Subjectivity Isn't So Subjective
DISCLAIMER: I’ve never posted anything like this before, let alone in a place where I’ve read such great things. I’m trying this out to see what people think, and just for some experience. Bare with me.
I’ve read a lot of YouTube comments on music videos, movie clips, reviews, and other opinion-based media. Almost every single one that involves something popular has some sort of argumentation in the comment section. Someone who likes the topic of the video and someone who doesn’t are going at it like internet superheroes. But there’s always someone who jumps in at some point that says something along the lines of (or at least means something along the lines of), “If you don’t like it, just don’t watch it. We’re all entitled to our opinion, so there’s no reason to keep fighting.”
This is the essence of subjective ideologies. We believe that each individual has their own, subjective tastes, and that this determines whether we like something or not. So, we’re not required to like everything that everyone else does because we’re each entitled to our subjective opinion.
That’s interesting to me. There seems to be something inherently wrong with that statement. If you accept that two individuals can have contradicting beliefs and BOTH be correct, there is only one way I can see that ideology turning out.
There are obvious implications for morality here, like, if each culture is entitled to their own opinion/beliefs because these are truly subjective, then we should view our civil rights movement (as an opinion about how the state of the world should be) as an equally valid view as that of the KKK (who has their own opinion about how the sate of the world should be). But I’ll ignore these for a more personal, day-to-day, relevant use of subjectivity.
Let’s go back to the YouTube video. Imagine it’s a Lady Gaga music video. Two people are arguing as to whether or not her music is “good.” One person, let’s call him Dick, likes Lady Gaga, and he is arguing with someone else, let’s call her Tori, hates Lady Gaga. This person comes in, let’s call them Pacifist, and says, “Hey, hey. There’s no point in fighting, guys. You each have your own opinion, and they are equally as valid.”
Dick replies with, “Okay, okay. I’m just going back to listening to music I like instead of fighting with this troll!” Tori proceeds to kick Dick in the dick and now Dick has been eliminated from the conversation, cause fuck that guy.
Tori turns to Pacifist and asks how they can be BOTH true. After all, does reality just show how two opposite things cannot be true at the same time? A person who has their hair on fire cannot also NOT have their hair on fire at the once. The same individual cannot be both in California in a bathing suit on the beach, and atop Mt. Everest in climbing gear in the snow (of course, I’m purposefully ignoring time-travelling, universe-hoping doppelgangers for simplicity). So, how can two individuals say, “This is good music,” and “This is NOT good music,” and both be correct?
PACIFIST AND SUBJECTIVITY
The character of Pacifist has an easy answer to this: the state of being of the music is determined individually by each of us. In the mind of Dick, the music was good. In the mind of Tori, the music was bad. Music, like many other things, is subjective from person to person, and what is pleasant to some does not have to be pleasant to all.
This is a very convenient answer. It encompasses a lot of the fabric of our social structure and ideological beliefs, such as those of individuality and independence, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc etc etc. But there’s something obviously problematic here.
Pacifist never answered the question. At least not outright.
THE PROBLEM WITH SUBJECTIVITY
If you believe that, to continue with our example, Lady Gaga’s music can be both “good” and “bad,” depending on who is listening, then what you are saying is that her music does not have those properties innately, but that we attribute them to it when we listen to it and decide whether we like it or not. That decision shows that Lady Gaga’s music does NOT have the property of being “good,” but it also does NOT have the property of being, “bad.” This conclusion allows people like Pacifist to say, “It’s just individual preferences. No one can say it’s bad if you like it, because it’s you who decides whether it’s good or not.”
But this sort of conclusion is a very shallow and unenlightened view of the situation. A sort of, “I heard this so I accepted it,” or, “I got this far and was satisfied so I stopped thinking,” perspective is being reflected with Pacifist’s statement.
The fact of the matter is that, if you accept that something does NOT have a negative or positive quality towards a certain situation (“good music” or “bad music”), then you must accept that when you say, “This is good music,” you are lying. When you say, “This is bad music,” you are lying, as well. You are forced to admit that the music you lie, is NOT good.
THE OBVIOUS REBUTTAL
The first response can be, “Well, I’m saying that it is good FOR ME, so I get around your nonsense.” But that’s still lying. If you KNOW that what you are talking about does not have the quality of being good, then you saying that it is “good for you,” is just straight-up lying, because you know better.
