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Objectivity: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – May 23, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780199606696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199606696
  • ASIN: 0199606692
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.4 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #549,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Stephen Gaukroger is Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science in the Philosophy Department at the University of Sydney.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on December 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
The author of this volume (SG) succeeds wonderfully in packing a lot of valuable substance into a slightly shorter-than-average "very short introduction" (only 104 pages of text). Most of the book focuses on some common misconceptions about the nature of objectivity, while the final three chapters consider the relationship of objectivity to the social sciences, ethics and aesthetics.

Starting from Plato's notion of knowledge as "justified true belief," SG makes the point that objectivity pertains to justification, not to truth. And while many people believe objectivity to consist in the absence of judgments, SG emphasizes that in fact it exists solely as a *property* of judgments. My own background is in physics, law and business, and in all three of those fields there are people prone to be confused on these points (including myself, from time to time). Many scientists and engineers, as well as plenty of other people, tend to believe that objectivity relates to truth, and that the methods of science are the unique path to truth; for many, too, the phrase "objective reality" seems like a natural idea. On the other hand, many lawyers believe (or behave as if they believe) that all truth is relative. And too many in business believe that truth is to be found in numbers and measurements. All such folks could profit from reading this book. I learned a lot.

My one quibble was with SG's praise of decision theory as an "inestimable help" for dealing with ethical issues, "offer[ing] a simple way for calculating the 'utility' of any particular action" (@76-78). Here SG implicitly assumes that a utilitarian ethical position is the most helpful one in a given situation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Milliern on February 6, 2014
Format: Paperback
I love Gaukroger’s work, but this book disappointed me. In a way, it was what I expected, because I am familiar with his general outlook on the history of philosophy and philosophy of science; but, in another way, it was not what I expected: Gaukroger spoke more about varietions of intersubjectivity than objectivity. Being away of his intellectual position and general understanding, I was still hoping for the book to be about what the title was about, objectivity. The book is well written and entertaining at times, and, if I knew a bit less about Datson and Galison’s views on objectivity, wasn’t familiar with logical positivists, and weren’t well-versed in Kuhn, the book would have been a lot more interesting. The sections on general history of philosophy and philosophy of science are very, very competently done, but aren’t really original in their take. I give the book three stars, instead of four, for a couple of reasons. I think someone who has read minimally on the topics of history of philosophy and philosophy of science will find little or no use in the book. Additionally, I didn’t feel the sections on values were extremely well done. For knowing relatively as little as I do on the subject, nothing really struck me as being new, either in information content or presentation. On the latter of these, Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” (VSI) is supposed to have some quirky and valuable element that makes them, above other introductions, worth purchasing; and this text didn’t have that quality, which was also a disappointment, given how generally creative Gaukroger is. I think he could have done a lot more.

Overall, I recommend that, if you have time, peruse a few pages and base your decision on that.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Langridge on March 18, 2013
Format: Paperback
"Objectivity is more mundane than truth, but herein lies its power."

This is a thought-provoking little book, which asks the important questions and invariably hits on the right answers. For the author, Stephen Gaukroger, it is important that we distinguish objectivity from truth. He says that objectivity is better understood, negatively, as freeing ourselves from bias rather than, positively, as truthfully depicting reality. In our rational endeavors, we are making reliable judgments rather than eliminating all assumptions. He points to the inescapable element of choice and expertise in scientific practise that is forgotten when treating scientific theory as determined solely by evidence.

In a chapter on human behaviour, Gaukroger provides an interesting illustration of objective analysis applied to tribal rain dances, and his model of objectivity is particularly well-suited to the socio-political domain. I am less convinced of its applicability to the pure science domain, in which quantification takes on a more fundamental role. He says "quantification is a tool for understanding a world it has itself created", but mathematics is also the "language of nature" as Feynman puts it, providing the component of necessity to physical descriptions. Mathematics is not just a disciplined discourse permitting premises to be clearly stated and errors in reasoning to be reduced, it also helps us to expose hidden patterns in nature, thereby enabling scientific innovation and discovery.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Scott on October 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was expecting something different. What I wanted to see was a discussion of objectivity - that attribute that reality has, that attribute that reason has. Instead, the book is about impartiality.

It is an informed book, and serves the topic well. Just not the discussion I was looking for.
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