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Objectivity (from the Latin obiectum , the past participle passive from obicere : the opposing, the reproach or the counter-accusation) denotes the independence of the assessment or description of a thing, an event or a fact from the observer or from the subject . The possibility of a neutral point of view that enables absolute objectivity is denied. Objectivity is an ideal of philosophy and science. Since it is assumed that every point of view is subjective, scientific results are measured against certain, recognized methods and standards of research.

Concept history

Like all philosophical concepts, the concept of objectivity is subject to historically fluctuating language usage. When philosophers such as Duns Scotus and Wilhelm von Ockham used the attribute "objective" in the 14th century , "esse objective" stood for the assessment of an object or fact that resulted from a person's practical and culturally acquired knowledge. In this sense, "esse objective" was considered a reliable statement about facts . At that time, however, this did not mean a general knowledge of things without a point of view.

The beginning of the modern usage of "objectivity" is attributed to the Enlightenment philosophy . With Kant's transcendental philosophy, objectivity became the first guiding principle of philosophy and science in general. For Kant, “objective” was what the understanding recognized in experience with the help of categories according to certain methods and general principles. With Kant's analysis (“criticism”) of “pure reason” philosophers and scientists were reinforced in their wish that objective knowledge should be attainable.

In modern scientific use, objectivity aims at observing social conventions and norms of knowledge that make an intersubjective and persistent reproducibility of knowledge a criterion for objectivity.

Historical positions

The explosiveness of the term increased with the epistemology of the Enlightenment. Some philosophers believed that they could lay the foundations for objectivity by examining "mental processes or the activity of imagining or representing" in people. Others confined themselves to stating that people constitute what they think they know from sensual stimulus experiences. How this happens cannot be observed in detail.

Early modern age

The event of the Reformation (1517) at the latest had called into question the security and unity of belief and knowledge that had dominated until then . This disillusionment, initiated as early as the 13th century by philosophers and theologians, as well as jurists and medical professionals, had far-reaching consequences. Philosophers - at that time also a collective term for humanities and natural scientists - could no longer undisputedly rely on scholastic metaphysics , the traditional authority of renowned scholars or God as guarantor for the reliability of their research results .

Francis Bacon , in 1620 with his Novum Organum scientiarum” (“New Tool of Knowledge”), demanded that the sciences, in contrast to conventional practice, proceed free of scholastic- dogmatic principles of thought or reason and that their research results should be experimentally verifiable.

René Descartes

René Descartes followed with ideas for scientific methods ( Discours de la méthode , 1637) and their justification through his epistemology ( Meditationes de prima philosophia , 1641). When scholars followed his methods and epistemology, objectivity should i. S. of 'this is how the world is made' may be possible. Descartes asserted a fundamental division of the world into “something that is extended” ( res extensa ) and “something that thinks” ( res cogitans ). Thought, more precisely the understanding, processes representations of the 'expanded' that are directly accessible to it through the senses , with the help of 'a priori ideas' ('ideae innatae'). Man recognizes these 'a priori ideas' 'clearly and distinctly'. For him, objectivity resulted from self-confident thinking, or from the ability to apply this 'ideae innatae' to the extended. In the centuries that followed, philosophers developed varying responses to the problems raised by the Cartesian proposal under the terms 'epistemology' or 'epistemology'

John Locke

In his major work An Attempt on the Human Mind, John Locke countered Descartes' assertion that scientific objectivity could be justified by thought or reason alone. Apriori ideas are both unrecognizable and unnecessary for the acquisition of knowledge. At birth, human consciousness is like a sheet of white paper ( tabula rasa ) on which experience is first written. The starting point of every knowledge is the sensual perception, or the experience, which also provides for simple ideas that are abstracted on the occasion of sensual events. This process is also called induction . Locke's views are also referred to as sensualistic . Knowledge therefore arises from experience, the abstraction of simple ideas and the ability of reason to process perceptions into images, complex ideas and concepts. Objectivity could not be justified in this way. Scientists, Locke said, should instead form and use hypotheses as the guiding principle in their research. Objectivity would only exist in the abstract sciences, such as mathematics, where sensory phenomena play no role.

