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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Science and Objectivity


Author(s): Peter Kosso
Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 86, No. 5 (May, 1989), pp. 245-257
Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
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SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY 245

SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY


At central goal in doing epistemology of science is the valida-
tion of scientific knowledge, or at least an appraisal of the
possibilities and attempts to validate scientific knowledge.
This facet of philosophy of science seeks to answer the straightfor-
ward question, "Why believe what science claims about the world?"
This is a question made more acute with the realization that science is
largely a self-regulating system. Insofar as observation is theory-rela-
tive in the sense that theory influences not only what observations
are to be made but also what those observations mean, the account-
ability of scientific claims is an internal affair and the reliability of
science is self-proclaimed. So why should we believe science?
I. INTRODUCTION: OBJECTIVITY AND INDEPENDENCE
John Ziman' articulates a common and reasonable answer in claim-
ing, " [t]he primary foundation for belief in science is the widespread
impression that it is objective" (ibid., p. 107). Israel Scheffler makes
a similar point in Science and Subjectivity,2 indicating that science
pursues an ideal of objectivity and is credible to the extent that it
nears that ideal. But what exactly is objectivity and how do we know
when it is present? Ziman links objectivity to intersubjectivity, that is,
agreement among many persons, in this case scientists. Scientific
knowledge is believed to be reliable, because it is required to pass
judgment by many disinterested (that is, objective) reviewers.
Scheffler associates objectivity with a more epistemic notion of inde-
pendence. Evidence is objective if its gathering is independent of
that for which it serves as evidence.
These are provocative suggestions, though they are still vague. My
plan here is to pursue the notion of epistemic independence by
making it more precise and showing how it can function in assessing
our warrant for belief in scientific claims. If we think of objectivity as
requiring an independent appraisal, then it is desirable to character-
ize precisely the relevant notion of independence and to indicate
how it can be recognized.
This kind of epistemic independence can be applied in a variety of
situations of validating scientific knowledge. One such situation is
that of observations. Science is reliable, we might think, because its
claims must be tested against the objective facts of observation. But
by now many philosophers have conceded to a certain amount of
theory dependence in observation and its role as an objective stan-
'Reliable Knowledge (New York: Cambridge, 1978).
2Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967.

0022-362X/89/8605/245-257 ?) 1989 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

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246 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

dard is threatened. Yet even if we cannot have observation that is


entirely theory-independent, we might at least have observation that
is independent of the particular theory we are testing. That is, if
some observation 0 is to be used in confirming a theory T, then a
degree of objectivity is preserved if the theories on which 0 depends
are more or less independent of that particular theory T. Objective
evidence is evidence that is verified independently of what it is evi-
dence for. Ian Hacking,3 in discussions of observation, refers to this
phenomenon as, "the disunity of science" (ibid., p. 183). Science is
disunified in the sense that it is composed of several independent
branches. It is a healthy disunity, since the independent branches can
assist in independent, objective testing of each other's claims.
The benefits of independence can be appreciated by considering
our own human perceptual systems. We consider our different
senses to be independent to some degree when we use one of them to
check another. If I am uncertain whether what I see is a hallucination
or real fire, it is less convincing of a test simply to look again than it is
to hold out my hand and feel the heat. The independent account is
the more reliable, because it is less likely that a systematic error will
infect both systems than that one system will be flawed.
The independence of sensory systems is a physical kind of inde-
pendence, in the sense that events and conditions in one system have
no causal influence on events and conditions in another. But the
independence relevant to objectivity in science is an epistemic inde-
pendence between theories. A closer analogy to the epistemic con-
cept is found in history. Ancient history in particular is fortunate to
have available two independent sources of information, the litera-
ture of ancient texts and archeological artifacts. Interpretation of
artifacts, their age, their use in trade, and the like, is credible insofar
as it is consistent with interpretations of ancient texts. In this way,
claims made by archeologists can receive an independent corrobora-
tion by the claims made by interpreters of ancient texts. But the
precise degree to which the two sources, archeology and literature,
are independent is an important question, and it is just this issue, in
the context of the sciences in general, which will be pursued here.
There are plenty of good examples in the physical sciences of
independence functioning as a rational measure of belief in scientific
claims. One of the best is in the experiments of Jean Perrin in the
beginning of this century, experiments designed to measure the
number of molecules in one mole of material, Avogadro's number.4
'Representing and Intervening (New York: Cambridge, 1983).
4A thorough account of Perrin's accomplishment is to be found in M. Nye,
Molecular Reality (London: Macdonald, 1972).