Some may reply by saying (and something along these lines is a better reply), “Well, if I say that I enjoy something, I’m not talking about whether it is good or bad, just that I enjoy it. So I get around your nonsense!” This sort of smart-ass response (I’m more confrontational to make myself feel better) just causes a different issue. WHY do you enjoy it? If it’s not good, how is it pleasurable, since pleasurability is a sign of “goodness?” That means it’s good, which means you reject the idea of subjectivity. But you don’t. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be going through the process of saying what you did to begin with.
The truth is, this kind of “enjoyment” of something requires a positive value to whatever it is you are enjoying. If you accept that there is no positive value (because you accept subjectivity), then you must explain how you enjoy something without a positive value.
Let’s be honest, anything you say will immediately attribute a positive value to what you are describing (like Lady Gaga’s music), and contradicts subjectivity. It becomes indefensible to enjoy music.
I’ve come to two conclusions that can be derived from these observations. The first is the more obvious one: I continue to accept subjectivity and refuse to enjoy anything that doesn’t have positive values (including music and painting and comics and novels). But this conclusion is problematic. Our experiences cannot be denied, and a positive experience from certain kinds of music is an obvious show that there is something to music.
That leads into my second conclusion, and the one I accept. There ARE positive and negative values for things. OBJECTIVE goods and bads. There is such a thing as good music and good art, and bad music and bad art, conversely. And It is our jobs as human beings with the capacity to understand such things to weed out what is “bad.” The problem has becoming the degradation of our ability to pick up what is “good” and what is “bad” because of our indoctrination by mass media. Things like MTV or Disney telling us what is good and what we should buy has clouded our judgment as to what is truly good music/television/writing/painting and what isn’t.
But that’s another topic altogether…
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Apparently, you don’t have an idea how to construct your writings and you say a lot, just to have a feedback, Well, I’m just going to reply on the topic.
You are reading comments.
That’s not even subjectivity. Everyone can say whatever the fuck they want.
Educate yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgGxk8xFgAE
And now an actual response:
From a formal logic standpoint this is very interesting, and there does appear to be a paradox. But then, same deal with quantum physics, ain’t it? Would you agree that IF you’re second conclusion is ‘correct’, then the real judge of quality is surely the test of time. Seeing how influential something is with the golden glow of retrospect.
I read some about it a while ago. My judgments, by perspectivism, are limited to my interpretation of the world, and that’s honestly something I can’t argue against. I could never know what it is like, for example, to read Facebook posts from the perspective of others, and so I will never truly know whether or not what I think they are reading is actually what they are reading. But it becomes one of those “possible” solutions, like being in a Matrix, that I don’t take as seriously through inference to the best explanation. If I can have a conversation with another individual, and we reach conclusions that are identical when we present them to each other, or at least they have the same reaction I did when I came to the conclusion they just did, I have no reason to believe we came to different conclusions.
Still, it’s a very interesting perspective.
That just might be the case. My only problem is that if I’m correct, which I’m still only slightly confident of, I could go into looking at whether our hindsight can be “damaged” in the same way our ability to understand “objective goods” is, as I describe in the last part of my post.
I don’t know. There’s definitely a lot that goes into a certain subject, and quantum mechanics definitely changes the physical world up and all it’s qualities more than I can keep up with.
“Good and bad are not properties, they are words.” I’d say they are both. We do speak in this way: “That’s a good song,” or a “good guitarist,” or a “good person.” Just like we say, “That’s a purple coat,” or a “purple seat,” or a “purple dog.” Purple is a property in the same way that good is a property. We attribute it to things.
“Language did not cause new properties to be infused into reality, only changed our consciousness of it.” I completely agree. But that’s not a problem. I’m merely pointing out the properties and am using one of the languages that was taught to me as a child to describe what I’m talking about. If I accept that “good” is a property (which I obviously do), then I can talk about “good” being a property of things, and our misinterpretation of properties of songs that we call “good” but actually aren’t.
Now, if you can make a good argument as to why “good” is not a property, and how the phrase, “That person is tan,” is describing a property but “That person is good,” isn’t, I’d love to see that. Language is indeed a fascinating subject.
I think the problem with your argument is that you assume that since you can attribute positive and negative values to things then those positive and negative values actually exist in the real world.
