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Paul Grobstein's picture

science, subjectivity, solipsism, and despotism

Very interesting conversation this morning about the "crack" and resulting inevitabile "subjectivity" of science.  Does that mean we can/should stop talking to one another, trying for common understanding?  What about the "anything goes" problem and the "evil man" problem?  Does subjectivity leave us with no tools to contend against either solipsism or despotism?

Nope.  There are obvious ways to avoid the "slippery slope," other than, and perhaps even better than to "pretend its not so," ie to assert objectivity even knowing it can't exist.  First is that there is a big difference between saying there is some degree of subjectivity in science and saying science is subjective.  Science attempts to minimize subjectivity in a variety of ways, most notably by making clear what the observations are and how one draws one's conclusions from them so others can challenge both. For perfectly good reasons, science aspires to objectivity even if it can't reach it (see The "objectivity"/"subjectivity spectrum: having one's cake and eating it too).  This can be an effective first line of defense against both solipsism and despotism.

The stronger defence though is, I think, that some measure of subjectivity makes it MORE important to share ideas with other people rather than less so.  Knowing there is some measure of subjectivity in whatever understanding I have makes the alternate perspectives others might have of still greater importance to me.  Conversely, knowing there is some measure of subjectivity in whatever understanding others have makes me less rather than more likely to hear them uncritically, and  makes it more likely that I can contribute to their further understanding.  Perhaps if we could persuade everyone of the inevitability of subjectivity, we could develop social/political systems that more effectively safeguard against both solipsism and despotism?

 

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