German Debates
11:00 - 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 - 12:15 Alexander Reutlinger: The Subjunctive Independence Account of Objectivity
12:15 - 13:00 Georgios Karageorgoudis: Two Kinds of Objectivity
13:00 - 14:30 Lunch Break
14:30 - 15:15 Christoph Neuberger: Journalistic Objectivity as a Professional Strategy
15:15 - 16:00 Anna Leuschner: Objectivity through Mutual Criticism? On the Problem of Epistemically Detrimental Dissent
16:00 - 16:30 Coffee Break
16:30 - 17:15 Gordon Belot: Gravity and GRACE: Does Underdetermination Undermine Objectivity?


Gordon Belot: Gravity and GRACE: Does Underdetermination Undermine Objectivity?

I will present an underdetermination argument that targets scientific objectivity rather than scientific realism — and argue that the considerations raised should unsettle scientific

Georgios Karageorgoudis: Two Kinds of Objectivity

This contribution discusses some interpretations of “objectivity” in terms of independence regarding properties of cognitive subjects and asks the question of the suitable bearers of objectivity. It locates the primary bearers of objectivity at an intermediate level between cognitive subjects and objects und introduces a second concept of objectivity which is based entirely on the relation between the intermediate level and that of the objects. Finally it presents some applications of this second kind of objectivity and shows its interconnection with the more widerspread independence-based conceptions

Katherina Kinzel: Objectivity in Historiography – The Nineteenth Century German Debates

As Daston and Galison have shown, the epistemic ideal of objectivity has a history. The virtue of objectivity – the idea that the projections of an overbearing “self” need to be countered by the mechanical reproduction of natural particulars – was preceded by an altogether different set of epistemic ideals and practices. Dominant from the 16th to the 18th century, “truth-to-nature” promised to reveal the typical and characteristic in nature, and it considered the exercise of judgment and interpretation as a virtue, rather than a threat. This paper addresses the question as to whether there was a parallel shift from truth-to-nature to objectivity in the humanities. It focuses on the Nineteenth Century German debates surrounding the consolidation of professional historiography as a case study. The professionalization of historiography in the early to mid-Nineteenth Century was indeed accompanied by calls for objectivity, most famously expressed in Leopold von Ranke’s wish to “eradicate” the self and to present history “as it actually happed”. Like Daston’s and Galison’s atlas-makers, historians considered objectivity as a methodological and a moral ideal simultaneously. It was tied to ideas about the undistorted representation of particular facts, but also to unbiasedness and justice. Nevertheless, until the late Nineteenth Century, professional history remained strongly influenced by romantic and idealist legacies, and the ideal of truth-to-nature persisted simultaneously and alongside that of objectivity. And in historiography, objectivity and truth-to-nature were not – as Daston and Galison suggest for natural science –compatible epistemic virtues. Rather, they encapsulated conflicting, sometimes even diametrically opposed, views on methodology, and on the moral and political relevance of the study of

Anna Leuschner: Objectivity through Mutual Criticism? On the Problem of Epistemically Detrimental Dissent

Many of today’s philosophers of science acknowledge that non-epistemic values inevitably play a role in the context of scientific justification due to empirical underdetermination. Still, this does not pose a problem to science in principle. As most notably Helen Longino has argued in a Millian vein, social plurality in scientific communities helps to examine theories from different angles. Her critical contextual empiricism is based on the assumption that social plurality leads to extensive mutual criticism and, thus, to the revelation of cognitive biases that are based on individual idiosyncrasies. That way, objectivity is achieved.
However, particularly during the last decade it has become increasingly clear that criticism is not always epistemically fruitful. For example, agnotology has shown that certain industrial and political stakeholders have manufactured dissent about climate change by attacking climate scientists and producing fake studies in order to postpone climate change mitigation measures.
Empirical evidence indicates that this has not only affected the public opinion about climate change but also science: climate scientists have displayed significant conservatism in their choices of hypotheses and concepts, and in the interpretation and characterization of data. The consequence is an observable constant underestimation of climate change and its impacts. This will be briefly illustrated by the history of the five ‘reasons for concern’.
Together with anecdotal evidence from scientists who report feeling too intimidated to freely discuss what they think it appears likely that this extreme conservatism is, at least to some extent, the result of an anti-scientific atmosphere that nudges climate scientists, as Raymond Bradley put it, to “keep a low profile and go with the flow”. Ironically, climate change deniers have often invoked the Millian ideal arguing that their activities provide epistemically valuable input for science. In contrast to this view, I will conclude by specifying certain conditions that make dissent epistemically detrimental and, thus, pose a limit to the ideal of objectivity through mutual

Christoph Neuberger: Journalistic Objectivity as a Professional Strategy

The problem of fake news and the debate on the ‘postfactual age’ has given new meaning to the topic of journalistic objectivity. The norm was not introduced until the 1920s (Schudson, 2001). It was part of a strategy to legitimate journalism as a profession and to separate it from other areas like propaganda and public relations. By orienting itself towards science, journalism was to become an epistemic authority. In textbooks and codes of conduct the norm is operationalized through several rules for verification (like the two-source rule and the priority of accuracy over timeliness). But journalism has never had such rigorous methods as science (Post, 2015). Furthermore, since the 1960s there have been considerable doubts as to whether the standard makes sense and could be fulfilled. For this reason, objectivity was even called a ‘strategic ritual’ (Tuchman, 1971). In the 1990s, the idea that truth was attainable was also criticized epistemically. Especially in Germany, the ‘radical constructivism’ has strongly influenced the debate. Today, journalism must defend itself against politically motivated criticism (‘lie press’). On the internet, journalism also deals with checking unsafe and false information (fact-checking) (Neuberger, 2017).

Neuberger, C. (2017). Journalistische Objektivität. Vorschlag für einen prag¬ma¬tischen Theorierahmen. Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft, 65(2), 406–431.
Post, S. (2015). Scientific objectivity in journalism? How journalists and academics define objectivity, assess its attainability, and rate its desirability. Journalism, 16(6) 730–749.
Schudson, M. (2001). The objectivity norm in American journalism. Journalism, 2(2), 149–170.
Tuchman, G. (1971). Objectivity as strategic ritual: An examination of newsmen's notions of ob¬jectivity. American Journal of Sociology, 77(4), 660–679.

Kärin Nickelsen: Entangled Objectivities: Can Partisan Scientists with Doubtful Methods Produce Accurate Data?

The usage of the term “objectivity” has been notoriously ambiguous. Claims, data, procedures, personalities and judgments can equally be called “objective”, and, even worse, the meanings and connotations of these terms have changed over time. This ambiguity is annoying to philosophers (and inspiring to historians); while it is not always clear how it has affected actual science. I want to address this issue by analysing a particularly fierce debate in mid-twentieth century biophysics: the controversy on the maximum quantum yield of photosynthesis. The parameter in question was considered extremely important at the time, while it was also extremely difficult to measure, and the persons involved far from impartial in their rhetorics and behaviour. The paper argues that the different kinds of objectivity assigned to data, methodologies and judgment became core issues of the controversy; and that it was exactly because most actors thought that partisan scientists with doubtful methods might produce accurate data that the debate lasted so

Alexander Reutlinger: The Subjunctive Independence Account of Objectivity

Building on work by Robert Nozick, I will argue for a subjunctive independence account of objectivity, according to which a fact is objective to the extent to which it remains the same (that is, invariant) under (subjunctive) changes of other facts. I will argue that this account applies to various typical examples of scientific objectivity. Finally, I will discuss how the subjunctive independence accounts relates to competing explications of


Main University Building
Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
D-80539 München
Room M 203

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