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SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY 247

Perrin measured the same physical quantity in a variety of different


ways, thereby invoking a variety of different auxiliary theories. And
the reason that Perrin's results are so believable, and that they pro-
vide good reason to believe in the actual existence of molecules, is
that he used a variety of independent theories and techniques and
got them to agree on the answer. The chances of these independent
theories all independently manufacturing the same ficticious result is
small enough to be rationally discounted. It is the independence that
supports the credibility of the account. But what exactly does it mean
to claim in this context that two theories are independent?
II. INDEPENDENCE OF THEORIES
The concept of independence of two theories which is relevant to
objectivity must be applicable to epistemic justification. Circum-
stances of discovery of the theories, for example that they were first
proposed by the same person or motivated by the same evidence,
should not influence the evaluation of independence in this sense. If
an Albert Einstein is clever enough to propose both the special
theory of relativity and the quantum theory of light, this does not
make the theories any less epistemically independent. One could still
supply an objective, independent check of the other as long as the
truth conditions of one do not influence the truth conditions of
the other.
Given two scientific theories T1 and T2, T1 is independent of T2 in
a way that makes T1 a possible source of objective test of T2, if our
acceptance of T1 as true (or rejection of T1 as false) does not force us
to accept T2 as true (nor to reject T2 as false). If the truth or falsity of
T1 is insulated from the truth or falsity of T2, then the two theories
are independent in the relevant way. T1 could function as an auxil-
iary theory in an observation in support of T2 without our worrying
that T1 or T2 is acting in its own self-interest. This is what is meant by
objective testing.
The relevant notion of independence then is one in which the
acceptability of T2 as true (or rejection as false) is not a function of
the acceptability of T1 as true (or rejection as false). That is, the
acceptance as true or rejection as false of any one element of T1 has
no repercussion for the truth or falsity of T2. To clarify this general
idea of independence and to be able to recognize independence
when it is present, we need a more careful specification of what
scientific theories are, what it means to say that one is accepted as
true or rejected as false, and how the truth or falsity of one theory
can affect that of another.
Consider a theory to be described by a set of propositions. This is
not to say that a theory simply is a collection of propositions, but if a

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248 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

theory is to be an issue of discussion and an object of belief, it must


make propositional claims. Whatever one's views on the nature of
scientific theories, whether they should be construed syntactically or
semantically, a theory must be presented as a body of sentences, and
it is this presentation that will be the object in describing epistemic
independence.5 Thus, from now on, reference to a theory T will be
intended as reference to the presentation of T, the set of proposi-
tions which describe the theory.6
To say that a theory is accepted as true will mean that one accepts
as true all of the propositions in the description of the theory. To say
that a theory is rejected as false, on the other hand, will mean that at
least one of the propositions is rejected as false. It will be useful to
employ the notion of a consistent negation of a theory. If a theory is
described by a set of propositions {P}, then a consistent negation of
T (-1) is the set of propositions with some or all of the Ps negated,
with the restriction that the resulting set is consistent.7 So T is re-
jected as false if one endorses (accepts as true) a consistent negation
of T.
Attending to the sets of propositions which describe theories
allows for a precise characterization of independence of theories. T1
is independent of T2, if T1 being true (or false in any way) does not
force us to accept T2 as true (or reject T2 as false). That is, T1 does
not entail either T2 or -T2, nor does -T1 entail either T2 or -T2 .
Furthermore, if the acceptability or rejection of T2 is to be entirely
isolated from T1, we cannot allow T1 or -T1 to function as essential
assistance in proving (or disproving) parts of T2 from other parts of
T2.8 So, if I accept the theory T1, as well as some parts of T2, and this
allows me to prove other parts of T2, then the two theories cannot be
wholly independent.
These constraints on independence can be marshalled into a defi-
nition of theory independence. This definition is an adaptation of a

