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Trust in NumbersThe Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life$
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Theodore M. Porter

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691208411

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691208411.001.0001

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Cultures of Objectivity

Cultures of Objectivity

(p.3) Introduction Cultures of Objectivity
Trust in Numbers

Theodore M. Porter

Princeton University Press

This introductory chapter provides an overview of objectivity, the presence of which is evidently required for basic justice, honest government, and true knowledge. It differentiates disciplinary objectivity from mechanical objectivity. Mechanical objectivity has been a favorite of positivist philosophers, and it has a powerful appeal to the wider public. A faith in objectivity tends to be associated with political democracy, or at least with systems in which bureaucratic actors are highly vulnerable to outsiders. The appeal of numbers is especially compelling to bureaucratic officials who lack the mandate of a popular election, or divine right. Arbitrariness and bias are the most usual grounds upon which such officials are criticized. A decision made by the numbers (or by explicit rules of some other sort) has at least the appearance of being fair and impersonal. Scientific objectivity thus provides an answer to a moral demand for impartiality and fairness. Quantification is a way of making decisions without seeming to decide. Objectivity lends authority to officials who have very little of their own.

Keywords:   objectivity, disciplinary objectivity, mechanical objectivity, political democracy, bureaucracy, scientific objectivity, impartiality, fairness, quantification

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