Objectivity and realism

Is there a difference between something being “objective” and it being “real”? What do we mean by those terms, anyway? That’s the topic of a new conversation I’ve had with my friend and colleague Dan Kaufman.

We actually started by exploring a side path, when Dan wanted to know whether human beings are really as social as the Stoics thought (I think so, particularly on the strength of evidence from comparative anthropology and primatology). Then we plunged into the title question, and went on to discuss the difference between distinct philosophical meanings of “real.”

Dan argued that it doesn’t make any difference whether or not our values are objective, because that’s not what motivates people to action. I replied that people are moved to act by a number of social and biological forces, but that arguments to the soundness of certain values certainly play a role.

Near the end of the show we talk about what Dan’s calls my solution to the so-called omnivore dilemma (shouldn’t we all just be vegetarians, or even vegans, given what we know about animal cruelty and the environment?), which obviously very much has to do with the alleged objectivity of certain values informing our choice of diet.

Finally, I explain why values are never really separate from facts (in part because even our choices of what counts as a “fact” are value-laden). This may seem to be a problem if one seeks “the facts, just the facts,” but appreciation of this, ahem, fact turns out to be important and consequential. Here is the video:

Published by


Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s