You’re not lying when you admit there are no actual objective positive and negative values, and then say that something is good. What you are doing is using your own subjective value system to judge the value.
I think you ran into a paradox because you used an objective definition of positive and negative to define a subjective experience.
Now it’s pretty arbitrary what someone assigns a value of positive or negative to, but things that are useful and pleasurable usually get assigned positive and the opposite for things that get assigned negative.
The idea of value is inherently subjective because without an experiencing life there wouldn’t be anything around to even have a concept of value. Value is only something that is created in the presence of a judging consciousness, and therefore only exists along with it in the only form that consciousness is–a subjective experience
furthermore, the word value implies a relationship with a conscious observer because what on earth else could value be related to? Value is always related to a subjective experience because without a subjective experience it wouldn’t be “value,” but maybe some other word, but definitely not value.
So what I get is that you want to say things are good or bad in themselves, but again good/bad in relation to what? Again, a subjective experience that can judge good and bad
I think the problem has to do with mental conditions, which we subscribe to in order to conveniently paint the world in colors compatible with our own frame of reference at any given time. So dont think of subjectivity as conditioned by its antonyms definition. Objectivity is just a concept, similar to Universe, both of which are empty metaphors devoid of most of the related sensory input.
Objectivity and subjectivity are more a matter of degree, I would say. So you would be able to have a somewhat “objective” party in relation to the dispute, such as a judge in a court of law or, in the case of musical tast, an individual that had never heard Lady Gagas music; but of course, this person is not completely objective due to prior musical genre preferences. And similar complications arise with any attempt at an objective resolution, but these complications point us in an important direction: one hinting at the nature of the particular duality, which is that its all a matter of degree.
Take for example then… water. Plain old H20. Is it good or bad? According your beliefs it must be one or the other. Surely something as fundamental to existence as water could not be subjective could it!? I mean who would say water is bad, right? You might say that if the water is poisonous it is bad, but if clean it is not. These would be clear objective parameters to judge it by. So your argument wins?… wrong. Let’s say a river floods on a grand scale and in the process, it wipes out dozens of riverside villages, killing thousands of people… but also in the process, water spreads out to drought stricken areas which were on the brink of devastation but now are are revitilized by the much needed life giving fluid. While one set of communities are destroyed, another are brought back to life… So is the water good or bad? If subjectivity cannot exist, then by your theory, it must be one or the other. But in this case it has both properties of good and bad which renders it to be subjective, depending on whether you talk to the survivors of the flooded river villages or the newly enriched, previously drought stricken dirt farmers.
So if something as basic, fundemental and universally appericiated as water can be, at times, subjective…then why could not something as complex as the arts and music? What you failed to see in your theory, is that ALL things have BOTH properties of good and bad and even the definition of good and bad properties is as diverse as the inhabitants of this globe. So as you argue that everything is objective, I counter to say that everything is subjective…..
Where do correct ideas come from? Who has the right or the wrong to tell us what is good, bad, positive or negative? An individual, based on their perspective, will judge these things on what has influenced them and the outcomes of life experiences… It is not the job of someone else to intrude what another person may believe. We live in our own seperate realities.
@rickvonstar, My issue starts with you’re question of “in relation to what.” The idea is that it doesn’t NEED something to be in relation to it. Yes, some living thing must be able to experience something to determine whether it is “good” or “bad” consciously, but this sort of thing is a ridiculous claim to me. We don’t use the same standards for things like rocks. We don’t have to “experience” rocks to know they exist. I don’t have to BE at the Grand Canyon to know it is there. I don’t have to visit the Sahara for it to exist. And, if “good” and “bad” are attributes of things, then I shouldn’t have to experience those things for those attributes to exist. And that’s the point. You’re assuming the opposite, and, so, of course, you’d find the problem.
@cosmiclemonade, This, I would say, is part of that issue I bring up near the end, of our indoctrination by society. Previous preferences determining our future preferences are just forms of indoctrination. My point is that, if “good” or “bad” are actual traits of things, we might be able to go BEYOND these biases.
@epgohlke, If I use a knife to cut meat, you might say it is good. But if I use the knife to stab my girlfriend, would you say the knife is evil? No. You would blame ME, not the knife. So, saying that “water is bad” because of a destroyed city would be like saying the knife is evil. And it’s ludicrous to imprison a knife.
