Object (philosophy)

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An object is a technical term in modern philosophy often used in contrast to the term subject . A subject is an observer and an object is a thing observed. For modern philosophers like Descartes, consciousness is a state of cognition that includes the subject—which can never be doubted as only it can be the one who doubts—and some object(S) that may be considered as not having real or full existence or value independent of the subject who observes it. Metaphysical frameworks also differ in whether they consider objects existing independently of their properties and, if so, in what way.[ citation needed ]

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

A subject is a being who has a unique consciousness and/or unique personal experiences, or an entity that has a relationship with another entity that exists outside itself.

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy.


The pragmatist Charles S. Peirce defines the broad notion of an object as anything that we can think or talk about. [1] In a general sense it is any entity: the pyramids, Alpha Centauri, the number seven, a disbelief in predestination or the fear of cats. In a strict sense it refers to any definite being.

Pragmatism Philosophical movement

Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870. Its origins are often attributed to the philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Peirce later described it in his pragmatic maxim: "Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object."

Charles Sanders Peirce American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist

Charles Sanders Peirce was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". He was educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for thirty years. Today he is appreciated largely for his contributions to logic, mathematics, philosophy, scientific methodology, semiotics, and for his founding of pragmatism.

Alpha Centauri Star system

Alpha Centauri is the closest star system and closest planetary system to the Solar System at 4.37 light-years (1.34 pc) from the Sun. It is a triple star system, consisting of three stars: α Centauri A, α Centauri B, and α Centauri C.

A related notion is objecthood. Objecthood is the state of being an object. One approach to defining it is in terms of objects' properties and relations. Descriptions of all bodies, minds, and persons must be in terms of their properties and relations. The philosophical question of the nature of objecthood concerns how objects are related to their properties and relations. For example, it seems that the only way to describe an apple is by describing its properties and how it is related to other things. Its properties may include its redness, its size, and its composition, while its relations may include "on the table", "in the room" and "being bigger than other apples".

The notion of an object must address two problems: the change problems and the problems of substances. Two leading theories about objecthood are substance theory, wherein substances (objects) are distinct from their properties, and bundle theory, wherein objects are no more than bundles of their properties.

Substance theory, or substance–attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears.

Bundle theory, originated by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, is the ontological theory about objecthood in which an object consists only of a collection (bundle) of properties, relations or tropes.


An attribute of an object is called a property if it can be experienced (e.g. its color, size, weight, smell, taste, and location). Objects manifest themselves through their properties. These manifestations seem to change in a regular and unified way, suggesting that something underlies the properties. The change problem asks what that underlying thing is. According to substance theory, the answer is a substance, that which stands for the change.

The problem of substance

Because substances are only experienced through their properties a substance itself is never directly experienced. The problem of substance asks on what basis can one conclude the existence of a substance that cannot be seen or scientifically verified. According to bundle theory, the answer is none; thus an object is merely its properties.

In the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā Nagarjuna seizes the dichotomy between objects as collections of properties or as separate from those properties to demonstrate that both assertions fall apart under analysis. By uncovering this paradox he then provides a solution ( pratītyasamutpāda – "dependent origination") that lies at the very root of Buddhist praxis.


The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Sanskrit) or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is a foundational text of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana philosophy, composed by Nagarjuna in approximately the second-third century CE. A collection of 27 chapters in Sanskrit verse, it is widely regarded as the most influential text of Buddhist philosophy and had a major impact on the subsequent development of Buddhism, especially northeast of its native India in places such as Tibet and East Asia.

Nagarjuna Indian philosopher

Nāgārjuna is widely considered one of the most important Buddhist philosophers. Along with his disciple Āryadeva, he is considered to be the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Nāgārjuna is also credited with developing the philosophy of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras and, in some sources, with having revealed these scriptures in the world, having recovered them from the nāgas. Furthermore, he is traditionally supposed to have written several treatises on rasayana as well as serving a term as the head of Nālandā.

Pratītyasamutpāda key principle in Buddhism; states that all dharmas (phenomena) arise in dependence upon other dharmas

Pratītyasamutpāda, commonly translated as dependent origination, or dependent arising, is a key principle in Buddhist teachings, which states that all dharmas ("phenomena") arise in dependence upon other dharmas: "if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist".

Although pratītyasamutpāda is normally limited to caused objects, Nagarjuna extends his argument to objects in general by differentiating two distinct ideas – dependent designation and dependent origination. He proposes that all objects are dependent upon designation, and therefore any discussion regarding the nature of objects can only be made in light of the context. The validity of objects can only be established within those conventions that assert them. [2] [3]


In English the word object is derived from the Latin objectus (pp. of obicere) with the meaning "to throw, or put before or against", from ob-(pref.) and jacere, "to throw". [4] As such it is a root for several important words used to derive meaning, such as objectify (to materialize), objective (a future reference), and objectivism (a philosophical doctrine that knowledge is based on objective reality).

