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Making up knowers : objectivity and categories of epistemic subjects Fellows, Jennifer Jill


The aim of this dissertation is simple: to defend 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 work from Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, I will identify objectivity as a concept with a layered and changing history. There are multiple different conceptions of the concept of objectivity currently identified, and more new conceptions being suggested. So, when I claim that objectivity is a valuable ideal to hold, what I mean is that specific conceptions of the concept of objectivity have had ethical and epistemic virtues in their times and places, and there are current suggested conceptions of objectivity that also seem to have ethical and/or epistemic virtues. These virtues are a result of the effect that the role of objectivity as an ideal has on epistemic subjects who adopt it. I will defend objectivity as an ideal, not as an attainable epistemic perspective. I argue that all conceptions of objectivity share a structure that unifies them under the concept of objectivity. All conceptions of objectivity aim at overcoming something identified as problematically subjective (What this thing is will vary in given times and places). This recognition of the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity allows me to give an analysis of how different conceptions of objectivity yield different conceptions of the epistemic subject. Relying on work done by Ian Hacking, I will argue that the ideal of objectivity serves as a mechanism for making up knowers. Self-reflection and self-policing are at the heart of this method by which categories of knowers are created. Using the examples of the U.S. suffrage movement and Marine-Protected Areas, I will demonstrate that the ideal of objectivity obligates self-reflective persons which has been and continues to be both ethically and epistemically beneficial.

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