Knowing beyond Science: What Can We Know and How Can We Know?

By Korab-Karpowicz, W. J. | Humanitas, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Knowing beyond Science: What Can We Know and How Can We Know?


Korab-Karpowicz, W. J., Humanitas


According to a perhaps naive, but still dominant positivistic view of science, scientific knowledge is the only reliable knowledge. It is reliable because it is objective. It derives its objectivity from the objectivity of observation made by a detached observer. The way in which empirical scientists look at the world is sometimes described as "scientific attitude." In order to be objective observers, scientists must be indifferent, disinterested, neutral and impartial. (1) Personal opinions or preferences have to be suspended. No subjective elements are allowed to intrude. Science is believed to be reliable if it is based on objective and verifiable observational statements which can be transmitted into laws and theories.

The spectacular achievements of natural science and technology in today's world appear to support the belief in the objectivity, reliability, and even supremacy of scientific knowledge. But is this view truly justified? Does science offer the best possible route to reliable knowledge, not only of natural but also of social phenomena? Should pre-scientific forms of knowledge, such as ethics, be seen as a matter of individual preferences or subjective emotions, and therefore be disregarded as knowledge? Before I attempt to answer these questions, I shall address the issue of objectivity in science. I believe that the understanding of this issue will help us to evaluate rightly the scientific claim to know and to assess the place of science among other forms of knowledge.

Subjectivity in Scientific Objectivity

One of the key characteristics of modern science is objectivity. Objective, scientific knowledge is held to be independent of attitudes, beliefs, values and other subjective states of mind of individual scientists. It is believed to be independent of the human mind that either creates or understands it. While defending objectivity in science, Karl Popper says:

 
   My ... thesis involves the existence of two different senses of 
   knowledge or of thought: (1) knowledge or thought in the subjective 
   sense, consisting of a state of mind or of consciousness or a 
   disposition to behave or to act, and (2) knowledge or thought in 
   an objective sense, consisting of problems, theories, and arguments 
   as such. (2) 

Popper radically distinguishes "objective" theories, problems and arguments from "subjective" states of mind. However, just as scientific knowledge, derived from observation, presupposes the scientific attitude of being a detached, objective observer, so also its verification and sharing with other members of the scientific community requires the same attitude. Without this attitude, science would neither be objective nor inter-subjective. Objectivity and the scientific attitude are thus interrelated. If this is the case, subjectivity must indeed be taken into account, and objective knowledge is not independent of the human mind as is commonly believed. It is dependent upon the states of mind which constitute scientific attitude: on being indifferent, disinterested, neutral and impartial.

Being a disinterested, objective observer--indifferent, disinterested, neutral and impartial--can be contrasted with being engaged. Once we engage in something, we are no longer indifferent or neutral. We take a personal stand on something. Taking a stand on different issues, holding beliefs, being emotionally and personally involved in many life situations are all characteristic of everyday life. Scientific attitude, which can best be described by the word "indifference," thus lies in direct opposition to the everyday human attitude based on preferences and feelings. But indifference, a lack of feeling, is a state of mind as well. There is subjectivity in scientific objectivity, namely, indifference.

The Objectivist's Claim to Knowledge

Looking at the world impersonally, neutrally and indifferently, which is the view of a detached, objective observer, is a way of relating to it from a certain perspective. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Knowing beyond Science: What Can We Know and How Can We Know?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.