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- Main article: Objectivity (philosophy)
Objectivity, as a concept of philosophy, is dependent upon the presupposition distinguishing references in the field of epistemology regarding the ontological status of a possible objective reality, and the state of being objective in regard to references towards whatever is considered as objective reality. Inherent to the distinction is a paradoxical notion that despite the various meanings or definitions assigned to the concept by various disciplines, schools of thought, or individual philosophers, there is ultimately a body of knowledge representative of a single reality.
- Main article: Objectivity (science)
In science, objectivity is usually considered as the result of the observance of the scientific method by the scientific community, including a contradictory debate and agreements on certain paradigms.
In history, objectivity is to be achieved through the use of the historical method, defined in the late 19th century and by peer review. Taking an objective approach to an issue thus means having due regard for the known valid evidence (relevant facts and viewpoints) pertaining to that issue. If relevant valid evidence is denied or falsified, an objective approach is impossible. Michel Foucault's analysis of the historical and political discourse showed that the objectivity of history has been criticized as soon as during the 1688 Glorious Revolution. This conception of the historical discourse as a weapon used by the various subjects involved in a social conflict has been maintained by marxism. For example, Walter Benjamin's famous Thesis on history distinguished a "bourgeois history", personalized by Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, from a "marxist history", which didn't give, as in Hegel's philosophy, the last word to the winner. This conception would inspire the history from below discourse.
In journalism, objectivity may be considered as a synonym of a neutral point of view, as in journalism; in this case, it is more an ideal of writing, since certain subjective bias, such as ethnocentrism, can't, by definition, be completely put aside, as ethnologists and sociologists observe.
Objectivity has always been a main issue in journalism, especially opposed to yellow journalism or media bias. Journalistic professionalism, in particular in the U.S. tradition, has therefore accorded high importance to a neutral point of view stance, devoid of any bias or explicit positioning for or against a particular group or interest (advocacy journalism is more common in Europe). Journalists are thus expected to record all facts without adding subjective interpretations to them. Henceforth, objectivity is here identified to accuracy, truthfullness, impartiality, fairness and public accountability.
However, the distinction between plain facts and interpretations, and therefore the possibility of achieving a pure objectivity and impartial perspective, has often been disputed. Nietzsche, for example, claimed that no pure fact without interpretation could exist, while Michel Foucault's analysis of the historical and political discourse has opposed this purposefully subjective discourse to the supposedly objective classical juridical and philosophical discourse of sovereignty. While positivism thinks that plain facts could be reported as such, most modern philosophers consider today that an interpretation giving it a meaning is always necessary. (Kant used to say that a sensible intuition without a concept is blind, while a concept without a sensible intuition is empty; thus, "facts" as received as sensible intuitions are always shaped by an abstract concept.) Henceforth, biases such as ethnocentrism or class biases are always included in historical and political interpretations.
Obviously, the same comment about the impossibility to clearly distinguish facts from interpretations is also valid for the historical method. However, due to the different nature of journalism, which may be characterized as "immediate history", and historical studies, which are more scholarly and involves tight analysis of documents, the type of objectivity welcome in both disciplines differs. Furthermore, journalism often involves the transcription or rewriting of politicians or layman comments on various events, while historians dedicate themselves to describing the chain of causality which led to a particular event. The journalistic transcription of people's comments must respect the spirit, if not the letter of them, otherwise being a clear case of fraud (truthfulness and fairness).
Beside these journalistic ideals, objectivity in journalism is obtained, as in historical studies, by the respect of a specific kind of method, in particular cross-checking sources as to never have to trust only one authority and finding primary sources and secondary sources.
However, this journalistic ideal of objectivity has often been criticized as impossible to achieve - a pseudo-argument since, as an ideal, it never claimed to be perfectly realized - and, more importantly, as ideologically dissimulating very precise bias, for example class, ethnic or sexist bias. Advocacy journalism (and also Civic journalism or alternative media) take an explicit and clearly defined point of view, arguing that honestly describing one's opinions allows for better objectivity at the end. Alternative media in particular argues that the supposedly objectivity standards of mainstream press serve corporate bias, as if they are usually not subjected to political censorship, their freedom is limited by economical censorship and media concentration.
Whatever one's personal opinions on the matter, it must be underlined that both types of journalism pretend to be the most truthful, the first one by claiming to suspend any bias as in the philosophical epoche ("suspension of judgement"), while the later claims to be the most honest by first declaring where one stands.
In decisions affecting large numbers of people (such as in politics) ignoring relevant evidence or alternative interpretations could lead to policies which, although perhaps well-intentioned, have the opposite effect of what was really intended. In this context, it is often argued that although democracy might hamper swift, decisive action, it is nevertheless the best guarantee that all relevant facts and interpretations are included in the decision-making process, resulting in policies with greater long-term benefit.
Taking an objective approach often contrasts with arguments from authority, where it is argued that X is true because an authority Y says so. The presumption is that Y is an authority capable of taking the most objective approach. But it may be necessary to evaluate the view of Y against other authorities likewise claiming to take an objective approach. This is an important aspect of academic scholarly method in the modern sense.
Some Marxist authors, such as Georg Lukacs, have argued that true objectivity is in fact achieved only by dialectical materialism, which would be the only science to have a perspective on the totality of the historical process. Beyond the polemical intent in criticizing bourgeois science, Lukacs' famous book, History and Class Consciousness (1923) was a powerful critique of Kant's Critiques and of his "bourgeois conception of science", which induced an unbridgeable gap between the subject and the object of knowledge, and thus condemned reason to the knowledge of simple phenomenons. Thus, Kant believed that ontological reality (noumenon) could not be objectively known. Objective knowledge, according to Kant, was limited to the knowledge of phenomenons. Lukacs criticized this, considering it as an idealist conception which set aside the social and historical process, which, according to his project of an "ontology of the social being", is in fact the ultimate reality.
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