Objectivity as claim of validity of scientific findings

Project description

Recently the objectivity of scientific findings seems to be questioned anew in different respects, namely in the so-called public discourse as well as in internal disputes in science and epistemological metareflections themselves. Debates about scope, generalizability, and the binding character of the results of scientific research can thus be understood as being held at different levels and with different focusings. For example, the assumed or desirable objectivity of the researchers involved in scientific processes began to totter in two ways: on the one hand by a rediscussion of the way in which scientific action is value-laden, on the other hand by a discussion of the way in which the involved actors are influenced by their interests. The first, philosophical-scientific discussion elucidates the fact that scientists repeatedly have to face decisions in the research process where they also have to be guided by values which are not intrinsic to science. Regarding research practice and the interpretation of research results, this perspective underlines an inevitable orientation along, and thus the taking sides with, values from the context of a non-scientific environment. This second, sociological-scientific discussion emphasizes that research processes are part of more comprehensive social constructs where political, economic, and other interests and considerations exert influence on the questions whether research does take place at all, if and how it is funded, which kind of research is pushed and which is impeded, to which end research is done and by whom. In contrast, a more fundamentally based criticism questions the possibility of objectivity already at the level of accessibility to a supposed objective world: human beings were generally denied to attain actually secure knowledge and thus absolute truths about the things in the world. In the end, this impossibility is always justified with variations of the specific human perspectivity while absolute judgements, in which objectivity had to result, could only be rendered from a divine point of view. So the ideal of an objectively working science comes under great pressure. The fact that a postmodern relativism, which, in the wake of a philosophical scepticism, does not value the reality which provides and determines facts, seems to establish itself as a general attitude seems to be more worrying to some authors than a pre-enlightened relation to the world which can be encountered in some parts.

In this way, objectivity is modelled as something independent of human beings by both its critics and advocates, more precisely: being objective is the claim of validity which is associated with judgements about what is independent of human beings. Accordingly, in this respect judgements which should be objective have to be made without regard to the perspectivity which human beings in general or individually take up. If the possibility of objective judgements is contested, this, if nothing else, also challenges the scientific practice in its claim of validity and it has to be stated that scientific findings do not have a special significance compared to other forms of judgements about the world, e.g., opinions. However, only few critics go that far. They are not even able to. Because also the critique of objectivity claims to be not only subjectively valid, i.e., just not depending on perspectives. But instead of objectivity, in these cases the critics of the claim of objectivity often speak of intersubjectivity: whether statements about the world are true and what the things in the world are, is, according to them, decided discursively, namely in negotiation processes between those who are involved. These discourses would not be held arbitrarily, but they were to happen neither with external necessity nor would the truthmaker, i.e. what realizes the validity of a judgement, be found on the object side. Scientific findings then have to be understood as judgements of a special discourse context.

The PhD project aims to intervene in this conflict about claims of objectivity. It pursues the suspicion that scientific findings are indeed characterized by being particularly objective judgements, even though the outlined positions have not yet properly understood what it means that a judgement were objective. Because this neither means the absolute truth nor is it completely understood what makes scientific judgements objective if they are conceived as intersubjectively gained products of discourse. Instead, objectivity is introduced as a title for non-essential structures which would certainly not “exist” without human beings, but are neither the result of intersubjective communication nor could be randomly acknowledged or ignored by individuals. Accordingly, objectivity would not be an ideal to be pursued in the first place which could be reached by prescinding from personal involvement. It would rather have to be proven that the objectivity of structures is always already used if something is practically emphasized, e.g., by assuming one could be understood in a conversation or by assuming that sectional actions can lead to a goal, i.e., that they make sense within existing practices. So judgements on arbitrary things are objective if assumptions which were always made together by all show to advantage, which means they can be understood, verified, and reproduced. If this is true, sciences would have to distinguish themselves from other practices of judgements by working objectively, since the scientific nature of science is the fact that they reflect and methodologize the structures of their conditions for success and in doing so make knowledge production transparent. In this case, neither the object side which is assumed to exist as such nor the intersubjective process of agreement are the truthmakers of scientific findings, but the reproductive success of scientific practice itself. So both objects and discourses are given the attention they deserve, namely as moments of scientific practice which occur as objects and discourses only within this practice.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dr. Rafaela Hillerbrand
Advisor: N.N.
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


Diplom-Soz. Marcel Krüger
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe