Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Objectivity

There's a promising discussion going on over at orgtheory.net. It just gave me an "Aha!" moment that I wanted to note down.

Objects are the things that concepts condition our experience of. (Concepts can be understood as "conditions of the possibilty of experiencing things as objects" to use a roughly Kantian formulation.)

Now, in science we are tempted to think of objects as having "properties". Physics, for example, studies, well, "physical objects" and it measures, e.g., their mass and velocity. But couldn't mass and velocity themselves be considered the "objects" of physics? The things-as-such (Dinge an sich) ... billiard balls and planets ... it doesn't say anything "about". Physics does not represent the solar system or a billiard table. It represents the relevant masses in motion.

Would this solve any philosophical (metaphysical) problems about science? I think I'm going to have look back into the old realism/anti-realism debates.

3 comments:

Anders Østergaard Jensen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anders Østergaard Jensen said...

Interesting thought, indeed, but it poses some epistemological question for follow-up:

1) Given the notion that physics produce or question the properties of a given, inspected object, and these properties really constitute the object in itself, you are just opening the door to yet another trap of ontological social constructionism: If we view physics as secondary to the social processes of scientists, the description and/or production of "measurable" properties will vary -- so again, the social processes constitute the actual representation of objects.

2) On the other hand, I believe that your thoughts align pretty well with Latour's actor network theory (ANT) and especially his ideas of networks (comprised of actants) as rhizomes: transformative, semiotic structures. The physical object investigated comprises an actor network of "signs" (= the actual measurements) which produces a network open for different interpretations. Latour, whom I suppose that you already know, did a lot of work on the "sociology of things" in relation to laboratory research.

I have loads of different thoughts on this subjecta, and I may get back to you.

Best regards -- and thank you for a nice blog!

/Anders

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think it was Fichte who said that the thing comprises also the totality of conditions of the possibility of our experience of it as an object. That is, the "objectivity" of an object includes the (inter)subjective conditions of its observation.

That's one of the reasons I'm leaning in this direction. When an astronomer "observes" a planet or star she is not observing "the whole thing" (or the thing "as such") but some very specific aspects: namely, those aspects that she has access to through her observatory apparatus. But those aspects are also defined in discourse, i.e., she observes "objectively" those aspects about which she can have a discussion with her epistemic peers.

Thus the "object" of the astronomers empirical observations is not straightforwardly the planet Mars say, but its motion. Exobiologists, meanwhile, construe their object (again Mars) quite differently. They are looking at different "things", I want to say; not different propoerties of the same thing.