Claims About Social Reality

The physical and material aspects of our complex reality are not the only ones with objectivity – the human mind is able to make objective statements about all of reality, including social and spiritual reality.  As an example related to social reality, one can claim that “one of the causes of violence in certain countries is pervasive social injustice”.  This statement contains a relationship between two observable phenomena, namely violence – demonstrated by crimes like robbery, murder, assault, and by increased need for police, security, and gated homes – and social injustice – shown by analyzing conditions of certain segments of the population, and interactions of certain groups of people with social institutions.  One can then observe societies to see if there is a positive correlation between the two.  Of course, correlation is not causation, but the statement claims that injustice is “one” of the causes, and therefore has some degree of objectivity to it.

One point to note is that objectivity is not synonymous with truth.  Furthermore, subjective statements can easily be presented as objective.  For instance, consider a hypothetical situation of a doctor who hires poor employees and pays them low wages, who sees poor people as patients and charges them high prices for unnecessary medical testing, and works in a system that blocks their progress.  This person would not make the subjective statement “I like to profit off poor people”.  Instead, this person would make the objective claim “poor people are lazy and uneducated and therefore stay poor”.  Because objectivity can be tested, it should be straightforward.  However, an observer can be biased by his or her own subjective judgements.  For instance, he might see that his family members worked hard and then became wealthy, or that a lazy person lost his job and became poor, or even notice a poor person who was also lazy.  From these limited, yet objective, observations, the observer would accept the claim that the poor are lazy.

However, a more thorough analysis will reveal this statement false.  Hard work is not the only factor in the generation of wealth – it also includes starting capital, access to credit, technical knowledge, fair wages, and a somewhat just social structure.  All of these factors need be to examined and controlled for if one is to scientifically and objectively link work to wealth; and even observations need to be made about the resulting amount of work done when opportunities are given to the poor.  It becomes clear that subjective prejudgements about social reality, often false, can be disguised as objective.

Can you think of other statements that pass as objective, yet in reality are subjective?

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