The problem of objectivity and fiction in contemporary philosophy

Basic Info


When it comes to the question of objectivity – in philosophy or in the broader social discussion – we are witnessing the growing presence and importance of two opposite trends. The first, the “nominalist” trend, is moving in the direction of abandoning the very notion of truth and of objective reality. The second, the “realist” trend, insists on the category of the object “in itself” as irreducible to any kind of subjective mediation. But these opposite trends coincide at one point: they both imply an absolute separation of these two domains. In the context of the broader social debate, this comes across as, on the one hand, unreflected reference to “bare facts”, and, on the other, as the abandoning of facts and the exaltation of “post-facticity”, with both camps sharing some important presuppositions.

The principal goal of the research is thus to actively intervene in the philosophical and epistemological debate regarding the status of objectivity, while trying to avoid two traps or two simplifications: the relativisation of truth and objectivity, which moves in the direction of abandoning these categories, as well as the positing of a simple opposition between truth (objectivity) and fiction, which all too frequently prevails in scientific discourse.

The project will consider different philosophical articulations of the problem of objectivity, critically evaluating both its own, philosophical tradition, as well as some unreflected philosophical presuppositions of science and epistemology. It will also take into consideration some of the key conceptual points of psychoanalysis that are relevant for our research problem, as well as certain aspects of artistic practices and theory that can contribute important and interesting insights to our research.

The research of the problem of objectivity and fiction in contemporary philosophy will thus be carried out following four thematic work packages (philosophy, psychoanalysis, science, and art), all of which will be oriented by the same philosophical question or guideline: the search for and examination of concepts, theories, and practices that represent an original departure from the all too common and too simple oppositions between nominalism and realism, objective and subjective, and truth and fiction.

Project steps

The proposed project is conceived as a network of regional analyses. Thus, instead of providing exhaustive analyses of different philosophers relevant to the project’s central problem, the proposed research will focus on selected points (concepts, problems) in contemporary and classical philosophy. Based on the articulation of these points, the proposed research will formulate a conceptual framework that will allow us to think the questions of objectivity, knowledge, truth, and fiction outside of the currently prevailing trends, albeit in a constructive dialogue with some of them.

The research project will be carried out as a simultaneous, yet complementary and interrelated elaboration within particular thematic work packages (WPs) and divided between researchers according to their expertise and previous as well as current work. Most of the researchers will be included in the package Philosophy through Philosophy: Riha, Šumič Riha, Bunta, Klepec, Benčin, and Zupančič. The following researchers will be included in the work package Philosophy through Psychoanalysis: Zupančič, Troha, Nedoh, and Šumič Riha; the following in the package Philosophy through Science: Vesel and Troha; and the following in the package Philosophy through Art: Bunta, Gržinić, Benčin, and Zupančič. All researchers listed above have the required competence for the work on the topics and packages, as well as references and publications. The project leader is a highly acclaimed international scholar, which will guarantee the wide academic impact of the project’s results. Her organisational skills have been proven in previous projects she coordinated.

A more detailed timetable of the particular work packages follows below.

Work Package 1: Philosophy through Philosophy: Apart from examining the discussions in classic and contemporary philosophy outlined above, this central WP will also provide the focal point of the project by formulating the preliminary hypotheses and final conceptual framework, as well as by integrating the findings of all four thematic WPs. In the first year special emphasis will be devoted to the examination of the otherwise less known aspects of the philosophy of both Kant and Descartes, thus opening a perspective for consideration of their respective theories of the object and objectivity, which will allow us to formulate initial project hypotheses beyond the simplistic opposition of realism and nominalism. The tension and a certain undecidability between realism and anti-realism in contemporary philosophy will be addressed in the second year through a detailed study of Badiou’s phenomenology and Deleuze's philosophy. As in classic philosophy, particular emphasis will be devoted to fictional moments as constitutive of objective reality. The unexpected proximity between Badiou’s philosophy and the Kantian philosophical system will be analysed, as well as the relation of the new realists to Deleuze. Such a perspective will open up the space for situating different narratives about the “end of the world” that signal some difficulties in the philosophical foundation of contemporary realism. In the final year the proposed research will elaborate a conceptual framework enabling the formulation of a novel materialist ontology that avoids the traps of both naïve realism and the dominant nominalism. Based on findings from all four thematic WPs, the working hypotheses will be reassessed and the project will formulate a set of proposals and conclusions that will allow us to illuminate the intricate relationship between objectivity and fiction.

Work Package 2: Philosophy through Psychoanalysis: In the first year, we will initiate an analysis of the peculiar articulation of the elements of subjectivity, fiction, and objectivity present in the structure of the analytic situation. This analysis will provide a point of departure for an in-depth inquiry into the implications of Lacan's concept of anxiety – conceived as the affect of certainty – for the recasting of the question of objectivity from the psychoanalytic perspective. This primarily subjective aspect will be complemented in the second year by an exploration of the specifically psychoanalytic concept of semblance designated as privileged access to the real. In the final year, this complex research will be pursued further in order to bring the various threads of this psychoanalytic research together, enabling the specific psychoanalytic conceptualisation of the relationship between truth, objectivity, and fiction to feed into the conceptual framework elaborated as the main project result in WP 1.

Work Package 3: Philosophy through Science: In the first year, we will analyse Galileo's and Descartes' physics, moving on to a synthetic interpretation of early modern science as it culminated in the work of Isaac Newton in the second year. Within this historical itinerary, we will specifically focus on the following: the relationship between metaphysics and physics; the role of fictions in discovering natural truth; the scientific method; the mathematisation of nature; the certainty of cognition; and the concepts of natural law and nature. As a complement to this research, we plan to translate into Slovene a selection of key texts by the aforementioned authors. In the final year, this WP will formulate the implications of the scientific revolution for the contemporary role of science, focusing specifically on the configuration of so-called Earth system science in the context of the environmental crisis. Conclusions and connections to other segments of the research project will be proposed.

Work Package 4: Philosophy through Art: The first year will be dedicated to an exhaustive examination of the relation between objectivity and fiction in classic and contemporary aesthetics with a special emphasis on the so-called "objective humour" in Hegel's Aesthetics, on the one hand, and new approaches to aesthetics provided by Badiou and Rancière. In the second year, we will examine more methodically the works (of Erasmus, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Calasso) at the intersection of philosophy and art. Simultaneously, the question of in what ways the development of technologies has influenced the basic relations between reality and fiction, visibility and invisibility, true images and fake information will be addressed in detail. In the third year, we will draw some general conclusions concerning the conceptual implications that philosophy draws from the field of art regarding the problem of the intricate relation between objectivity and fiction. These conclusions will be considered in the light of the project’s conceptual framework developed in WP 1.

Work Package 5: Dissemination: The members of the project team are internationally recognised scholars with a proven track record in publishing their work and well-known intellectual figures in Slovenia. Special attention will nevertheless be paid to carefully planning the dissemination of the project’s findings. The findings will be published in a number of articles in international peer-reviewed scientific journals as well as in the national academic press. They will also be regularly presented at high-profile international conferences abroad and in scientific meetings in Slovenia. The research results of the project will also be presented by the members of the research team to the general public on an ongoing basis through public lectures and discussions, TV and radio appearances, and interviews given to the press. The research results will be used in our teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels (at the Postgraduate School of the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and in the context of international collaboration projects with universities within and outside Europe). At the end of the third year of research, an international conference will be organised at which the final findings of the project will be presented. Conference papers will subsequently be published in an edited volume, presenting the findings of the project in a systematic manner.


contemporary philosophy