The theory of objectivity states that all beliefs and assertions are either true or false. All beliefs and assertions pertain to the world and its state of being and the world exists in its own reality regardless of any assertion or belief one may have. Because the world exists as it does independent of any individual’s belief, the truth or falsity of a belief is “objective” to the extent that it is confirmed through the actuality of the targeted subject/object.
Objectivity focuses on the external world and how events or objects that exist in the world exist separately from the mind of the individual. There are arguments attempting to denounce the existence of an external world that are not concerned about an individual’s thoughts and opinions, such as the anti-realists’ internal world. However, this essay will focus on creating a proof for objectivity by defending the predominant school of thought and denouncing the opposing arguments.
Before delving into the subject, it is important to mention that objectivity is often confused with externality due to their extreme similarities. Both address the concept of a mind-independent reality; however, both have different focuses on the external world. Externality is the theory that there exists a mind-independent reality that “we can come to know in varying degrees of uncertainty”. Objectivity focuses on the mind-independent reality being objectively true despite an individual’s belief or assertion.
This argument will begin by defining and denouncing anti-realism. Anti-realism is not to be confused with idealism. Although they both focus on the concept that there is no external world, they differ in purpose. Idealism focuses on the belief that there is no external world to confirm that an individual’s sensations correctly or incorrectly represent.
Anti-realism addresses the lack of a mind-independent reality which an individual’s assertions can correctly or incorrectly identify. Van Inwagen explains that the idealist believes that “the idealist who says that nothing is independent of the mind means the nature of everything there is mental: everything is either a mind or a modification of a mind or collection of modifications of various minds” (Van Inwagen, 97). Meaning that an individual’s perception of the world is all that matters because there can be no world outside of that individual’s perception. However, the way the world is, for an idealist, is not dependent on the mind.
In contrast to the anti-realist theory, which can be best explained through example, Van Inwagen explains that mountains and height are both human social constructs. The first focus is the mountains. The term mountain is a human fabricated word that designates a certain marked off part of the earth’s topography. It is only a mountain because humans perceive it as a “mountain”. Height is also a social construct. “Height” is a human fabricated term that is designated to quantify vertical measurement. However, these terms are only a social construct in the sense that it is “a matter of social convention what property” is assigned to the word. The “what” of a mountain still exists even if the term “mountain” was retracted for representing all similar topographical landmarks throughout the world. Similar to the term “mountain,” but even more so, height is also an attribute that exists outside of its socially fabricated name. Whether or not society uses the word “height”, the height of Mount Everest and all other things will remain the same, excluding growth over time.
After understanding the anti-realist theory, it is important to consider a brief statement of anti-realism: “Objective truth and falsity do not exist”. It is important to note that since this statement is about all statements, it is also a statement about itself. The previously mentioned statement therefore cannot be true. A statement cannot objectively claim, “There is no objectivity”. Its very essence is contradictory. What could possibly be said to further this argument, especially after it seems that it has come to a halt? Anti-realists reply to this argument by saying that the statement fits in with an individual’s experience. That is, to say that when one individual affirms that there is no objective truth or falsity and another denies the statement, they cannot be in disagreement. But this argument proves to be self-refuting: anti-realists struggle with the conflicting situation of accepting their claim that there is no objective truth or falsity and then encouraging others to not accept their own beliefs.
Realists, however, are not stymied by such paradoxes. Their position is that realism is objectively true and anti-realism is objectively false. Van Inwagen concludes from the situation that anti-realism is “a denial of the possibility of metaphysics, and realism is a metaphysic only in the sense that it is a thesis common to all metaphysical theories” (Van Inwagen, 106). Van Inwagen explains that the most logical decision is for a person to be a realist, a believer of objectivity. However, it is important to delve into the details of the philosophy itself.
George Orwell’s 1984 clearly portrays a clash between a realist and anti-realist. The famous argument between Winston and O’Brien further supports the lunacy of anti-realism. Near the end of the book, O’Brien is seen overseeing Winston’s torture sessions explaining to Winston that his crime was refusing to accept the Party’s control of his memory and history itself.
As Winston tries to refute O’Brien’s words, O’Brien explains, “Reality is inside the skull,” and that “nothing exists except through human consciousness”. Because of the torture, Winston starts to accept that anything O’Brien wants him to believe is true. The reason this is important is because of what Winston is aware at the beginning of this torture session:
O’Brien knew everything. A thousand times better than Winston he knew what the world was really like, in what degradation the mass of human beings lived and by what lies and barbarities the Party kept them there. He had understood it all, weighed it all, and it made no difference: all was justified by the ultimate purpose. What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy? (Orwell, 240)
This quote clearly depicts the anti-realists self-refuting argument. O’Brien was aware of the reality that was presented, to him. However, because of Big Brother, he chooses to accept a reality that is different from actuality. Winston is terrified that someone who knows more about the horrors of the world they live in can so boldly deny its existence all for the sake of a “higher purpose”. It exemplifies the self-induced paradox one creates for oneself by attempting to accept such a flawed argument as anti-realism.
After carefully reviewing the arguments for anti-realism, it is clear that Van Inwagen was right: The only logical choice is to be a realist. An objective truth is something that cannot be ignored and avoided. Humanity lives within the confines of that objective truth, and can only create social constructs through analyzing the external world that has been presented before them. Subjectivity has and always will remain in the mind of the individual. However, it provides no premise for denouncing the mind-independent reality that is the universe as we know it.
Inwagen, Peter Van. Metaphysics. 3rd ed. Boulder: Westview, 1993. Print.
Orwell, George, and Erich Fromm. 1984: A Novel. New York, NY: Signet Classic, 1961. Print.