Friday, May 24, 2013

Objectivity about physical things

I said previously:
“When I think of objectivity, I think of ... The dictionary sense - “of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers“ ... It's real for you, me and the next person, and is not subject to different interpretations.”
... But I let my mouth out-pace my mind. Upon further review, there's a better dictionary definition right there on the same page :
3a : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations <objective art> <an objective history of the war> <an objective judgment>
I think THAT is a more accurate description of what I think about the adjective "objective".

Still, when we talk about a "fact or condition", there are some aspects of that fact or condition that we have to be very careful about while claiming to be objective about it.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett speaks of physical, design and intentional stances as the levels of abstraction at which we view the properties and behaviors of a thing.

Wikipedia sez:
"when explaining and predicting the behavior of an object, we can choose to view it at varying levels of abstraction. The more concrete the level, the more accurate in principle our predictions are."
Notice that this refers to a real entity, not a conceptual one.

This indicates that claims made about physical attributes such as height, width, depth, weight, color and composition, for instance, can be made accurately and repeated by all potential observers accurately, and are subject to little or no misinterpretation of the meaning and value of the attributes used to describe it. It really is just a description of what the thing is, without imbuing it with deeper meaning. It doesn't require judgement to apprehend these values because those values will be the same no matter who measures them.

We can describe what the universe is, when we stick to these physical attributes.

What we don't have to do, if we exercise some self-control, is make further claims about what those values were prior to today, or what they will be after today, nor what they mean. I might bring those aspects up later, but it's not central to my train of thought in this post.

All of this is to say that we can describe our world as it is here and now, and be correct about it. Taken one moment at a time, we can probably claim to be objective about the physical description of the world, to within a reasonable doubt.

When we start looking at meaning and purpose is where the fun really starts. I'll give THAT a go next time.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Handy reference: Evidence for atheism

I don't generally care to think about organized arguments for non-belief because I don't think non-belief bears a burden of proof, but David Neff's Argument for Atheism at Infidels is a keeper!

Concise. Organized.



Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars relates a Ray Comfort proselytizing story worth having a giggle at.

It reminds me of the ever-diminishing stream of proselytizers that have accosted me on the street or at my door over the years. The most memorable - and scary - was when I was 17 and mowing my Dad's front lawn. Two old, I mean OLD men in black suits and armed with bibles stopped me in mid-mow. That's a gardening term - "mid-mow". They asked me if I thought it would be wonderful when the lion lies down with the lamb, yada, blah, yada. I was weirded out. I think my dad looked out the window, called me inside as if he had another chore for me, and rescued my shiftless ass.

Fast forward twenty years. I'm pretty hard boiled about it now. People attempting to witness to me at the front door get a curt "No thanks - 'preciate it!" from me before I firmly close the door. Not quite a slam - a firm closing.

I just really don't care what people think about their religion.

I don't care if people are concerned about my "soul", although, if they'd expressed concern about my soles, I might be interested.

It would be fun to converse with Ray Comfort, though. When he gets to his "do you think you're a good person" shtick, I'd answer with an unequivocal "no" and proceed with a totally fabricated rap about how I like to use Black & Decker power tools on people to see whether they find it pleasurable or painful, and how I like Black & Decker better than Stanley or Craftsman, and why. I could have a lot of fun with that!


Five weeks ago, I resumed musing about the term "objective moral values", especially as they are used as an argument for the existence of God. The weeks go by, my focus fuzzes and then sharpens, and we are here.

My problem with the term "objective" is that it assumes there is some way of stepping outside your subjective self to see or experience the thing you are considering to be objective. This is always a problem.

When I think of objectivity, I think of entities, behaviors or events that are verifiably the same for all people. The dictionary sense - “of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers“ - is what I'm referring to. It's real for you, me and the next person, and is not subject to different interpretations. Seems like a good definition.

Taking objects, for example, if I have a party, and twenty people come over, we can all observe that my coffee table is in my family room. It is objectively there, in spite of any claims otherwise. Anyone that ignores the simple fact of my coffee table being in my family room could end up with bloody shins if they think they can navigate through a crowd of 20 in the family room containing the coffee table. When someone makes a claim like "my coffee table is in my family room", anyone can verify that the claim is true. We can say that we have identified an objective fact.

Now this objective fact will remain a fact for only a limited time. As long as I want the table in the family room, or as long as I own the house (and want the table in the family room), or as long as someone else wants to maintain the table in the family room after I die, it is a fact, but not forever. For a long time, in human terms, the coffee table being in my family room will be a fact, but the world will change, and someday vanish as a recognizable entity. So, there are limits on what we can consider an objective fact when discussing objects and their existence. The status of their existence, or their relationship to other objects in existence, change over time. In this sense, objectivity is limited to some period of time. We can be objective about my coffee table in my family room from the time both are in existence and the table is within the boundaries of the room, but not before and after.

So ... What is objective again?

(to be continued)