Friday, January 05, 2007

Objectivity and subjectivity

I've always thought that there is something lacking in the concepts of subjective and objective. Objective is roughly defined as "independent from anyone's perspective or state of mind" and subjective as "dependent on people's perspective or state of mind", which of course leaves out things that are dependent on some people' perspective but not on others'. I'd say that such things are subjective for some people and objective for others, but people who usually use these concepts would probably declare a fatwa against me, and such usage would be way too confusing.

For example, Anu and I are friends, and this is based entirely on the fact that we consider ourselves to be friends, which is our subjective opinion. To any outside observer it is, however, objective reality that they cannot argue with (or they can, of course, but they would be wrong).

Another problem with the usage of objective: a lot of people seem to use it to mean only natural phenomena (as in, described by natural sciences). Sorry, Finnsh law is just as objective a phenomenon as the law of gravity. It's written, anyone can read it for themselves, it does not change depending on the reader. The interpretation of it by lawyers can vary, but it, too, is an objectively observable phenomenon.

Or, say, that women on average prefer tall men to short. The preference is subjective to each woman and certainly does not occur in every woman, but the fact that women on average prefer taller men is objectively observable.

Finally there are phenomena that allow for a certain limited degree of subjectivity in observers. For example my eye color is (IMO) a combination of gray and green. If you look me in the eyes and tell me that they are just green, or just gray, or have some specks of blue or yellow, this is probably some normal difference in subjective color perception. If you say that they are blue, either your color vision is flawed beyond that which is normal, or the lighting is really weird. If you say they are brown, you are either pretty much color blind or have never actually seen my eyes, either of which disqualifies you from having an opinion on the subject. I would normally call colors an objectively observable phenomenon, but some small variations do depend on the observer.

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