Berkeley and Hume

George Berkeley and David Hume believed objectivity was unattainable. What people physically perceive ('perceive') and what is exclusively the object of thought cannot be compared with the 'extended world'. No actual epistemological contribution was made by these two enlighteners. They dealt with epistemological issues. Both rejected Locke's claim that "simple ideas" can be abstracted as pure speculation. Both assumed that people only have ideas ('perceptions') that are caused by sensory stimuli and changes in the organ position ('sensations'). These ideas are combined into complex ideas according to simple principles of human nature and conclusions (knowledge) are drawn from them. They always viewed this type of “knowledge” as provisional and erroneous. Hume therefore recommended his moderately skeptical method to the scholars: “I start with clear basic assumptions resulting from the matter, proceed cautiously and securely at every step, keep reconsidering my conclusions and examine the resulting conclusions very carefully. ... I consider this to be the only method by which I can hope to find out what is applicable and to be able to make reasonably lasting and well-founded statements. "

Alexander Baumgarten

The majority of German Enlightenment philosophers claimed that objectivity was possible by precisely defining terms from a priori ideas. Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten , a student of Christian Wolff , suggested that the term “objectivity” should no longer be used - like Descartes - as a mental property of the knower. The term 'objectivity' should instead be used as a knower independent property of events, statements or attitudes that has become synonymous with 'truth'. By 'terms', Baumgarten understood things that are physically imperceptible. He defined every term and related defined terms to one another. In this way - as in mathematics - a closed system was created that was free of contradictions and, in this sense, objective. It should be consistent, i.e. H. enable objective statements about events and sensual objects. Baumgarten's "Metaphysics" was used by philosophy professors in the 18th century as the most widespread textual basis for philosophical lectures at German universities. Kant used them as the basis for his lectures on metaphysics, anthropology, and religion for nearly forty years .


The first German translation of Hume's Inquiry of Human Understanding appeared in 1755, written by Johann Georg Sulzer under the title Philosophical experiments on human knowledge . Immanuel Kant felt himself awakened from his "dogmatic slumber" by Hume and wrote his Critique of Pure Reason , with which he wanted to show the foundations for objective, scientific research. In doing so, he countered - as he judged - Humean skepticism in order to exclude it from philosophy for all time. Kant accepted sensual perceptions as the beginning of all knowledge. He justified the objectivity of knowledge by claiming that formal mental properties are available to every knower, such as the forms of perception of space and time, the categories and concepts of the mind that are given before every experience and that he therefore characterized as "a priori" . Since one has the impression with these mental properties that they are available to all people, he called them ' transcendental ', i. H. apparently valid outside of the subjective and therefore also apparently objective. He added a transcendental methodology to guarantee the correct use of these properties. This methodology established the general validity of the 'transcendental philosophical knowledge'. After all, general validity was - in addition to the spontaneous a priori production of the understanding  - the decisive characteristic of the objective validity of statements and concepts for Kant . Interpreters assumed that he meant 'intersubjective objectivity'.

Charles Sanders Peirce

According to the semiotic model of Charles Sanders Peirce , objectivity is the objective of a 'true total theory of reality' that is never comprehensible because people are always dealing with 'signs' and not with reality. A sign is something that stands for something else and has meaning for someone. People cannot cancel signs or interpretations. They are created spontaneously by the mind, they are communicated and further changed if necessary. This repeats itself endlessly. People break off the basically infinite process of interpretation when they act. An overall theory or objectivity is only conceivable as a common, intersubjective achievement.

Max Weber

For the sociologist Max Weber , who in his famous essay from 1904 replied to Marx and Nietzsche according to his own self- image, there is “no absolutely 'objective' scientific analysis of cultural life or ... of 'social phenomena'”. Knowledge of cultural processes occurs in the "individually designed reality of life" depending on "value ideas" and is "always a knowledge from specifically special points of view".

Max Weber opposed the mixing of objectivity and partiality and emphasized the duty of clarity. Social scientists are expected to strive for academic integrity and objectivity and to commit to the best possible standards in research, teaching and other professional practice. In the service of the objectivity of social science research, a. Developed work programs that examine diverse forms of social action under the conditions of (current) modernization processes and try to understand the (typical) meaning of these forms of action. The following quality criteria are used: implementation objectivity , evaluation objectivity and interpretation objectivity , each of which is compared by the degree of agreement between measurement results and interpretations. Research in empirical psychology and empirical pedagogy is based on similar criteria .

In psychology, the changeable nature of psychic phenomena is observed under strict criteria of experimental situations in order to maintain objectivity in the sense of universally valid. In this way, the view of complex relationships is obscured and the general is only valid to a very limited extent. In psychiatry there is only an apparent objectivity of the treatment methods used . Therapy is always a construct for a very specific patient and despite all knowledge or objective criteria it cannot be clarified why patients get well.