5 The importance of the role of the presentation of a theory is described and


defended in James Griesemer, "Presentations and the Status of Theories," in P.
Asquith and P. Kitcher, eds., Philosophy of Science Association 1984, vol. I (East
Lansing, MI: Philosophy of Science Association, 1984).
6 It is likely that a full explication of what a theory is will include further require-
ments, such as deductive closure. But an exact spelling out of these requirements is
unnecessary here, since our notion of independence will operate on any consistent
collection of propositions and will accommodate subsequently placed restrictions
on the collection.
7As an example of a consistent negation, consider the theory T = {p D q, q v r, r}.
Then one possible consistent negation of T is the set - T = {p D q, q v r, -r}, but the
set {p D q, -(q v r), r} is not a possible consistent negation, since it is not consistent.
8 This possible manifestation of theoretical dependence I realized in reading
Nicholas Rescher, The Coherence Theory of Truth (New York: Oxford, 1973), p.
335.

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SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY 249

notion of independence between sets of propositions presented by


Nicholas Rescher.9 Given two theories T1 and T2, described by sets
of propositions {P} and {Q}respectively, say that T1 is independent
of T2 if and only if there is no P in T1 and no Qin T2 such that there is
a consistent set Twith either Ts(-(T1 u T2)or Tsi- (-T1 u T2)and such
that (P E T v -Pc 7), and (TF Q v TF -Q), and finally there is no T'
such that T' c Tand (T' F Qv T' F-Q). Thus, T1 is independent of T2
just in case there is no subset of either T1 or a consistent negation of
T1 which entails an element of T2 or the negation of that element,
nor can the subset be used with a subset of T2 to entail another
element of T2 or its negation. T1 being true or false in any way does
not force (entail) the truth or falsity of T2.
It is not necessary to follow all the details of the above definition of
theory independence to appreciate the concept and its role in objec-
tivity. But realizing that the intuitive notion of independence as the
truth assessment of one theory being isolated from the truth assess-
ment of another is spelled out in terms of sets of propositions and
entailment is enough to indicate some interesting features of this
characterization. There is some element of caprice, for example, in
determining which propositions are to be included in the collection
that describes the theory. If there is some proposition Q in the
description of T2 such that -T1 -Q, then one might simplyjettison
Q from the description of the theory and deal with a new, edited
version of T2 which is independent of T1.
As a simple example, let T1 = {t Dp, r D p, s} and T2= {p D q,p v s,
q}. Then T1 and T2 are not independent, since one possible consis-
tent negation -T1 is {t D p, r p, -s} and, by forming T (- (-T1 u T2)
where T = {-s, p v s, p D q}, it is the case that TF q. But T1 could be
edited to TJ- = {t D p, r D p} and then it is the case that TJ- is
independent of T2. The description of independence of theories, as
it has been presented so far, is really a description of independence
between consistent sets of propositions in general. It will have to be
combined with some standard of determining which propositions
must be included to form a whole theory to avoid sacrificing ele-
ments for the sake of independence.
But there is a second notion of independence which will make use
of the independence of theories in a way which precludes this ques-
tion of which propositions must be included and which is more
directly applicable to actual cases of objective testing. I shall refer to
this new idea as independence of an account, since it will be used to
evaluate the epistemic independence of the theory or theories used
to account for (to validate) observational data as evidence. This will
9Op. cit.
'? This caprice will be somewhat limited under a constraint of deductive closure.

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250 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

respond to the question of what it is to have independent evidence


for a theory.
III. INDEPENDENCE OF AN ACCOUNT
To claim generally that observation is theory-dependent hides a
great deal that is relevant to issues of epistemology and science. If
observation is theory-dependent, on which theories does it depend
and in what ways? The responses to these questions are necessarily
case-by-case affairs. Different observations may depend on differ-
ent theories and in ways that differ in epistemologically significant
ways. It is only by describing the nature of specific cases of observa-
tion that one can appreciate the impact of the theory dependence of
data.
Several such studies of specific cases of observation have been
done. Dudley Shapere" describes observations of the sun which
depend heavily on the observer's theoretical background, and Hack-
ing 2 explains how theory accounts for the information scientists
claim to be getting through optical microscopes. With greater em-
phasis on human perception and less on machine-aided observation,
Jerry Fodor"3 suggests an empirical approach to determining at least
which theories in our conceptual background do not influence par-
ticular observations.
In all of these examples, an observation will be theory-dependent
in the sense that there is some collection of theories which account
for the information one claims to receive in the observation, the
information that functions as evidence in science. These theories
influence the observation in that a change in the theories would
force a change in the claim about the observational information.
Thus, for any singular claim that is based on an act of theory-depen-
dent observation, there will be a collection of theories which validate
the claim. Call this the set {T} of theories which account for the
particular observation.
Sometimes the set {T} is easy to identify. The examples by Shapere
and Hacking demonstrate this feature. Take as our own example the
observation with an electron microscope of a DNA molecule, which
we will follow through the description of independence of an ac-
count. The accounting theories in this case are those which describe
the interactive properties of electrons as they scatter off the speci-
men and are focused in the microscope and impart their energy to
the viewing screen. This is a substantial set of sophisticated theories
and it represents a major capitulation to the theory dependence of

""The Concept of Observation in Science and Philosophy," Philosophy of


Science, XLIX (1982): 485-525.
12 Representing and Intervening (New York: Cambridge, 1983), ch. 11.
'3 "Observation Reconsidered," Philosophy of Science, LI (1984):
23-43.

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SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY 251

observation. But it need not compromise the objectivity of the evi-


dence or the objective nature of the test it provides. The test, after
all, is to be of some theory about the specimen, a theory of DNA, and
a degree of independence in the account, that is, objectivity of the
evidence, is preserved if the singular observational claim is sup-
ported by an account that is independent of the theory being tested.
In characterizing this kind of independence, independence of an
account, it will be necessary to refer to the theory Tx that is being
tested. The idea is that, if one is making observations of xs (for
example, DNA molecules), then these observations will function as
evidence in confirming the theory-of-x, Tx. It will also be useful to
identify Txl as that specific subtheory (subset of propositions) of T"
for which the singular observation claim could be used as confirma-
tion. That is, TX1will be that collection of propositions taken from T"
for which the fact disclosed by the observation in question could
function as confirming evidence. The identification of TX1will de-
pend on a conception of confirmation which can provide a decision
procedure for determining whether or not some particular evidence
confirms a particular hypothesis (described by a proposition). For
this reason, the membership of TX1will be relative to one's operating
conception of confirmation. Furthermore, the concept of indepen-
dence which results will not then be useful in formulating the spe-
cifics of confirmation. We might have hoped to use the complement
of independence to specify a kind of relevance between theory and
evidence appropriate to confirmation. But this application of the
concept of independence has been blocked.
As an example of a theory Tx and the identification of the subcol-
lection T1, consider that branch of the scientific description of light
referred to as geometric or ray optics. This is Tx, where the xs are
light rays. Txwill include such statements as Snell's law of refraction,
a description of total internal reflection, the law of reflection, and
the like. If one observes an image in a mirror and locates the image at
the position predicted by ray-optical calculations, then the observa-
tion functions as a hypothetical-deductive confirmation. So, relative
to a hypothetico-deductive conception of confirmation, and with the
particular observation being of mirror imagery, the law of reflection
is a member of the subtheory TJ1, since it is an essential part of the
deductive prediction that proved to be true. The observation of
mirrors can hypothetically-deductively confirm the law of reflection
but not Snell's law, since the latter, in its description of refraction,
has no impact on the deduction in question. Snell's law is not a
member of TX1.The membership of TX1will be a function of one's
ideas about confirmation and of the particular observation of which
the independence and objectivity are a question. To insure indepen-

