Objectivity is a hard term to explain. You’ll often hear about being objective when you argue or debate but it’s honestly a difficult thing to do. It’s sort of like that elusive elk you’re hunting in the woods. You know it’s there. You found its scat and you can see its tracks in the snow. You might be lucky and find some antler rubbings in a tree nearby, but you still can’t find the elk. You know what it is and how to find it, but you can’t. Objectivity is similar. To be objective means to remove personal biases when assessing a situation. It’s an easy concept to understand but it’s very difficult to put it into practice. You may have every intention of being objective but humans are inherently emotional and emotions can easily get in the way.
If you’re a fan of philosophy such as myself, then you already know the initial difficulties of learning how to be objective. Humans are both emotional and logical. Some humans may only know how to be emotional and some may only know how to be logical. If you’ve ever read or learned about Aristotle then you would hopefully be familiar with Aristotle’s “appeals” or persuasion methods. Aristotle defined three separate ways to argue a point. These three paths for arguing are known as ethos, pathos, and logos.
Ethos, pathos and logos each have a different meaning:
- Ethos is an appeal to ethics, and it is a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility of the persuader.
- Pathos is an appeal to emotion, and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response.
- Logos is an appeal to logic, and is a way of persuading an audience by reason.
I won’t get into detail for each of them and will save that for a future article. I have already touched a bit on pathos in my article about sensationalism and how the media or speakers use emotions to elicit the responses they want. For now, I would like to focus a bit on both logos and pathos as they have the most to do with objectivity in my opinion.
Pathos relies on appealing to the emotions. If you have ever seen the SPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan about animal cruelty, then you know what pathos is. Generally pathos appeals to empathy or sympathy but it can also be used to appeal to fear or anger. A common narrative in warmongers is to appeal to the anger or fear of their subjects so they can “justify” a war.
Logos relies on logic and is actually where the word “logic” derives from. Logos relies on facts and statistics in order to justify claims. Having a logos appeal also enhances ethos because information makes the speaker look knowledgeable and prepared to his or her audience. However, misleading data can be used to appeal to the emotions of the listeners or readers. This form of reasoning is often used on media news networks to maliciously misinform their audiences for political purposes.
It’s important to keep both logos and ethos in mind whenever you’re attempting to remain objective. So before I dive further into explaining their importance, let me first define what objectivity means.
Objectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to reality and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside of a subject‘s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met without biases caused by feelings, ideas, opinions, etc., of a sentient subject. – Wiki
Basically, objectivity means to seek out the truth no matter what the outcome is. You’re supposed to put your feelings and personal goals aside and judge what you’re reading or listening to fairly. By removing any personal biases it can give you a different perspective on the situation. Philosophers are known to do this.
Often times, a philosopher will question their most beloved beliefs in order to seek a “higher” truth. Aristotle is famously quoted as saying “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” What he meant was that to think objectively, you must be able to think about facts or arguments from the other side.
When keeping both logos and ethos in mind, this becomes a lot easier to do. Being able to analyze stats and figures as well as being able to search for words in a speech that are used to elicit emotion are both important for remaining objective.
For an example: Imagine a politician giving a live speech to an audience. Imagine that politician discussing the economy and their economic plan. That politician has a choice for how they argue their point. Depending on their audience, they may be more inclined to go the logos route (using stats and figures) or the ethos route (appealing to their emotions).
Example 1) The Politician is giving a speech in a very poor district in their state. The politician might assume that they shouldn’t use the logos route because their audience may not understand the rhetoric used because they are poor and can’t afford a higher education. The politician might also choose the ethos route for two separate reasons. They might use the emotional approach for arguing their economic plan because it could be the “best method” for getting the “poor” into college. They might also use the ethos route because it would be more simple to understand for people who may not otherwise understand complicated economic terms.
Example 2) That same politician is at a dinner party for wealthy campaign contributors so they can argue the benefits of their economic plan. The politician still has the choice of appealing to the guests with an ethos or logos strategy. The politician might assume logos is the best approach as wealthy people are more likely to be better educated and are also more likely to understand money (hence being wealthy). If the politician wanted to go logos then they would argue the facts and figures for how their economic plan would benefit the wealthy campaign contributors. The politician could also argue the ethos route in order to appeal to the “greedy” side of some wealthy contributors. That politician could make a sensationalized speech about how much more money their contributors would make if the politician made it into office.
Obviously these are just several scenarios. It’s also important to remember that an argument can be made with any combination of logos, pathos, and also ethos.
I provided these examples to be used as a simple template when learning how to be objective. Whether or not you agree with that politician, it’s important to remain objective when analyzing what they’re saying. I would suggest playing out each of these scenarios in your head. Pick a politician that you dislike and also a politician that you do like and imagine how they would appeal to each of these audiences.
Objectivity is an extremely beneficial skill to have. If you’re in an argument, being able to put yourself in your opponents’ shoes can help you see where the flaws in their logic (or yours) may lie. To be completely objective, you must be able to accept the fact that you yourself could also be wrong and be ready to change your view. This mindset allows you to “free up” the biases you once had and allows you to think about the argument more analytically.
This skill is also beneficial when you apply it to the workplace. Thinking about almost any issue that arises at work with a rational and analytical approach will not only make that situation seem a lot easier than it just was, but it also shows your bosses or supervisors that you’re able to think critically which is useful for getting that next promotion.