Contemporary positions

Jürgen Habermas

Habermas considers objectivity to be impossible. It is also not desirable, since the sciences have "forfeited a 'specific vitality'" through achieved objectivity. He puts the disclosure of "knowledge-guiding interests" [17] in place of objectivity. This is exemplified by Hans-Ulrich Wehler in the introduction to his "German Society History".

Niklas Luhmann

For Niklas Luhmann , objectivity and subjectivity are not opposites, but rather similar terms in different systems. Objective is what happens in the communication system (= society ). Proven, subjective is what has proven itself in the individual consciousness system (roughly speaking: in a person's head). Systems of consciousness can then "subjectively consider that which has proven itself in communication to be objective, while communication itself marginalizes what is not capable of consent as subjectively".

Ernst von Glasersfeld

According to Ernst von Glasersfeld , a representative of radical constructivism , all perception and every knowledge is subjective. A knowledge becomes intersubjective when other people apply this knowledge successfully. Since their knowledge is also subjective, no objectivity is gained, but only intersubjectivity. However, this also does not allow any knowledge of reality 'as it is'. Von Glasersfeld therefore claims to have overcome the separation of object and subject - as with Descartes - which epistemological concepts presuppose for objectivity.

Harding and Haraway

The theory of Sandra Harding and Donna Haraway is located in post-structuralism . In a feminist science approach, they differentiate between “weak” and “strong” objectivity: As “weak objectivity” they determine the traditional objectivity of the sciences, which is male-dominated or coded. In order to achieve 'strong objectivity', researchers would have to consciously include and reflect on the point of view of their own social group membership in their scientific work. It can be assumed that groups that are dominated will achieve better objectifications ; since traditional objectivity hides their own positioning (as masculine and dominant), while dominated groups have to keep an eye on both their own point of view and that of the rulers. The knowing subject should be viewed just as critically as the object of knowledge.


In view of the abundance of interpretations, general statements about the current status or standard of objectivity are only possible with reservations. New terms refer to this, such as B. Objectification , objectivation and their plural formations. There is talk of 'objectivities' and besides, every science has its specific ideas of and ways of dealing with objectivity, which are subject to constant change and are used individually. Objectivity is also understood as a property of attitude or behavior : 'objective' then has the meaning of 'neutral' or 'factual'.

Objectivity is limited in terms of content and time in the predominantly empirically oriented sciences, which also exist in traditional humanities. Each individual science sums up its objectivity by determining criteria that are jointly accepted in it. On the one hand, they are of a general nature and, on the other hand, they are determined in detail for specific research projects. This applies e.g. B. for test theories and other methods of data collection or experimental procedures in the natural sciences and cultural studies . In the respective humanities and cultural sciences, jointly accepted theoretical frameworks are set within which long-term science-specific 'objectivities' are developed. This applies e.g. B. for the framework of hermeneutics. It can also be seen that in the humanities and cultural sciences, possible objectifications are being negotiated. I.e. We are working on making subjective experiences and conditions the subject of objective investigations and thus objectifying them.

The hermeneutic framework

In the last century Hans Georg Gadamer published "Truth and Method", a philosophical contribution in which he placed the concept of 'understanding' as a basic requirement for generally shared objectivity at the center of consideration. This approach found its way into the theories of research in the humanities and cultural sciences.

Even Otto Friedrich Bollnow a contemporary Gadamer's hermeneutics held for the approach that the humanities were able to develop an objective profile, which also marked relationship of these sciences for human life with included. Bollnow combined objectivity with truth and assumed that general validity in the humanities could not be achieved with the same rigor as in the natural sciences.

But be attainable

  1. an ever deeper penetration into the matter.
  2. to make one's own researched truth open and comprehensible for another person. Bollnow called this "super-subjectivity".
  3. the change of the subject through the known truth of the thing.

Hermeneutic objectivity

For German studies , literary studies and comparative studies , the objective i. S. from generally valid "extends to meanings and values ​​so ... that these can be understood, discussed, accepted or rejected in a given community." Subjectivity includes objectivity as long as it is based on the matter.

Erich Less asserted a comparable and comprehensive framework for humanities education when he established that objectivity here always makes the bias or the point of view of the researcher clear. Only this bias enables true objectivity.

The historian Leopold von Ranke wanted "to let things talk and show them as they were". Jacob Burckhardt already considered the objectivity of historical science to be questionable. Historians today agree that they cannot objectively reconstruct the past. There are no isolated observable facts in historiography to experiment with. An empirical science of history therefore remains an illusion. On the other hand, within the framework of hermeneutics, one relies on the objectivity of the historical researcher , which always includes his respective interpretation. It is emphasized that only the source, prior knowledge and interpretation together produce an objective picture.

The relative objectivity of the hermeneutic framework 'Understanding' or 'Understanding' aroused criticism. There is a great danger that the sciences will change into "instrumentation" for exercising power over well-trained world views.

Scientific objectivity

Epistemological references to “deep-seated thinking styles of a certain thinking collective” - such as B. Ludwik Fleck delivered them - seem largely faded away so far. Scientific findings in physics and chemistry always relate to experiments. Here is an example from chemistry: “The scientist makes his experiments ... He approaches nature with an open mind (blank page) and summarizes the results of the experiments into laws. An example would be chemical synthesis. Several chemical compounds are subjected to synthesis steps, and the result of the synthesis is examined with an analytical device (e.g. nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, NMR). You get a certain signal. The synthesis is repeated several times, and the same spectrum is obtained each time. Such repeated perception is called an observation. The observation is then formulated as a general sentence: 'If substance A and substance B are combined under conditions XY, C is formed'. This sentence applies ... to all later possible experiments under appropriate conditions. "

The empirical data obtained in this way are evaluated and examined for generally describable processes. The quantitative measurement results are evaluated according to the mathematical relationships between the measured variables. Mathematics is considered the most important tool for describing nature and is part of most theories. The quantitative is used as a conceptual form by natural scientists; it is a method based on measuring and formalizing what is observed. The majority of natural scientists assume that the 'terms and laws' they use correspond to the interpretation of their work results as “natural components of our world”.

If experimental results - independently verified - are confirmed, their objectivity is proven. In addition, philosophical concepts are recommended that researchers can use as a framework for their scientific research if they want to evaluate, classify or develop their statements into theories. Popper , Kuhn , Feyerabend and Lakatos are named as possible sources of ideas.

The biologist Jakob Johann von Uexküll concluded from his research on the exclusively subjective environments of animals and humans that objectivity is nothing but a "convenience of thought". He characterized the "objective laws of nature" as "conventional objectivity", as agreements between scientists. The biological makeup common to all human beings, similar sensations and the habit that there is “objectivity” prompted scientists to make objective claims. "The attempt to build an ... absolutely objective world in the imagination has run out."

Critical Rationalism

Popper, the founder of Critical Rationalism , defended the concept of objectivity. He criticized the classical view of the concept of objectivity, according to which knowledge and cognition receive their objectivity through justification methods and the objectivity can guarantee the correctness and reliability of knowledge. But he pointed out that objectivity is possible at least in the sense of intersubjective verifiability. Later he expanded his view and spoke out in favor of objectivity in the sense of “this is the world”, because even if an assumption could not be substantiated, it could still be true and correspond to reality. If it were actually true, then not only could it be checked intersubjectively, but its consequences would also be objectively correct. He adopted Churchill's example of the sun: the correct assumption that it is extremely hot and therefore deadly for living beings can not only be verified, but anyone who flies into the sun also objectively suffers death. Popper remained in the inevitable circle of culturally acquired knowledge and used the belief in evolution and objectivity for its classification and handling.

Media theory

Media researchers now agree that reporting always distorts reality. It would be a mistake to assume that documentations are “reproductions of high degree of objectivity”. Educational media - such as those produced by the FWU ( Institute for Film and Image in Science and Education ) - have been critically reflected on since the 1960s / 70s and made available with appropriate accompanying material. Since the spread of digital media, one has relied on the pluralization and democratization of the development of science in order to adequately secure the objectivity of media with qualitative criteria of cultural studies that include aspects of knowledge acquisition ( epistemology ).

Representations of reality in the medium of 'television' give viewers the impression of objectivity. This makes it necessary to initiate and support research projects that examine the influence of television programs on society. Without such efforts, multimedia journalism would increasingly lose meaning, originality and objectivity.

Objectivity is also an ideal of Internet documentation. Objectivity of an internet encyclopedia e.g. B. means "to enable the user of the lexicon to form his own judgment by offering facts ..."


