One of the most important concepts in epistemology – the study of knowledge – is fact. But what does this word mean? There are camps in philosophy that seek to deny its very existence, such as the postmodernists, who claim that scientific facts are merely “social constructions”. Others would wish to head radically in the other direction to significantly extend the concept, such as the moral realists, who claim that there are moral facts. So, who is right? As always in philosophy, it depends critically on the definitions we use.
“What does subjectivity mean?” is an important question, and one that I seem to hear very different answers to, depending on who I ask. Here I intend to answer the question as clearly and rigorously as possible, because just like objectivity, the concept of subjectivity is an important philosophical foundation. However, somewhat unlike objectivity, I believe the general population is severely confused about what this term, “subjectivity”, means. Hopefully this article brings some clarity to the table.
“What does objectivity mean?” Here I intend to answer this question as best I can, as rigorously as possible, because the concept is a very important philosophical foundation, one that there has been a tendency to deny outright in different historical schools of thought. With any luck this article will explain why the concept is actually a rather self-evident, justified and well-defined one, so that we may loosen the knots we sometimes tie ourselves in and get on with tackling real questions.
When two people disagree about the definition of a word, who is to say who is right? Anybody can make up their own words, so what is it that makes a definition authoritative? This essay aims to provide a rigorous and well-justified solution to semantic disputes – to disagreements over the meanings of words.
Alongside avoiding emotional investment in ideas, semantics is one of the most difficult parts of philosophy, because agreeing on the names of things is not simple. Language is a social process, and each actor in that process needs to agree for a word’s meaning to have authority: there needs to be a consensus.