The ability to correctly and objectively differentiate an object from all others, implying its acceptance, is referred to as objectivity. It denotes a sufficient connection between the object and its concept. It has to do with its assets, which are often and unjustifiably abstracted, changed by fantasy or fiction, exaggeration or understatement, and so on. The terms objective and subjective refer to everything that exists “by itself,” regardless of person or collective consciousness or experience, in the first case, and everything that is a representation of the objective world in sensations in the second case. Objectivity is perceptions, feelings, concepts, images in one’s consciousness, which is a response, a reaction to the impact of the surrounding world towards reacting subject. Nonetheless, ancient philosophers had different notions of objectivity and opinions on how people can perceive anything objectively. This paper aims at reviewing statements of four ancient philosophers: Plato, Kant, Aristotle and Protagoras.
In “The Apology” Plato stated: “For death is either only to cease from sensations altogether as in dreamless sleep, and that is no loss; or else it is a passing to another place where all the dead are – the heroes, the poets, the wise men of old. How priceless were it to hold converse with them and question them!” (Plato of Athens).
The philosopher described two variants of the perception of death. Someone is afraid of it, and someone firmly knows that any soul is immortal and he or she is sure that after death they would obtain a new body for living again. However, if there are already two options, this means that either there is an own objectivity for everyone, or there is no objectivity at all. Every person forms beliefs that depend on his or her life experience, on what parents taught and what he or she considers right and wrong. Plato always understood the doctrine of existence, which was constant in the surrounding world. The world of sensible things was unstable and changeable: material things arose and perished, changed and moved, there was nothing solid and true in them. Constant, eternal and unchanging things are the ideas of material objects. The idea is the essence of an object, separated from it, taken out from human consciousness and placed in some ideal world, where all the ideas of all objects are collected. Any material thing is only a material representation of the idea of this thing.
Plato could create the first philosophical system of objective idealism. He was one of the first philosophers, who determined the primary nature of humans. From one hand, any person is part of the material world; however, on the other hand, any of them is a spirit essence. Plato, defining the essence of ideas, put them in some ideal world. Ideas go into the amorphous matter from which things arise. A man is a union of a body that is dead, and a soul, which is immortal. Ideas are immortal and incomprehensible. Ideas and concepts appear in one’s mind due to personal perception. Personal perception always influences one’s judgment and evaluation of anyone or anything. Even Plato’s statement concerning death has two options, since there is no objective opinion. One’s feelings and reflections cause certain associations and impact the perception of the world. The world of things is opposed to the world of ideas.
When comparing different people’s opinions and perceptions, everyone makes efforts to protect his or her truth. There is Socratic Method that comes from the Socratic Dialogues of Plato, in which Socrates made people jump through intellectual hoops trying to defend their “truth”. He asked some certain questions that could make people contemplate a lot and make logical conclusion eventually. However, Socrates used that method rather to harm people that to teach them and share his knowledge. All respondents were ashamed and humiliated by those dialogues; their self-esteem and self-perception were damaged. That was the way to impose a different opinion, which might impact one’s perception and there would be no objectivity at all..
Kant stated: “Suicide evokes revulsion with horror, because everything in nature seeks to preserve itself: a damaged tree, a living body, an animal; and in man, then, is freedom, which is the highest degree of life, and constitutes the worth of it, to become now a principium for self-destruction? This is the most horrifying thing imaginable. For anyone who has already got so far as to be master, at any time, over his own life, is also master over the life of anyone else; for him, the door stands open to every crime, and before he can be seized he is ready to spirit himself away out of the world. So suicide evokes horror, in that a man thereby puts himself below the beasts. We regard a suicide as a carcase, whereas we feel pity for one who meets his end through fate” (Kant, 146).
In my opinion, this statement was objective. The reason is that the philosopher provided supporting facts and information. He compared humans to animals and plants. He suggested that every thinking creature strives for saving its life and protecting own life. In general, Kant was representative of subjective idealism. He called his philosophy “transcendental idealism”. Through his thinking and reflections, he concluded that the disclosure of concepts does not give real knowledge, because it does not expand knowledge, does not add to the new information that is already known. Understanding of the concept of the world, one does not receive any new knowledge, but only reveals what is already contained in it. However, Kant concluded that judgments are possible only under certain conditions. These conditions must be their transcendence.
In general, Kant’s philosophy was based on two concepts: “things by themselves” and “things as people perceive them”. The “thing by itself” is the essence, the objective existence of the thing. However, such thing remains fundamentally unknowable and transcendent for people. A “thing as people perceive it” is a phenomenon, a subjective expression of the essence of a thing. The transition phenomenon-essence is impossible, because there is a sensation, the partition between man and the world and the world is infinite, and human experience is finite.
Things by themselves can be horrible also because of human instincts. This is what Kant said in his statement. Suicide is considered an unnatural phenomenon, as it indicates a mental disorder in some person’s head, or his or her depression. In a normal state, no one would want to lose his or her life. Thus, beliefs that exist in someone’s subconscious, in terms of preserving his or her own life, is not objectivity, but an instinct. A mentally healthy person could not say that he or she wants to die. Even asserting this, in real life, if being attacked, for instance, he or she would do anything to save his or her life.
Aristotle said: “Memory is therefore, neither Perception nor Conception, but a state or affection of one of these, conditioned by lapse of time. As already observed, there is no such thing as memory of the present while present, for the present is object only of perception, and the future, of expectation, but the object of memory is the past. All memory, therefore, implies a time elapsed; consequently only those animals which perceive time remember, and the organ whereby they perceive time is also that whereby they remember” (Aristotle).
In his statement Aristotle noted that the perception of a person is formed through his experience. Emotions from experience remain in one’s memory and form the perception. Human memory often does not allow people to evaluate things, situations or other people adequately and objectively. This property is inherent only to humans and animals do not have it. It is difficult to abstract from sensations and emotions that arise from memories for a being such as a person. Therefore, until this is done, one would not become objective and reflections would always be associated with certain events or details.
Aristotle managed to formulate the theory of thinking with the help of such categories as concept, judgment, and inference. Additionally, there are two kinds of knowledge: opinion and reliable knowledge. A reliable knowledge can only be obtained by a logical way. Aristotle is considered as the founder of formal logic. Proceeding from the definition given by Aristotle, logic is about deducing some reasoning from other ones in accordance with their logical form. Logic implies objectivity, while being under influence of memories and emotions is subjectivity. The study of logical terminology, the theory of inferences, proofs, logical operations led to the fact that Aristotle was able to formulate the basic laws of thinking. He formulated the world-famous logical laws: the law of identity is the concept that should be used in the same meaning in the course of reasoning.
The fourth philosopher, Protagoras, stated: “Humans are the measure of all things” (Protagoras, 1).
Protagoras was an ancient Greek philosopher, who was the most famous among educators and teachers of that time, who were called sophists, which implied “lovers of wisdom”. To his students, he tried to explain not only the world around them and its phenomena, but also aroused their interest in researches. He argued that objective truth does not exist, but there is only subjective opinion, and that human is the measure of all things. In fact, Protagoras was the first philosopher, who paid much attention to the speech of a person, divided it according to the categories of speaker‘s intentions: wish, question, answer, orders or narration. Additionally, he singled out three kinds of names: male, female and neuter gender. Due to such division the philosopher wanted to order the Greek language, and give it a rational logical character, and develop the ability of his pupils to express their thoughts clearly, the ability to search for truth and prove it in arguments.
According to the statements of this philosopher, objective truth does not exist. It means that each person also evaluates people and events and makes conclusions, based on his or her experiences and memories. The main quotation of Protagoras implies that subjective opinion builds the perception of the world as a whole. The way one perceives things is his or her fantasy and reality in the fantasy. It can be affected only by some subsequent experience, but not by the notion of logic or objectivity for the sake of finding the truth, which also looks different for everyone. Rejecting one’s own truth is incredibly difficult for any person. It hurts his or her pride, since it goes against his or her ego.
Summing up everything said above, it should be concluded that objectivity is should come from “clear” thoughts and inexperienced mind. Otherwise any evaluation and judgment would be filled with subjectivity. Any person appreciates his or her personal experience and memories, since this is what builds and teaches him or her. For this reason, it is incredibly tough for anyone to abandon own subjective views and think critically. Researches, conducted by ancient philosophers, proved the point that people’s ego does not allow refusing any personal perceptions, because it implies abandoning own version of truth and it means distrust to oneself. One’s ego does not allow it and that is why it is so hard for people to be objective.
Aristotle. “On Memory and Reminiscence”, 350 B.C.E. classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/memory.html, Accessed 6 July, 2017.
Kant, Immanuel. “Lectures on Ethics”. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Plato of Athens. “The Apology”, c355BC. sqapo.com/completetextplatosapology.htm, Accessed 6 July, 2017.
Sholarin, M. A., Wogu, I. A. P., Omole, F., Agoha, B. E. “Man is the Measure Of all Things:A Critical Analysis of the Sophist Conception of Man”. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol.5, No.4, 2015.