Objectivity (Zone Books)
The emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences, as revealed through images in scientific atlases―a story of how lofty epistemic ideals fuse with workaday practices.
Objectivity has a history, and it is full of surprises. In Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison chart the emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences―and show how the concept differs from its alternatives, truth-to-nature and trained judgment. This is a story of lofty epistemic ideals fused with workaday practices in the making of scientific images.
From the eighteenth through the early twenty-first centuries, the images that reveal the deepest commitments of the empirical sciences―from anatomy to crystallography―are those featured in scientific atlases, the compendia that teach practitioners what is worth looking at and how to look at it. Galison and Daston use atlas images to uncover a hidden history of scientific objectivity and its rivals. Whether an atlas maker idealizes an image to capture the essentials in the name of truth-to-nature or refuses to erase even the most incidental detail in the name of objectivity or highlights patterns in the name of trained judgment is a decision enforced by an ethos as well as by an epistemology.
As Daston and Galison argue, atlases shape the subjects as well as the objects of science. To pursue objectivity―or truth-to-nature or trained judgment―is simultaneously to cultivate a distinctive scientific self wherein knowing and knower converge. Moreover, the very point at which they visibly converge is in the very act of seeing not as a separate individual but as a member of a particular scientific community. Embedded in the atlas image, therefore, are the traces of consequential choices about knowledge, persona, and collective sight. Objectivity is a book addressed to anyone interested in the elusive and crucial notion of objectivity―and in what it means to peer into the world scientifically.
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