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252 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

dence, it is the particular subtheory TX1 that one wants to isolate


from the theoretical account of the observation.
The next step in the characterization of independence of an ac-
count is to identify another subtheory TX2of Tx as that subset of
propositions in Tx which is not independent of the collection of
theories {T} used to validate the singular observation claim. This
makes use of the concept of independence between theories as de-
scribed in the previous section, since we will test to see if the theory
TX2 is independent of the theory that is the conjunction of the
theories in {T}. But there is no capriciousness of inclusion in these
theories, since {T} is specified by what is required to account for the
observation in question, and TX2is by design to include any part of
Tx which fails the test of independence with {T}.
The motivation for identifying the subtheories TX1and TX2is the
realization that for some theory-of-x Txthere may be parts TX2which
are used in the account of evidence which functions in confirmation
of other parts TJ1. The concern in evaluating the independence of
an account is in isolating the potential beneficiary of the evidence,
TX1, from the guarantor of validity of the observation, {T}. The
potential breach in that isolation is through the home theory's partic-
ipation in the account, the TX2.This evaluation of independence of
the account reduces to an assessment of the relationship between
TX1and TX2and of the relationship between TX2and {T}.
Examples of this kind of division of a theory into two parts are
commonplace. The case of observing the DNA molecule is such an
example. If the putative observation is of the shape of the molecule,
then TX1is that part of the theory of DNA which describes molecular
shape. And if the observation is by way of electron microscope, then
we must account for the molecule as an appropriately massive scat-
tering target for electrons. Hence, TX2will be that part of the theory
of DNA which describes molecular composition.
Identifying the subtheories TX1and TX2will always require a de-
tailed analysis of the actual observation claim to see just what claim is
being made (to identify TJ1) and how the observation is done and
how it is validated (to identify TX2).For this reason, it is difficult to
answer a general question of the objectivity of the testing of a theory
Tx, let alone of the objectivity in science in general. But if we focus
on a particular observation, say, observation of the motion of tec-
tonic plates, then the independence of the account as an indication
of objectivity of the evidence is a straightforward calculation. It will
procede by identifying TX1 as that part of tectonic theory which
describes and predicts plate motion, and TX2 as that part of the
theory which describes the composition of the plates and their char-

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SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY 253

acteristics of interaction with the seismic waves that are used as


probes.
The point in this description of the concept of independence is
twofold. For one, the assessment of independence of an account can
only be done by describing the details of the particular case of ob-
servation. One cannot make general claims as to objectivity, insofar
as it is based on this measure of independence, without the support
of evidence from a variety of specific case studies. Second, whole
theories are not the appropriate units of appraisal of independence
of an account. The concept of independence which is relevant to
evaluating the objectivity of evidence requires that we group some
theories, the {T}, and split up another, Tx. It is a likely fact of life
that some part of the theory-of-x will be used to account for the
observation of some aspect of a particular x. But a degree of inde-
pendence is preserved if this is not a crucial part of the theory, the
part which explicitly discusses that aspect of x which has putatively
been observed, the part which could therefore benefit (by confirma-
tion) from the observation.
In relying on the relationship between TX1and TX2and the rela-
tionship between TX2 and {T}, this characterization of indepen-
dence of an account potentially admits of degrees. The clear demar-
cation of independence as alluded to above is simply that TX1and
TX2are disjoint. One part of a theory supports the evidence used to
confirm another part of the theory. But on either side of this demar-
cation, toward more and toward less independence, we can identify
varying degrees of the condition of independence. For example, TX2
could have varying degrees of involvement with the set {T} of ac-
counting theories. Since TX2 is that subcollection of propositions
which are not independent of the {T}, it is possible that TX2is not
even a member of the {T} but is merely not independent. More likely
though is that TX2is one of many members of {T}, that is, that the set
TX2is a proper subset of {T}. And it is not impossible that TX2is all
that is required to account for the observation and no outside help is
enlisted. In this case, TX2 is identical to the set {T} and one is
inclined to regard the resulting lack of independence as more serious
than if TX2is forced to cooperate with other branches of science.
One could also find a scale of independence in the varying degrees
of closeness of relation between TX1and TX2.It would be ideal, from
the standpoint of independence, if TX2were empty and no part of
the theory-of-x participated in the observation. But much more likely
is that TX2is a nonempty, disjoint crony of TJ1. This is the case we
have been dealing with, in which a theoretical crony participates in
the evidential account. Beyond these limits and into the realm of

