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Template:Article issues The subject-object problem, a longstanding philosophical issue, is concerned with the analysis of human experience, and of what within experience is "subjective" and what is "objective."

It arises from the premise that the world consists of objects (entities) which are perceived or otherwise presumed to exist as entites, by subjects (observers). This results in multiple questions regarding how subjects relate to objects, one of which is called the "knowing subject." (See knowledge acquisition) [1]

The subject-object problem is twofold: firstly, there is the question of "what" do we know, and very recently this could be called the "Matrix" question, i.e., "How do we know we are not living in a "matrix". [2] This "matrix" dilemma goes back at least as far as Descartes, and arises from his skepticism that an evil demon might, conceivably, be controlling his every experience. See Brain in a vat; and Simulated reality

The second problem is that of "how" do we know what we know. This is answered in philosophy by the field of Epistemology; but it is a subject-object problem as described in the section below on 19th and 20th Century philosophy.

The omniscient perspective Edit

By far the most common problem in discourse since the Enlightenment is the assumption of the existence of a God's eye view. That is, assuming that society can select a single perspective and apply it to all events, without needing to take into account the varying point of view of many cognitive beings moving through time and the fusion of this into one, omniscient, unified, perception of what "is". E Prime is a proposed solution to this problem in the field of General Semantics. This objective perspective, as opposed to all other subjective points of view, is also what Georg Lukács refers to with the concept of "totality". Writers and critics of narrative prose call this view the omniscient narrator, who appears to know everything about the story being told, including what all the characters are thinking, and usually speaks in the third person.

In 19th and 20th Century philosophyEdit

Immanuel Kant and especially his followers Fichte, Schelling and Hegel raised the issue of the relationship between the subject and the object, or what perceives and what is perceived. Fichte reduced the notion of the self to the pure passive self that is not really an object. This notion was later explored by Husserl and by Dilthey in his notion of Das Verstehen.

Kant's Copernican revolution was the inversion of the traditional relation between the subject of knowledge and the object of that knowledge. Instead of the observed objects affecting the observing subject, the subject's constitution affects the way that the objects are observed. Following this transcendental idealism theory, the possibility of knowledge was thus to be found in the structure of the subject itself, instead of in an objective reality from which nothing can be said.


Schopenhauer claimed that “everything that exists for knowledge, and hence the whole of this world, is only object in relation to the subject, perception of the perceiver, in a word, representation.”[3] According to him there can be "No object without subject" because "everything objective is already conditioned as such in manifold ways by the knowing subject with the forms of its knowing, and presupposes these forms…."[4]. Schopenhauer also asserted that the Principle of sufficient reason does not apply between subject and object. It only applies between objects. Therefore, Fichte was mistaken when he posited that the subject produces or causes the object. Realism and Materialism are wrong when they assert that the object causes the subject.[5]

In his lecture "Mind and Matter," Erwin Schrödinger claimed "we exclude the Subject of Cognizance [knowing subject] from the domain of nature that we endeavour to understand. We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world…." He claimed that we are unaware "of the fact that a moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of a non–concerned observer."[6] This is similar to Schopenhauer's assertion that, when we forget about the knowing subject, "we imagined that we had thought of matter, but in fact we had thought of nothing but the subject that represents matter, the eye that sees it, the hand that feels it, the understanding that knows it."[4] As a result, the object is considered to be really experienced, but the subject is not considered at all.

In science Edit

In physics Edit

There are related concerns in philosophy of physics where observers are known to affect a result, e.g. in quantum mechanics, in a way which defies the conventional assignment of an object role to experimenter, with everything else as a subject. Usually, though, except for Einstein's theories of relativity, scientists do not take the observer's constitution into account when they consider the way that phenomena appear.

In mathematics Edit

Cognitive science of mathematics raises some similar concerns with philosophy of mathematics. Among them, the assignment of objective status to mathematical objects as in Platonism, although they are formalisms used in a linguistic fashion for communications between living beings, and thus subject to the same subject-object problems as other forms of such communication. This raises some concerns, dating back as far as Eugene Wigner's 1960 observations on the matter, that what we call foundations of mathematics and cosmology may be not observable or discoverable absolutes, but rather, aspects of humanity and its cognition. Nick Bostrom in 2002 addressed this concern with a theory of anthropic bias.

In clinical trials Edit

One of the purposes of blinding clinical trials is to avoid the introduction of bias caused by investigators beliefs about the therapy being tested influencing perceptions, measurements, and actions. Making effective decisions and ensuring patient care while investigators remain unaware of what treatment particular patients receive has been a continuing problem in the design of clinical trials.

The phenomenon of adaptive designs - designs whose characteristics can change mid-trial based on the information obtained so far—has created further problems in avoiding bias. Susan Ellenberg, Thomas Fleming, and David DeMets expressed concern that using data monitoring committees to alter the parameters of a clinical trial through an adaptive design in a manner known to the investigators could introduce bias into the trial. Increasing the sample size, for example, could signal that the experimental product was not as efficacious as originally hoped. The authors expressed concern that participant-observer bias would need to be assessed and addressed in order to ensure the reliability of adaptive designs.[7]

In psychology Edit

Confirmation bias is the tendency of an individual to perceive an event such that it coheres with his previous views.

Other approaches Edit

  • Analytic philosophy discusses various aspects of the problem of subject and object such as the mind body problem, first-person versus third-person perspective and also issues of non-referential use of I presented by G. E. M. Anscombe.
  • Robert M. Pirsig's philosophy of the Metaphysics of Quality is largely concerned with the subject-object problem.
  • Sun Myung Moon's philosophy, Unification Thought, treats subject and object in a way different from classical ideas of Hegel and Marx.
  • Philosopher Ken Wilber has written extensively on this, calling the omniscient view (or subject-object distinction) the fundamental modernist paradigm, and cataloging its effects on society, and in the way many subjects have been compressed into a "flat" view by this perspective

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. [1] Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/
  3. The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, § 1
  4. 4.0 4.1 The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, § 7
  5. The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, § 5
  6. "Mind and Matter" in What is Life & Mind and Matter, Ch. 4
  7. Susan Ellenberg, Thomas Fleming, David DeMets, "Data Monitoring Committees in Clinical Trials: A Practical Perspective" (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2002) ISBN 0-471-48986-7

BibliographyEdit

External links Edit

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