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Dissertation Abstract

Making Up Knowers: Objectivity and Categories of Epistemic Subjects

My dissertation defends the epistemic concept of objectivity as one that has done and continues to do good ethical and epistemic work for some communities. Because of this good work, I argue, in contrast to philosophers like Richard Rorty and Lorraine Code, that objectivity should not be removed from epistemic discourse—it is a valuable ideal to have. Relying on historical work by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, I argue that objectivity is an historically changing and semantically layered concept: There are multiple different conceptions of objectivity that have been specified and that currently operate, and I find both current work in philosophy of science and in science itself that suggests more such conceptions continue to develop. So, when I claim that objectivity is a valuable ideal to hold, what I mean is that specific conceptions of objectivity have had positive ethical and epistemic consequences in their times and places, and that there are current suggested conceptions of objectivity that have ethical and/or epistemic consequences. These consequences, I argue, derive from the effect that adopting objectivity as an ideal has on the practices of epistemic subjects. I, thus, defend objectivity precisely as an ideal, rather than as an attainable epistemic goal. I argue that all conceptions of objectivity share a structure that unifies them as conceptions of objectivity. All conceptions of objectivity aim at overcoming something identified as problematically subjective (what this problematic feature is varies across time and place). This recognition of the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity allows me to give an analysis of how different conceptions of objectivity yield not merely different conceptions of the epistemic subject, but also different categories of epistemic subject. Relying on work by Ian Hacking, I argue, that is, that the ideal of objectivity serves as a mechanism for making up knowers. All epistemic subjects who subscribe to the ideal of objectivity engage in particular forms of self-reflection and self-policing (exactly what needs policing, why, and how depends again on the particular conception of objectivity adopted). Using the historical example of the U.S. suffrage movement and the contemporary example of community-involvement in Marine-Protected Areas, I demonstrate that the ideal of objectivity obligates self-reflective persons in ways that have been and continue to be both ethically and epistemically beneficial.


To read the Dissertation, visit: https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/36898