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254 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

nonindependence, that is, if TX1and TX2are not disjoint, we might


regard the case as worse (less independent) if TX1is actually a subset
of TX2than if the two sets merely intersect. The case of subset would
indicate that the account of observation of the particular x is such
that no theoretical claim about the x and the property observed is
independent of the theories used to justify the observation. The
observation claim is, by standards of independence, indistinguish-
able from a theoretical claim. But the worst case of all would be if TX1
were identical to TX2and TX2were in fact the whole of {T}. This case
is utterly without independence and is blatantly devoid of objectivity
in the evidence for the theory Tx.
The suggestion is that the closeness of relation between TX1and
TX2as well as the depth of involvement of TX2in {T} could be used
to provide a scale of independence of account. But it is better not to
get involved here in the details of this metric of independence. A
possible thermometer of independence of account is presented in
the appendix which follows, but it will be more productive now to
show some examples of the observation claims and their evaluation
in terms of independence of account.
IV. EXAMPLES
In developing a concept such as independence of an account and its
relevance to objectivity, one wants a characterization that agrees with
intuitive assessment of easy examples so that we can use it with
confidence as a guide to intuition in the difficult cases. That is, one
wants a characterization of independence which gets a high score,
indicating an objective test of theory, in cases that we are predis-
posed to believe as cases of objective testing and reliable informa-
tion. And where we have antecedent reason to disbelieve, cases of
unreliable information, the measure of independence ought to get a
low score. Only then will the notion of independence of an account
be acceptable as a warrant for belief in cases where we have no other
indication of reliability of information.
With this in mind I present three examples of the concept of
independence of an account in action, two in which we have reasons
for prejudgment and one in which we do not.
The best case, in the sense of the most independence of an ac-
count, is the case where TX2is empty. No part of the theory-of-x is
used in the account. Observation claims of what we unhesitatingly
call observables are often of this degree of independence. Consider
the observation claim that the stone is accelerating. The theories
from which one would draw to corroborate this claim, that is, the
scientific account of the reliability of the observation, would be
theories of optics and perception. But no part of either geology or,
more importantly, kinematics, appear in the account. This is just to

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SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY 255

say that TX2is empty. Thus, in this and other cases of perception of
midsized objects, our pre-analytic intuition accepts the observation
as reliable information and the analysis of independence concurs
with a ruling of high independence indicating a relatively objec-
tive test.
The worst case, that is, the least independent account, results if
TX1is identical to TX2,which in turn is the whole of {T}, that is, if
{Tx } = {TX2} = {T}. This means that all and only the theory-of-x
and the particular property putatively observed is used to account
for the observational reception of the information about a particular
x having this property. The second link in the equation, the 'only'
part of 'all and only', is unlikely to occur in actual science. It is rare
that no disinterested auxiliary theory, usually a theory of optics or
perception, is used in accounting for the evidence. But as a case that
comes close to the bottom of the scale of independence, consider a
historical account of alleged observation of caloric fluids. More pre-
cisely, we should describe this as a claim of the acquisition of infor-
mation about caloric.
Use as an observing apparatus some solid object such as a block of
metal. The particles of caloric which, according to the caloric theory,
are present in the object will be distributed throughout the object as
a result of the repulsive force between particles. The caloric particles
will surround the particles of the object.'4 As more caloric is added
to the object, the ether-cloaked object particles experience a repul-
sive force between themselves as the ether particles push for distance
between each other. The more caloric, the greater repulsive force
and the object responds by expanding.
In this way, the expanding block displays information about calo-
ric fluid, namely, that caloric is flowing into the block. But the infor-
mational link between the appearance of a block of metal and prop-
erties of caloric is provided almost entirely by the caloric theory
itself. In other words, the set {T} of accounting theories is consti-
tuted almost entirely of claims TX2drawn from ether theory. And any
property of ether, its characteristics of flow or its effects on material
particles, must be described in the theoretical account in order to
support the observational account. To adapt a Wittgensteinian anal-
ogy, we are not even buying another copy of the newspaper to check
its reliability; we are simply accepting the assuring words printed at
the top of each page, "all this is true."
The moral of the story is that, even though the ether theorist can
claim observational evidence for the ether theory, that evidence can
be discounted on the basis of its lacking independence. It is not
14 This piece of caloric lore is adapted from a description in G. Cantor and M.

