Skip navigation
Paperback | $28.95 Trade | £19.95 | ISBN: 9781890951795 | 501 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 32 color illus., 108 b&w illus.| November 2010
 

Objectivity

Overview

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.

objectivity2.jpg 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.

About the Authors

Lorraine Daston is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany. She is the coauthor of Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 and the editor of Things That Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science (both Zone Books).

Peter Galison is Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University. He is the author of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time, How Experiments End, and Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics, among other books, and coeditor (with Emily Thompson) of The Architecture of Science (MIT Press, 1999).

Reviews

"This is a deeply researched book that will make you think. It is beautiful, and it is important....I recommend it to anyone—optimist or pessimist, female or male—with a healthy dash of curiosity and a cranium."Oren Harman, Bar Ilan University, Israel,The European Legacy

"As Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison point out in their capacious and engaging study of the concept of scientific objectivity from the 17th century to the present day, the universal form is key to understanding how modern science moved from the study of curiosities, through the representations of perfect, notional specimens, to a concept of objectivity as responsibility for science."Brian Dillon, Modern Painters

"The author's argument here is complicated but fascinating (and, because the argument is about images, the book is beautiful)."—Science

"This is a surprising, engrossing book that treats humanity's struggle to unsnarl the world and itself as a field of endless turmoil and fascination."—Rain Taxi

"We need history of science in the style of Daston and Galison: a history of science that commands the details but at the same time discerns the shape of larger developments—and that makes us realize just how many meanings have been packed into the little word 'objectivity,' which rolls so trippingly off the tongue."—Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Endorsements

"Historically brilliant, philosophically profound, and beautifully written, Objectivity will be the focus of discussion for decades to come. At one and the same time a history of scientific objectivity and a history of the scientific self, rarely have rigor and imagination been combined so seamlessly and to such deep effect. No one who opens this book can fail to be engaged and provoked by its energy, ideas, and arguments. One emerges from reading it as if from a series of intellectual earthquakes—sound but no longer safe."
Arnold Davidson, author of The Emergence of Sexuality: Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts

"This richly illustrated book deeply renews the meaning of accurate reproduction by showing how many ways there have been to be 'true to nature.' Art, science, and reproduction techniques are merged to show that 'things in themselves' can be presented with their vast and beautiful company. This splendid book will be for many years the ultimate compendium on the joint history of objectivity and visualization."
Bruno Latour, author of Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy

"Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison is not just a fine book, it is that rare thing, a great book. It is almost shockingly original, genuinely profound, and amazingly learned without ever being pedantic. It should force everyone interested in science and its history or in objectivity and its history to think more deeply about what they think they already know. It gives me great satisfaction to learn that thinking and writing of this brilliance and depth are still going on, even in this age of consumerism and mass markets."
Hilary Putnam, author of Ethics without Ontology

"Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison is not just a fine book, it is that rare thing, a great book. It is almost shockingly original, genuinely profound, and amazingly learned without ever being pedantic. It should force everyone interested in science and its history or in objectivity and its history to think more deeply about what they think they already know. It gives me great satisfaction to learn that thinking and writing of this brilliance and depth are still going on, even in this age of consumerism and mass markets."
 Hilary Putnam, author of Ethics without Ontology

"Historically brilliant, philosophically profound, and beautifully written, Objectivity will be the focus of discussion for decades to come. At one and the same time a history of scientific objectivity and a history of the scientific self, rarely have rigor and imagination been combined so seamlessly and to such deep effect. No one who opens this book can fail to be engaged and provoked by its energy, ideas, and arguments. One emerges from reading it as if from a series of intellectual earthquakes  sound but no longer safe."
— Arnold Davidson, author of The Emergence of Sexuality: Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts

"This richly illustrated book deeply renews the meaning of accurate reproduction by showing how many ways there have been to be 'true to nature.' Art, science, and reproduction techniques are merged to show that 'things in themselves' can be presented with their vast and beautiful company. This splendid book will be for many years the ultimate compendium on the joint history of objectivity and visualization."
 Bruno Latour, author of Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy

Awards

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2008.