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kenglander's picture

Objective subjectivity

I am currently reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere, a pedagogical theorist who emphasized the importance of social justice in education. Freire comments on subjectivity versus objectivity in relation to oppression and liberation. He writes, “One cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity. Neither can exist without the other, nor can they be dichotomized… Subjectivity and objectivity [are] in constant a dialectical relationship.” He goes on to say that denying subjectivity leads to objectivism, which is ingenuous because it presupposes there is no “internal reality” that differs from what is perceived as “external reality.” However, Freire also warns against ignoring objectivity completely as that could potentially lead to a solipsistic existence and thereby inhibit action (particularly the liberation of oppressed peoples).
Much of Freire’s argument was echoed in class last week except that we did not consider objectivity and subjectivity as existing in a “dialectical relationship.” Perhaps Freire had an easier time arguing his points because he assumed that an objective reality exists. In light of last week’s conversation, I wonder if this argument is still valuable. To me, science embodies the dialogical and dialectical nature of objectivism and subjectivism. Science is not necessarily contained within the laboratory, but instead represents how we manipulate our environment to effect an observable change. While our discoveries may not be universal truths, they help us to navigate our environment and interact with those around us.
In class we discussed the implications of an objective reality and the consequent cessation of science. We did not, however, explore the consequences of accepting a subjective reality (with no objectivity). As Freire points out, a completely subjective reality could result in an egoistical existence that disregards the importance of scientific observation. Without perceived objectivity there can be no progress and just like a world with objective truths, science would eventually stop.

Our perceptions of “reality” are ostensibly shaped by both internal and external stimuli thus creating subjective realities. At the same time, however, societies have created and mandated certain guidelines that establish perceived truths. While these societal truths may not be truths at all but rather objectivistic ideals in a subjectivistic culture, does this mean that they are any less relevant? Instead of arguing about why objectivity does not exist in our world, I agree with many of you and think that it might be more helpful to investigate how perceived objectivity affects scientific investigations and social exploration.     


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