Hodge, eds., Conceptions of Ether (New York: Cambridge, 1981), pp. 27/8.

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256 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

objective evidence. In this case, again, our intuition (that the ether
evidence is unreliable) parallels the analysis of independence of the
account.
The majority of evidential claims in science fall somewhere in
between the best and worst and are not immediately decidable with
respect to reliability. In these cases the independence of account is
useful as a measure of warrant for belief. To demonstrate this we can
resurrect the DNA molecule as imaged with an electron microscope
which was considered above. The image by the electron microscope
may reveal, for example, that the DNA is denatured (split). In this
case, TX1is that part of the theory of DNA which discusses the causes
and effects of the splitting of the molecule. TX2will not be empty,
since there must be an account of the composition of the molecule to
explain its differential absorption of stain and its properties of scat-
tering electrons. But TX2in this case appears to be disjoint from TJ1.
And, of course, TX2is not the only source of theoretical support for
the observation, since a great deal of electron scattering theory and
electromagnetic theory are invoked to trace the production of
the image.
This demonstrates that subdividing the theory of DNA into the
claims about shape of the molecule (TJ1) and claims about composi-
tion of the molecule (TX2)reveals a degree of independence in the
account of electron-microscopic observation of a DNA molecule.
The image on the screen of the microscope can therefore be re-
garded as objective evidence for the theory of DNA. This assessment,
though, is really only a first-order approximation. The fine structure
of independence in this account could be described through a char-
acterization of the varying degrees of independence as suggested in
the appendix.
V. CONCLUSION
The point of this discussion has been to suggest a characterization of
objectivity. It has been motivated by the claim that objectivity is what
makes science believable and is in part what is scientific about
science. An objective test, we assume, is one that is less likely to
reproduce theoretical artifacts and propagate hidden systematic
error. An objective test, that is, is a more reliable test than is one
administered by the testee. External review is valued for its trust-
worthiness. And objectivity in this sense can be evaluated in terms of
accessible features of a scientific report, namely, independence of an
account. There is no reference to external, inaccessible features such
as truth or facts of the matter, and, for this reason, independence, in
its relevance to objectivity, is a valuable and workable standard for
evaluating warrant for belief.
The relevant concept for this purpose is independence of an ac-

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SCIENCE AND OBJECTIVITY 257

count. The application of this concept is specific to each case of


putatively objective evidence and requires dividing the theory to be
tested into a part that will directly benefit from the test and a part
that participates in the testing. This approach then maps neatly on to
many examples from actual science.
The discussion has been done with the realization that observation
in science is informative only with the aid of theory. In terms of
epistemic compromise and of threatening reliability, though, some
theory dependences are worse than others. A theory/observation
dichotomy (or an observable/unobservable dichotomy) is therefore
of limited importance as a guide to belief, both because so many
observations are so intimately theoretical and because it hides the
detail (namely, independence) that is significant in evaluating war-
rant for belief. My suggestion, then, is to replace the traditional
theory/observation dichotomy with an independent/not-indepen-
dent dichotomy (or spectrum) as an indication of what is epistemo-
logically significant in scientific evidence.
PETER KOSSO
Northwestern University
APPENDIX
A way of scaling the degrees of independence of an account.

Closeness of relation
between TX1 and T, 2 Depth of involvement of TX2 in {T,}

TX2 = O
most independent

(T.2 nT.1) = 0 TX2?EJTJ


theoretical cronies Tx 2 E { T,} but not { Tx 2} = { T,}
{T.2} = {TJ}

(T.2nTT1)# r T.2 {T2}


but not TX1 T 2 j TX2E {T} but not {T,2} = {TJ}
theoretical nepotism {T.2} = {TJ}
TX1 c TX2 T.29 {TJ}
but not TX1 = TX2 TX2 E {T,} but not {T 2} = {TJ}
{T.2} = {TJ}

T.1 = TX2 r TX2? {TJ}


least independent T 2 E {T,} but not {T,2} = {TJ}
{T.2} = {TJ}

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