@melaneyg, The idea that an individual has the “right” to tell us what is “good” and what is “bad” is an ethical one. For example, the idea that free will does not exist is a generally well-accepted idea among those who have studied the concept of mental capacities, in the same way that atheism is accepted among physicists and global warming among environmentalists and evolution among biologists. Is it their RIGHT to tell others what they believe is true? Well, they have a right to free speech, I would say. But, in the end, that’s not really the point. You’re arguing in favor of relativism when you say “we live in our own realities.” There’s an old philosophical joke that says, “Mom, I can’t sleep. There’s a moral relativist under my bed. He’s capable of anything!” If you accept that individuals are allowed to decide what is “good” or “bad” for themselves, then Hitler has the right to kill Jews all he wants, because that’s what he decided. And if you say, “No,” then you’re arguing for objective truth, which means people AREN’T allowed their own realities, which contradicts your original statement.
@sirensetmefree, All I’m saying is that ALL things have complex properties ranging the entire spectrum of good to bad. Because of this, things are not one or the other. They are in fact both. However, these traits may only be appearent through the prism of specific events. Without an event to trigger or display certain traits, they technically don’t exist because we can’t observe them at that moment. Furthermore, as in my previous example, it is possible for one event to have two different outcomes.
If you would not agree that water can be subjective….would you at least admit that the “event” of the water could be subjective then?
How about another water example… Let’s say it simply rains lightly for a few minutes and then stops. There’s two things here of disscussion. 1) the rain itself in its physical form …2) the event of the rain actually falling. Once again, I would argue that both are subjective. Just so I understand where you are coming from, explain to me why 1&2 are each objective. (I am assuming that this would be your position)
@sirensetmefree, You’re still not putting forth an argument for why things have the intrinsic property of being good or bad, you’re just pointing out ethical flaws of moral relativism.
But if you think one does not have to experience a rock to know that rocks exist…that’s a pretty fundamental difference of opinion.
@rickvonstar, LOL Subjective to “God” is in itself a contradictory statement, unless you’re a deist. In which case I’d give you much more respect than I would a theist. Regardless, I refuse to grant a god on the grounds that I still have some shred of integrity left somewhere. I will, however, say that “good” and “bad” are pre-existing conditions that we’ve labelled after developing language, in the way that rocks are pre-existing creatures that we labelled “rocks” after we began existing. Or, at least, the argument would require that to be true.
@epgohlke, “Without an event to trigger or display certain traits, they technically don’t exist because we can’t observe them at that moment.” This statement intrigues me. It seems logical enough but I would have to argue otherwise. I would say that things have properties before we experience them, but through experience we measure them. Sure, I can’t prove my hat was black before I first saw it, but that’s not a good reason to say it WASN’T black before I saw it. Likewise, I can say that something can have a property that we don’t create but measure afterwards.
As for the “event” of the water, I think this is a problem of semantics. If you give me the EVENT (as a whole) of the water destroying an area, I would say that the EVENT has a properties revolving around the destruction of life and necessary conditions for survival that make it bad, but those are not properties of the water. Therefore, water can still be good, but the destruction of my home (the action, not the material used to do it) is bad.
As for your rain question, I actually really like that. I hope this is purposeful, but the reason it’s difficult to answer is becuase part of the property/identity of rain is that it is falling. It is very difficult to separate the two. I guess I would argue that rain, because of the nature that it has to be falling, cannot be separated from the falling. The fact that it cannot be separated from falling shows that it has an objective definition. Therefore, rain is objectively rain. The moment it is not falling, it ceases to be rain, because the definition of “rain” is so strict, and, therefore, objective truth.The event of falling, not just rain falling, but general falling, also has an objective definition. If it is NOT falling, then it is not falling. Period. It cannot be interpreted in other ways because the action is so specific. Similarly, something can only be “good” if it has the properties of being “good,” and it is NOT good if it does not have those properties. Period.
@crossingtheeventhorizon, What I’m arguing is that our belief structure of “relativism” on music or other sorts of things are contradictory in nature and cannot be true or the way we speak about things must drastically change. Also, I didn’t say that one does not have to experience a rock to know that rocks exist. I mean, it can apply to a rock that may or may not be at the bottom of the stairs of my apartment. But for something like the Grand Canyon, I don’t have to experience it and I can say that it exists. Unless you expect that to be a crazy claim… Which I would say that just means you have ridiculous standards for “truth.”