Reality theory

Bertrand Russell updated the classical terminology with one more term, the fact ; [5] "Everything that there is in the world I call a fact." Facts, objects, are opposed to beliefs, which are "subjective" and may be errors on the part of the subject, the knower who is their source and who is certain of himself and little else. All doubt implies the possibility of error and therefore admits the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity. The knower is limited in ability to tell fact from belief, false from true objects and engages in reality testing, an activity that will result in more or less certainty regarding the reality of the object. According to Russell, [6] "we need a description of the fact which would make a given belief true" where "Truth is a property of beliefs." Knowledge is "true beliefs". [7] This framework of presumptions is termed the Theory of the Real. [8]

Until the true-false distinction can be made, every object must be viewed as possibly true, a quasi-object. This extends even to those "objects" that are known to be "subjective"; individuals may determine to create a logical or rational entity that they treat as if real, a corporation, a fund, a population of elves, etc. These are typically the subjects of cultural anthropology.


Value theory

Value theory concerns the value of objects. When it concerns economic value, it generally deals with physical objects. However, when concerning philosophic or ethic value, an object may be both a physical object and an abstract object (e.g. an action).[ citation needed ]


Limiting discussions of objecthood to the realm of physical objects may simplify them. However, defining physical objects in terms of fundamental particles (e.g. quarks) leaves open the question of what is the nature of a fundamental particle and thus asks what categories of being can be used to explain physical objects.[ citation needed ]


Symbols represent objects; how they do so, the map-territory relation, is the basic problem of semantics. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Existence objective persistence independent of ones presence; state of being, existing, or occurring; beinghood

Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality.

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

Ontology study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations

Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

Truth philosophical concept

Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth is also sometimes defined in modern contexts as an idea of "truth to self", or authenticity.

<i>Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus</i> philosophical work by Wittgenstein

The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length philosophical work by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein that was published during his lifetime. The project had a broad goal: to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of science. It is recognized by philosophers as a significant philosophical work of the twentieth century. G. E. Moore originally suggested the work's Latin title as homage to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Baruch Spinoza.

Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown. Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real, whether reality is fundamentally immaterial, whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.

Subjective idealism

Subjective idealism, or empirical idealism, is the monistic metaphysical doctrine that only minds and mental contents exist. It entails and is generally identified or associated with immaterialism, the doctrine that material things do not exist. Subjective idealism rejects dualism, neutral monism, and materialism; indeed, it is the contrary of eliminative materialism, the doctrine that all or some classes of mental phenomena do not exist, but are sheer illusions.

In mathematics, logic, and philosophy, a property is a characteristic of an object; a red object is said to have the property of redness. The property may be considered a form of object in its own right, able to possess other properties. A property, however, differs from individual objects in that it may be instantiated, and often in more than one thing. It differs from the logical/mathematical concept of class by not having any concept of extensionality, and from the philosophical concept of class in that a property is considered to be distinct from the objects which possess it. Understanding how different individual entities can in some sense have some of the same properties is the basis of the problem of universals. The terms attribute and quality have similar meanings.

Transcendental idealism Epistemology of the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Space and time are merely formal features of how we perceive objects, not things in themselves that exist independently of us.

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly comprehends the things as they are in themselves. The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.

Subjectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to consciousness, agency, personhood, reality, and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Three common definitions include that subjectivity is the quality or condition of:

Subjectivism is the doctrine that "our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience", instead of shared or communal, and that there is no external or objective truth.

A pragmatic theory of truth is a theory of truth within the philosophies of pragmatism and pragmaticism. Pragmatic theories of truth were first posited by Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. The common features of these theories are a reliance on the pragmatic maxim as a means of clarifying the meanings of difficult concepts such as truth; and an emphasis on the fact that belief, certainty, knowledge, or truth is the result of an inquiry.

In metaphysics, realism about a given object is the view that this object exists in reality independently of our conceptual scheme. In philosophical terms, these objects are ontologically independent of someone's conceptual scheme, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.

Neopragmatism, sometimes called post-Deweyan pragmatism, linguistic pragmatism, or analytic pragmatism, is the philosophical tradition that infers that the meaning of words is a function of how they are used, rather than the meaning of what people intend for them to describe.

Philosophy of mind Branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to metaphysics:

Objectivity is a philosophical concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity refers to the ability to judge without partiality or external influence, sometimes used synonymously with neutrality.


  1. Peirce, Charles S. "Object". University of Helsinki. Archived from the original on 2009-02-14. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
  2. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies pp. 296-297 – Karl H. Potter, Harold G Coward
  3. MMK 24-18
  4. Klein, Ernest (1969) A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language, Vol II, Elsevier publishing company, Amsterdam, pp. 1066–1067
  5. Russell 1948 , p. 143.
  6. Russell 1948 , pp. 148–149.
  7. Russell 1948 , p. 154.
  8. Taylor 1903 , pp. 16–17
  9. Dąmbska, Izydora (2016). "Symbols". Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences & the Humanities. 105: 201–209 via Humanities Source.