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  • Niklas Bender (Ed.): Objectivity and literary objectification since 1750. Tübingen 2010.
  • Lorraine Daston , Peter Galison : Objectivity . Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-518-58486-6 . (American orig .: Objectivity. Zone Books, Brooklyn NY 2007.)
  • Donald Davidson : Subjective, intersubjective, objective. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-518-58387-5 .
  • Gerhard Ernst: The objectivity of morality. Münster 2008.
  • Michael Gebauer, Thomas Nagel : The Limits of Objectivity: Philosophical Lectures. Stuttgart 1991.
  • Julia Franziska Hänni: On the feeling at the bottom of finding the law: Legal methodology, objectivity and emotionality in the application of the law. Berlin 2011.
  • Reinhart Koselleck , Wolfgang J. Mommsen , Jörn Rüsen (eds.): Objectivity and partiality. (= Theory of History. Volume 1). Munich 1977.
  • Franz von Kutschera : The wrong objectivity. Berlin 1993.
  • Marek B. Majorek: Objectivity: An ideal of knowledge put to the test. Rudolf Steiner's Spiritual Science as a way out of the impasse. Tübingen / Basel 2002, ISBN 3-7720-2082-8 .
  • Gunnar Myrdal : Objectivity in Social Research. Frankfurt am Main 1971.
  • Hans-Dieter Radecke, Lorenz Teufel: What was to be doubted: The lie of objective science. Munich 2010.
  • Richard Rorty , Joachim Schulte: Solidarity or Objectivity? Stuttgart 1988.
  • Friederike Rese, David Espinet, Michael Steinmann (eds.): Objectivity and objectivity. Tübingen 2011.
  • Walter M. Sprondel (Ed.): The objectivity of the orders and their communicative construction: For Thomas Luckmann . Frankfurt am Main 1994.
  • Christian Thiel : objective / objectivity. In: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. Volume 2: HO. Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 1984.
  • Stefan Wehmeier, Howard Nothhaft, Rene Seidenglanz (eds.): Günter Bentele : Objectivity and credibility: reconstructed media reality. Wiesbaden 2008.
  • Crispin Wright , Wolfram Karl Köck: Truth and Objectivity. Frankfurt am Main 2001.

Web links

Wiktionary: objective  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


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  7. In Descartes' time it was not yet known that sensory stimuli were passed on to the brain as electrical impulses and converted into human perceptions there in a largely still unknown way.
  8. Descartes also called this process intuition. "By intuition I mean ... such an effortless and clearly defined understanding of the pure and attentive mind that there is no doubt about what we recognize ..." Springmeyer, Gäbe, Zekl and René Descartes: Rules for aligning the power of knowledge. (Meiner), Hamburg 1973, p. 17f.
  9. ^ Descartes epistemology
  10. In keeping with his empirical philosophizing, he used the following quotation from Cicero as the motto for his main work: "How nice it is to admit your ignorance rather than gossip and displease yourself." - Locke recommended as a means for talking to other philosophers: "When philosophers make what they assume as the yardstick for the claims of others ... then one has to look at what they assume." Of seeing all things in God. An Examination of P. Malebranche's Opinion (1693) . Section 1. - John Locke's Epistemology
  11. How the conviction of a constant external world comes about.
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  15. By definition, the statements that cannot be contradicted or that contain no contradiction are always true. See Baumgarten's metaphysics: Johann August Eberhard, Georg Friedrich Meier: Alexander Gottlieb Baumgartens Metaphysik . Halle 1766, new increased edition 1783. Database of the University of Greifswald. Accessed September 2014.
  16. On the inserted blank pages of Kant's personal copy of the Critique of Pure Reason there are many preparatory notes based on Baumgarten's text. See Lothar Kreimendahl, Günter Gawlick, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten: Metaphysik / Metaphysica. Research and materials for the German Enlightenment. Department I: Texts on the philosophy of the German Enlightenment. Stuttgart 2010. Abstract.
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    Ulrich Beck: Objectivity and Normativity: The Theory-Practice Debate in Modern German and American Sociology. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2008.
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    Otto Gerhard Oexle: History under the sign of historicism: Studies on problem stories of the modern age (= critical studies on history . Volume 116). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1996.
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  38. Edzard Han: The need for a philosophy of chemistry. In: Nikolaos Psarros: Philosophy of Chemistry: Inventory and Outlook. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1996, p. 62.
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  43. "In dealing with his environment, man acquires empirical knowledge and condenses it into a theory in order to be able to control his actions correctly with a smaller amount of information." Karl Popper: Objective knowledge . Hamburg 1993.
    Karl-Heinz Brodbeck: The circle of knowledge. From the social process of deception . Aachen 2002, pp. 164-173.
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  45. Cf. on this section: Joachim-Felix Leonhard (Hrsg.): Medienwissenschaft: a handbook for the development of media and forms of communication. (= Handbooks for language and communication studies ). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2001, part 2: p. 1610; Part 3: pp. 1816 ff., 2837, 2299.