There is an endless and possibly age-old debate about the concepts of Objectivity versus Subjectivity and while I’ve had that conversation many times over the years I haven’t discussed it in my blog until … today! So, strap on the critical thinking hats and get ready for a rumble because this one brings out the raw emotions.
The reason this topic comes to mind today is a conversation I had a work this morning. We have a new fish tank and it is absurdly loud. The sound the tank makes spurred the debate. It sounds like a bathtub being filled with water but a co-worker said it sounded to her like the ocean. The ensuing debate became heated. That sort of things happens to me a lot, which, if you read this blog regularly, you won’t find surprising.
At question here is if my co-worker actually thinks it sounds like an ocean is she correct? That is the heart of subjectivity versus objectivity.
A subjectivist argues that reality is perception. If she thinks it sounds like the ocean then it does, in fact, sound like the ocean. An objectivist argues that we need to listen to the sound of the ocean and see if the sound waves create a similar pattern. The answer, from my perspective, is clearly they do not. It sounds nothing like the ocean and the fact that my co-worker thinks it does doesn’t change that objective fact.
“It’s my opinion,” is the argument often used by subjectivists. What the subjectivist fails to take into account is that no one is saying they aren’t entitled to their opinion, just that their opinion is, objectively, wrong.
Now, the debate usually continues with arguments similar to this
The objectivist says, “So, f you think this chair looks like a DVD does that mean the chair looks like a DVD?”
The subjectivist replies, “To me, yes!”
The objectivist says, “That’s nonsense. Please come back when you decided to debate like an adult.”
The subjectivist says, “I am arguing like an adult. If I think the chair looks like a DVD then that’s what I think. You can’t say I’m wrong.”
The objectivist says, “I can say you’re wrong. It looks nothing like a chair. If I think it’s ok to kill you, (at this point the objectivist is getting a little heated) then is it ok to kill you?”
The subjectivist replies, “It’s ok for you, but I don’t think it’s ok, so it’s not ok for me.”
The objectivist replies, “It’s both ok and not ok at the same time!? What – what – what?”
The subjectivist nods his head sagely and says, “Yes, it’s both.”
The objectivist leaves the room before his head explodes and the subjectivist looks baffled. Argument over.
That’s the way it usually goes and everyone ends up angry.
You may have guessed that I’m a die-hard objectivist but I do think there is some wiggle room. There are certain levels of subjectivity when it comes to liking things, say food or movies. Some people hate fish. Many people hate Vanilla Sky. But, I do think even with food and movies we can objectively define some level of good. Chef’s learn what ingredients people like and these combined properly are good even if some people don’t like the particular flavors. Likewise, there is good writing, good cinematography, good acting and these things combined make good movies even if particular people don’t like the movie.
I think it’s largely dangerous to slip into subjectivity. There is truth, there is good, there is right. Likewise there are lies, bad, and wrong. When we try to suggest that truth is subjective we risk losing perspective on what will make us better people, what will make society better.
It’s important to be as objective as possible when it comes to our lives. The decision we make are important for ourselves and for others. We must objectively analyze and make the best possible decisions at all times. That being said, there is a certain level of subjectivity in our lives and we can’t end up in paralysis by analysis. Then nothing is accomplished.
Wrapping up, I think it’s ok to suggest that a particular sound reminds us of something even if it reminds other people of different things. That being said if we truly analyze the sound and determine the sound waves are dissimilar from what one person claims then we must come to a conclusion of objective truth. In this case, while entitled to her opinion, my co-worker was objectively wrong. I was objectively right.
Isn’t that what matters! 🙂
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