Objective (used as an adjective or as an adverb): anything that’s (i) not mind-dependent in any way that inherently deceives human cognition or undermines human cognitive access to manifest reality or truth, (ii) non-idiosyncratic, and (iii) universally intersubjectively cognitively accessible by rational human animals.
It’s widely and perhaps even standardly held that something (or some event, process, etc.) can be objective only if it’s (i) strictly mind-independent and non-mental, (ii) strictly non-subjective, (iii) real in a strictly non-manifest way, (iv) strictly non-context-sensitive, i.e., non-indexical, (v) strictly non-relational, and (vi) strictly general or universal, non-specific, and non-particular.
Otherwise put, it’s widely and perhaps even standardly held that something can be objective only if it’s knowable only from a “God’s-eye point of view,” aka “the view from nowhere” (Thomas Nagel).
Being-objective, or objectivity in this ultra-strong sense is the same as being a noumenal object or thing-in-itself (Ding an sich) in Kant’s sense of those phrases.
But if all being-objective or objectivity were noumenal objectivity or thing-in-itselfhood, then it couldn’t be objectively true that I’m here now, that I’m now sitting at my desk in my study, that I’m now thinking and writing about the concept of objectivity, and also currently self-consciously aware of this highly specific and particular objective fact, which is absurd: these are all objectively true.
Hence being-objective or objectivity is also perfectly consistent with being a phenomenal object or appearance (Erscheinung) in Kant’s sense of those phrases.
Thus it can be an objectively real fact that I veridically appear at the door, i.e., I’m manifestly really at the door, and an objectively real fact that it veridically appears that 2+2=4, i.e., 2+2 manifestly really is 4, and so-on.
Moreover, as Kant pointed out, if anything really were objective in the ultra-strong sense of noumenal objectivity or thing-in-itselfhood—knowable only from a God’s-eye point of view, aka “from nowhere”—then its nature would be humanly unknowable and its existence or non-existence would be both humanly unknowable and also humanly unprovable.
Therefore, the correct cognitive attitude to take towards such things is radical agnosticism: we know a priori that the nature of such things is humanly unknowable and that their existence or non-existence are both humanly unknowable and also humanly unprovable.
Another important implication of the conception of objectivity defined as per this entry, is that it’s perfectly consistent and smoothly coherent with a broadly Kantian, weak or counterfactual version of transcendental idealism which says that necessarily, if the manifestly real world exists, then it structurally conforms to the rational human animal capacities for knowing that world either a priori or a posteriori, and also that necessarily, if rational human animals were to exist, then they would know that manifestly real world a priori or a posteriori to some salient extent.
As counterfactual, this weak or counterfactual version of transcendental idealism holds even if (i) rational human animals don’t actually exist at some times (say, at the Big Bang) or (ii) never actually existed: hence the manifestly real world, as an objective world, doesn’t require the actual presence of rational human animals (and thus this view is not subjective idealism, as per Berkeley, for example); and even if all rational human animals went out of existence, the manifestly real world can still actually and objectively exist.
So in other words, and more informally, this broadly weak or counterfactual version of transcendental idealism says that the real possibility of rational human animal knowers is built into the nature of the manifestly real natural world from the get-go, i.e., from The Big Bang forward, which in turn amounts to a moderate Anthropic Principle for physics and cosmology.
Moreover, and somewhat ironically, given his official defense of a noumenal or “view from nowhere” conception of objectivity, this broadly Kantian, weak or counterfactual transcendental idealist line of thinking in metaphysics and cosmology has also been defended by Thomas Nagel in Mind and Cosmos, in which he proposes to explain the nature and existence of the minds of conscious, rational animals in a physical world, by holding that “rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order,” and that biological life and the minds of conscious, rational animals are metaphysically continuous with one another:
Nature is such as to give rise to conscious beings with minds; and it is such as to be intelligible to such beings. Ultimately, therefore, such beings should be intelligible to themselves. And these are fundamental features of the universe, not byproducts of contingent developments whose true explanation is given in terms that do not make reference to mind.
[My] teleological hypothesis is that … [there is] a cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them.
Although massively most Analytic philosophers accept Nagel’s orthodox noumenal or “view from nowhere” conception of objectivity, nevertheless, because Mind and Cosmos was shockingly counterorthodox by virtue of its being explicitly (although only weakly or counterfactually transcendentally) idealistic, it was widely criticized and indeed angrily derided by the same massive majority of Analytic philosophers at the time of its original publication in 2012 and has also been consistently ignored by them ever since.
— Surprise, surprise.
T. Nagel, The View From Nowhere (2nd edn., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989). ↩︎
R. Hanna, “Can Physics Explain Physics? Anthropic Principles and Transcendental Idealism,” in L. Caranti (ed.), Kant and The Problem of Knowledge in the Contemporary World (London: Routledge, 2021), forthcoming, also available online in preview at URL = https://www.academia.edu/45586285/Can_Physics_Explain_Physics_Anthropic_Principles_and_Transcendental_Idealism_Final_draft_version_March_2021_ ↩︎
T. Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012), pp. 17, 123. ↩︎
See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Nagel & Me: Beyond The Scientific Conception of The World,” (Unpublished MS, 2013), available online at URL = < https://www.academia.edu/4348336/Nagel_and_Me_Beyond_the_Scientific_Conception_of_the_World_2013_version_. ↩︎
If you feel so inclined, please feel free to show your support for Robert via his Patron page (https://www.patreon.com/philosophywithoutborders) or purchase his recently published book, The Fate of Analysis (2021).
The Fate of Analysis (2021)
Robert Hanna’s twelfth book, The Fate of Analysis, is a comprehensive revisionist study of Analytic philosophy from the early 1880s to the present, with special attention paid to Wittgenstein’s work and the parallels and overlaps between the Analytic and Phenomenological traditions.
By means of a synoptic overview of European and Anglo-American philosophy since the 1880s—including accessible, clear, and critical descriptions of the works and influence of, among others, Gottlob Frege, G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, Alexius Meinong, Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl, The Vienna Circle, W.V.O. Quine, Saul Kripke, Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell, and Robert Brandom, and, particularly, Ludwig Wittgenstein—The Fate of Analysis critically examines and evaluates modern philosophy over the last 140 years.
In addition to its critical analyses of the Analytic tradition and of professional academic philosophy more generally, The Fate of Analysis also presents a thought-provoking, forward-looking, and positive picture of the philosophy of the future from a radical Kantian point of view.