The problem of objectivity

The motto of the Fox News Channel is “We Report.  You Decide.”  The idea behind the statement is that they are attempting to report the news without bias or prior interpretation.  They are claiming objectivity, in the sense of being “without bias or prejudice; detached.”  Of course, claims to objectivity are numerous, extending to nearly every side of every debate, whether political, theological, etc. 


It is interesting to me that so many people claim to do the impossible.  Real objectivity is, generally speaking, beyond our reach.  We interpret facts, events, and statements by our preconceived ideas, presuppositions, experiences, and beliefs.  Because of that, none of us humans are actually objective.  Would ground be gained in the exchange of ideas if we were at least honest about the fact that we held a few coming into it?


My unbiased opinion is yes.

3 Responses

  1. Lost & Found,
    Thanks for the comment. I think we are in general agreement and perhaps a couple of clarifications are in order.
    First, I would add that I am addressing, overall, the apparent “distant cousins” of those early Enlightenment thinkers you mention. It does seem to me that a fair share of those claiming “absolute” or near absolute levels of objectivity still roam the earth and speak with loud voices.
    Second, I agree that high and meaningful levels of objectivity can be reached. If an objective viewer is the person who is willing to submit to the object when he views it, then one is still left to ask what distinguishes him from the “non-objective” or subjective viewer. I would suggest that his preconceived ideas, presuppositions, etc. play a part in that.
    In other words, I agree that one may reach “high and meaningful” levels of objectivity. This label, however, manifests the belief that complete objectivity is still not reached in those cases. That is my point.
    To further employ your terms, while I do not think that one must be “unalterably” biased, I may find trouble agreeing that we are not “necessarily” biased.

    Perhaps we are still saying the same thing with different words?

  2. I agree with what you are saying, Brian, but I wonder if Fox would disagree – or anybody else for that matter.

    I suppose young people can hold to an ideal of objectivity, and I suppose people who never try to be objective can hold to the idea that there are those who can attain it.

    But it seems to me that only early Enlightenment thinkers would ever have made a claim to the absolute objectivity you seem to be referring to.

    But there’s another way of viewing this: It may be possible for a person in a given context within certain parameters viewing a specific object to view it on its own terms. That is different from presuming to view it with the eyes of God, but it does allow for a meaningful form of objectivity.

    It probably boils down to definitions. I would suggest that an objective viewer is the person who is willing to submit to the object when he views it, while the opposite is the one who inflicts his viewpoint on the object.

    I would argue that a high degree of objectivity is attainable on many occasions with that understanding.

    Perhaps a key to my position is that I do not assume that the viewers perspective is Necessarily and Unalterably biased. We are designed to know the world we live in, so we can submit to what it tells us and see it for what it is.

    Take that, Immanuel Kant!

  3. Objectivity is a good goal, but our filters color our stories. I think you’re right, but that’s my opinion. 🙂

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