Past models of scientific inquiry and objective reality relied on the individual as a sufficient, independent agent of episteme. In this model, objectivity is an absolute, omnipotent third-party who a single individual could come to “know” with correct implementations of scientific inquiry. Under this view, no matter how biased or subjective an individual is, that individual can objectively “know” things. As the story goes, to be totally objective a person cannot be influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.
There’s a slight problem though. If all humans experience an individual subjective reality, how could a subjective individual epistemologically “know” objectivity? In what capacity can a person be objective, if at all? Can a person completely remove their feelings, biases, values, or desires?
The collection of data and observation requires that certain biases and assumptions are already made. Either wittingly or unwittingly, human bias is still in the data and research. However, due to epistemic arrogance, value-laden assumptions have been mingled and sometimes conflated with empirical fact, knowledge, and reality.
For example, when I see a color and call it “red,” and other people point to it and call it “red” too, I can reasonably conclude I am experiencing the sensation of seeing red, as are others. However, I can’t objectively know that what I am experiencing as red is the same experience as the person standing next to me. This is the difference between practical knowledge and empirical knowledge. For practical reasons, we may use the same language to describe different experiences, such as experiencing red, but that does not mean we are having the same experience or sharing the same objective observation. Epistemic arrogance would be to conflate my subjective experience with universal objective reality.
Finding consistency in pursuit of objective understanding depends on larger, diverse samplings, because each subjective individual is a part of objectivity. Unfortunately, this has largely depended on one social group dominating scientific inquiry, intentionally and unintentionally, stifling diverse views and experiences. Historically, the dominate social group in scientific inquiry has generally been wealthy, white, able-bodied males. When inquiry lacks diverse communal experience and biases, “reality” is whatever is happening to the dominate group and then inaccurately assumed to be objective fact.
Helen Longino, an American philosopher of science, challenges previous views of objectivity with a communal view of intersubjective reality. Longino’s feminist critique of scientific episteme includes a social approach to scientific inquiry by recognizing that individuals don’t exist in a vacuum without bias or personal values. The fact vs. value distinction is hazier than some would like to admit. The individual approach to objectivity has historically been implemented through an androcentric lens and dismissive of not only the subjective views of women, but also fails to recognize that men are also the product of subjective experience. All science is social.
Gender is not the only factor to consider in a person’s subjective experience. Moving beyond gender, other factors can include: race, ability, class, wealth, orientation, etc. There are many factors which contribute to bias. In fact, bias cannot be limited to sociopolitical identities or labels, but rather a single individual’s experience. Every person, regardless of contemporary identity labels, will have a uniquely biased, subjective experience. The existence of bias doesn't necessary imply bias to be immoral, but simply a product of the human experience. Understanding diverse bias is one way to understanding our own subjective experience and others in this strange place we call “reality.”
This is not an argument for the rejection of science as a tool of discovery, but rather that some views of science need to adapt for a more communal epistemology. I content that science, thus far, is the best tool we have in parsing out the world as we see it and the world as it is. It is a symbiotic relationship where we are creating and experiencing reality simultaneously.
Life is the embodied experience of objective reality, and to empirically know objective reality would require a complete comprehension of every intersubjective experience which ever occurred. Consider objective reality a hive-mind of intersubjective experiences which can only be known through observation, interaction, and sociality. In turn, each of us becomes a lens, an essential part, in the discovery of objectivity through the use of practical knowledge in an intersubjective reality.