As for my argument about intrinsic properties, I proposed that either they DO or they DO NOT have these properties intrinsically. If they do, then we can’t argue that things are subjective. But if they DO NOT, and we accept that they DO NOT (which allows for subjectivity), then we CANNOT say that the music is “good” unless we have NO integrity.
@sirensetmefree, Ok then, here’s where I’m at with this… you my friend are are quite proficient at defending your position, however at the same time are yet unable to fully discredit my position nor convince me that your position is as you say, objective truth.
So let us go back to the music senario, as it was the basis for your argument, or at least your best example of your applied theory. Let’s narrow music now down to one particular element: rhythm. (as opposed to melody, chord progressions, harmonies, tonal qualities, lyrics, social relativity, etc.) So if we are listening to a rhythm of 4/4 straight time (common to rock/pop music) and as a comparision, a rhythm of 5/8 swing time (common to jazz)… Could you say that one is good or bad? Or would you say one is better than the other? Remember…. there are no other instrumentation other than a single monotone beat in each respective time signature… So can this be as black and white as you suggest it can? I mean, clearly a 5/8 swing time is far more complex than a 4/4/ straight time. However, doea that make it better? Does it then have more “good” value than the other? I personally can give you “good qualities” in regaurds to each, but can also give “bad qualities” of each. Are both good and bad qualities there simutainiously? YES! Both of these beats exist with inherant dualities. With that said, these qualities only appearent through the perception of the listener. This “filtering process” of the listener is called subjectivity. One listener may put more value in the complexity of a beat, whereas the next listener may put more value in the uniformity or simplicity of a beat. Therfore subjectivity.
@epgohlke, And then after that, add in the other elements I spoke of and it gets really subjective. For example, I think Bob Dylan is a fantastic American musical/lyrical icon. Many more people think he sucks and was/is overrated. You suggest by your theory, that we both can’t be right. It is one way or the other, right? Wrong. Bob Dylan was brilliant, but for people seeking different attributes of sonic/cerebral pleasure, his music was but a dung heap barely worthy of the shit eating flies that nested upon it.
If subjectivity does not exist and the only thing that does is objective truth, then this thing we call life is nothing more than a mathematical equasion playing itself out to an ultimate certain ending or at least an unending series of predictable numbers. I personally refute the idea of such inflexibillity in our universe and existence.
@epgohlke, Hmm… Well, firstly, I think everyone here has really tested my ability to defend myself and has pushed me to think harder about my beliefs. In fact, for a second there, you almost convinced me otherwise with that rain question. But back to the issue at hand: I don’t think what you mean by “qualities” is exactly what you intend to mean. I think what you are probably referring to is “uses.” For example, one has a better use for one genre and is ineffective at other genres, and vice versa. But those aren’t “qualities” of rhythm any more than using water to make Coke doesn’t make Coke or sugar any more a quality of water.
“One listener may put more value in the complexity of a beat, whereas the next listener may put more value in the uniformity or simplicity of a beat.” I will concede that we have subjectivity within ourselves in that we interpret things differently. What if I say, then, that the external world has objectivity? That is to say, there are truths in the Universe, such as 2 + 2 = 4, entirely objective in nature, and things like “properties” go within those objective truths. Along with that, I have to say that “good” and “bad” and similar things are properties. Our disagreements (i.e. subjective opinions) can come from an inability to “measure” these properties, like when you ask a rich person and a starving person if they want raw meat for lunch. The rich person understands the question as, “Would you like to eat something that is significantly worse than other options?” while the starving person hears, “Would you like to end your suffering?” But that just means they are answering different questions. Not that the original question is subjective.
I’m not sure I’ve explained that last part as well as I wold have liked to.
It is arrogant to assume I speak for anyone but me.
Any attempt at objectivity is motivated subjectively. Why I go into “objective mode” is the result of a highly personal process. The data I select and exclude in this mode is chosen subjectively. Even if I say it’s based on logic x,y,z…at some level I am expressing a preference for that system or rationalization.
My experience of objectivity is dependent on my very subjective position in reality. A colorblind person can feign objectivity about the existence of the color purple, for example. But it’s not the same as a person staring at the color and experiencing it. One might argue that either person is objectively accepting the truth of the purple experience, but they are not equivalent experiences.