The Quest for Objectivity -- By: Walter Johnson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 12:2 (Spring 1969)
Article: The Quest for Objectivity
Author: Walter Johnson


The Quest for Objectivity

Walter Johnson, Th.D.*

*Chairman, Department of Philosophy, Seattle Pacific College, Seattle, Washington.

Concrete Facts

Man’s thought reveals recurrent expressions of his desire for objectivity. Various words have been used to express this continuing hope. The word empiricism has brought together the longing for what has been called the “concrete facts” of experience. At an earlier time when materialism was the prevailing philosophy, it seemed assured that man had finally achieved the hard facts upon which all tenable truths could be based. Even as early as Aristotle, the Platonic idealisms and subjectivisms were rejected in favor of a more scientific or empirical method. Later observations, however, revealed that the apparent purely objective method resulted in a congealed position known as Aristotelianism. This interesting fact revealed that the tendency of man to begin with a hypothesis based upon an empirical or objective approach to truth, and then the congealing of these inductive facts into a system of absolutism, has repeatedly characterized man’s search for the “concrete facts” of truth.

The “idols” of Francis Bacon picture the difficulty with which man faces this problem. Bacon sought for the “expurgation of the intellect,” to achieve a mind free from the human frailties and subjective tendencies that would obscure a true empirical approach to truth. These idols, as we remember, were the idols of the tribe suggesting man's general weakness and tendency to find support for belief rather than make honest investigations; the idol of the cave which represented man’s individual perspective as scientist, painter, poet, or religionist and his tendency to view truth from the perspective of his individual point of view; the idol of the market place with which man obscured the objective search for truth by “fig leaf phrases” of advertising and commerce; the idol of the theater by which man constructed a shadow world or elegant, compact world which was not the real objective world. These idols suggest that Bacon hoped by calling attention to them we would automatically eliminate them. The experience of man, however, since Bacon, has shown that the mere calling attention and naming the “idols” or tendency of man to be human in his interpretation of truth has not eliminated the subjective element in his thought.

The interesting illustration given by Sir Arthur Eddington, called “Eddington's elephant,” suggests that man in his desire for scientific objectivity has actually found, instead, abstractions and subjective interpretations of truth. The elephant, according to Eddington's parable, instead of being a live animal on the side of a hill, by

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