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David Kelley, "Objectivity: Metaphysical and Epistemological"

Week 7

David Kelley, "Objectivity: Metaphysical and Epistemological"

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Week 7

Executive Summary

David Kelley (Ph.D., Princeton University) is the founder of The Atlas Society.  In this lecture, he distinguishes between objective, subjective, and intrinsic approaches to thinking and argues that objectivity is a cardinal human value.

  1. The concept of objectivity has two meanings: one metaphysical and one epistemological. The metaphysical meaning consists in recognizing the primacy of existence—the acknowledgment that there is a world out there independent of our or any consciousness.
  2. The principle of the primacy of existence postulates that in every conscious experience we are aware of some object in the world that (a) exists and (b) has an identity. To be conscious is to be conscious of something.
  3. Yet human awareness is not only perceptual: it is also conceptual. Conceptualization is the human ability to group things based on perceived similarities and differences and to create an abstract concept to describe that group.
  4. The process of cognition is not automatic and thus is fallible. To be valid, concepts should be formed using a proper method. This method is the epistemological aspect of objectivity.
  5. As there are no pure objects to which concepts can directly refer, they have to reflect essential similarities and differences between objects of the group—they have to be based on factual, observational evidence.
  6. Thus, objectivity in the epistemological sense is a choice and commitment to using one’s reason and its abilities in the most appropriate way for the sake of finding out what is true in a particular context of knowledge.  
  7. Humans do not always reach a definite answer with mathematical certainty and are sometimes altogether mistaken in the conclusion they reach.  These facts do not eliminate the possibility of objectivity—rather, they make objectivity even more important it enables us to take account of the way our reason functions and use it effectively.
  8. The only situation in which epistemological objectivity is futile and outright impossible is metaphysical subjectivity. But to claim with absolute objective certainty that the world is an illusion is a contradiction in itself.

Watch David Kelley’s full lecture and discussion on The Atlas Society’s YouTube channel. Executive Summary by Andrei Volkov, 2020.

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