Can The Knowledge Be Objective Or Not

In the technologically driven, open-source world of today, where for most people, Wikipedia carries the same weight as a collegiate thesis, objectivity is a rarely-acknowledged and questionable aspect of pursued knowledge. When discussing objectivity in terms of the knowledge acquired through IB courses, it becomes essential to reaffirm the fact that every subject will command a different degree of neutrality and subjectivity, as well as analyze the effect that this can have on how objective the knowledge in each of these areas can or even should be.

To put this this essay in perspective, it is important for the definition of objectivity to be established. Objectivity, in its modern sense, distinguishes the subject from the (un)perceived object that they view. The qualifying characteristic of the object is the fact that it exists independent of any conscious perception of it. Therefore, objective information is often recognized to be an absolute truth i.e. it will remain unchanged unless factually proven otherwise, and will always remain certain. In the context of IB, the object refers to the knowledge provided by each IB course, whereas the subject that critiques this knowledge is the students that receive it. This interpretation allows us to condense the idea of objective knowledge to be a universal phenomenon - in this context, universality referring to knowledge being true in all situations within its realm of application, either with or without being subject to precise conditions.

Hence, when applying this definition to a discourse on whether knowledge can be objective with relevance to IB subjects, it becomes much simpler to provide a coherent argument for in which cases this can and cannot be true, as circular questions (such as how knowledge can be objective without a bias against prejudice), and the influence of personal experiences are eliminated, as there is an evident dissociation between the individual and the knowledge in question.

On this premise, the objectivity of knowledge, depends on what the subject being studied is, what purpose it serves, and what our application of it in reality consists of. For example, literature demands a much higher degree of subjectivity than objectivity, as without this, it will lose its singularity. As a subject, it consists of an analysis of texts with the purpose of understanding the change in human culture over time. In order to be able to compare the various aspects of society at different points in history, it becomes essential for literature to be viewed through a subjective lens, so that it is our experiences that dictate our exegesis of what we read. This creates diversity in our knowledge of the subject, that when amassed, forms a collective of the ideals of a society at a current point in time.

For example, when Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published, the general public consensus was that the homoerotic themes of the novel were immoral, and therefore heavily censored before further publishing, while the blatant degradation of females in the novel reflected actual societal beliefs in Victorian England. Whereas in modern criticisms, the homoeroticism in the novel is widely regarded as a natural facet of the human experience, and more poignantly, as a mirror of Wilde’s own experiences in life; whereas the abasement of women is viewed as perturbing due to the popularity of feminist ideals in modern society. Through this stark contrast in the interpretations of the novel at different points in time, it becomes evident that subjectivity is the key to expanding the knowledge that a subject such as literature has to offer. As, the only way in which we will truly be able to witness societal change through such a medium, is by allowing citizens to expound upon their personal interactions with what they read. Without these judgments and opinions, literature itself cannot exist, as on its own, it does not constitute any absolute truth.

Furthermore, this line of thought also raises the question as to if there had to be some semblance of objectivity in an interpretation-based subject such as literature, what it would constitute of. A reasonable response to this would be to evaluate the technical aspects of these works rather than their emotional connotations. For example, in the same novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the identification of the themes of aestheticism and hedonism, and the literary techniques employed by Wilde would be objective observations made about the text, as even without the presence of their implicit meanings deduced by a reader, these facets of the novel would still exist in isolation. Similarly, in visual arts, when analyzing Julie Mehretu’s painting Stadia II, rather than consciously evaluating their implicit meaning and correlation to Mehretu’s personal experiences, simply identifying the lines, value and geometric abstraction employed, could justifiably be referred to as objective knowledge as the fact that these elements are still integral to the painting, without necessarily “meaning” anything, is universally undisputable.

To further explicate this argument, considering the objectivity of knowledge in a theoretical field of study such as mathematics is also important, as it encourages a balance of ideas in understanding the importance or lack thereof of objectivity. In areas of knowledge such as mathematics or sciences, objectivity is a necessity, and should be, as the integrity of knowledge in these subjects depends on the fact that it is an absolute truth, and exists in the observable universe, even without being spectated.

For example, in computer science, the conversion of a series of 1s and 0s in binary , which is a system that relies on a mathematical base of 2, to denary (the standard number system of 9 digits used across the world), will yield a fixed value, and will remain unchanged whether a student believes the method of conversion to be reliable or not. This is absolutely essential as, if there were no objective mathematical principles guiding this conversion and the result was subject to a personal preference of the student performing it rather than yielding the same value upon every trial, the reliability of the empirical human understanding of the world would be unstable. If one were to critique the foundation of mathematical theories in order to fathom the world around us, a contra-argument could be made in favor of subjectivity, as it would then raise the question as to why we follow and are convinced by one set of principles rather than another. Although this is a line of thought that isn’t conducive to understanding the importance of objectivity in today’s world as it calls into question the reliability of every other piece of information that we have acquired over centuries of research. Therefore, it becomes important to evaluate the objectivity of knowledge in the assumption that the foundational principles of every subject are absolute truths.

In conclusion, there are two sides to every coin, and the argument for whether knowledge can or cannot be objective, ironically, remains subjective as it varies based on different understandings of the term itself. But what is important to acknowledge is that the degree to which objectivity is a necessity in each area of knowledge will vary, and therefore, our view of this concept and how we apply it to our understanding of a subject should simultaneously change.

03 December 2019
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