While knowledge is often thought of as a collection of indisputable facts, the definition and debate over what can be labeled knowledge is more nuanced. Consider the following sentence: "The Washington Monument is a tall marble structure located in America's capital built to honor its first president." It seems, on its face, to be self-evident and something we can agree is true, yet there is a part of that sentence that can't be classified as objective knowledge.
Objective Versus Subjective
Objective knowledge consists of things that can be observed or reproduced, or is made up of hard facts that come from consensus built over time. Subjective knowledge is realm of personal perspective and belief. While the Washington Monument's location is objective knowledge, calling it tall is subjective knowledge. People who have traveled elsewhere may think that the monument is small compared to the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building. Stating that the height of the Washington Monument is 555 feet is objective, but the Eiffel Tower is over 1,000 feet in height.
Objective knowledge is factual. Writings and documents created during an event, such as the creation of the Declaration of Independence, are sources of objective knowledge. By reading the declaration and other writings of that day we know it was signed on July 4, 1776, and we know the names of those who signed it. Newspapers, textbooks and video recordings can likewise be a source of objective knowledge regarding the specifics of a given event. Usually, these facts aren't influenced by personal beliefs or emotions. Bias can enter sources, so it's commonly good practice to consult several sources when possible.
Objective knowledge comes from observation. Count the number of people in your family or words in this sentence. That's objective knowledge from your own observation. The scientific method is also based on objective knowledge since it is based on experiments done over and over by others that continually produce the same results, such as water freezing at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Objective knowledge is something we can see free from assumptions and expectations of what will happen.
Both Objective and Subjective?
Pain certainly fits the criteria of subjective knowledge. No one can truly gauge how much pain you're experiencing from a broken bone or broken heart. Yet pain is also objective knowledge since we all agree it exists because we've experienced it and developed scientific and therapeutic ways to alleviate it. The line between objective and subjective becomes even more blurred when one considers the philosophical perspective that ultimately each of us only knows our own experience.
- Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images