On The Objectivity Of Subjectivity

If one takes a read of my more epistemological posts [1], one might think that I am hostile to subjectivity and view it as being in opposition to objectivity. This would not quite be the case. To be sure, I am immensely hostile to subjectivism, and the denial of objective truth and reality and the tendency of many contemporary people to disparage unwanted but objective reality and put in its place an idea that “our truth” trumps “the truth” in any way, shape, or form. But this opposition to the abuse of subjectivity does not mean in any way that I am hostile to subjectivity, properly bounded and understood.

What is the objective value of subjectivity? It is the fact that subjectivity exists in the first place that gives it a small but real aspect of objectivity that must be taken into consideration. After all, the fact that we have an interior life that is screened from others who must infer it (and not always or even often very well) from external behavior is itself something worth paying attention to. Just as we struggle with the reliability of objective external reality because of the subjectivity of our own interior experience that colors and filters that reality, leading us to notice some things and not others, to misinterpret some things, to misremember them, and so on, so too the fact that we have an interior existence of thinking and feeling, of reasoning and imagining, is itself opaque to others who lack insight in what is going on inside of us. The same things that make a subjective interior perspective problematic when it comes to our understanding of reality give that subjective interior perspective the status as a reality in the first place.

It is worth pondering the implications of this. We would not have an understanding of others were it not for a subjective interior reality that allows us to think and reason, to feel, to will, to do anything but act according to blind instinct. Indeed, to the extent that we find animals like birds and mammals and even fish to have some aspect of psychology, some responsiveness to our own feelings, some consciousness of having done wrong, some ability to communicate with each other and with ourselves, some aspects of learning, however rudimentary, we ascribe to them some aspect of interior existence that renders them of interest to us in seeking to understand them. We may wonder why it is that a fish in a tank may hide from us, even if we are not at all a threat to them, but merely curious and observant of their behavior, but we do not stop to ponder the interior life of a rock on the side of a road, even if we may be tempted to seek grant money to determine the extent to which plants grow better when they are loved than otherwise.

In order to understand and recognize that there is an outside, one has to possess in at least some form an inside. This is true down the simplest level of life. Every single-celled organism has some means of separating the inside of itself from the outside, and it is the preservation of this boundary between inside and outside that allows for life to exist in the first place, or else the delicate machinery of life would be destroyed by the harsh and unfriendly world outside. The existence of an exterior reality presupposes the reality of an inside that responds to and is in some way opposed to that outside in seeing it as a potential danger and a threat. This is something we give insufficient attention to, for it confronts us with the fact that everything worth having requires some sort of boundary conditions, some sort of definition that itself separates and distinguishes one thing from another, one world from another.

The more highly developed the interior life, the more vital it is to recognize its objective status. The fact that we wish to call ourselves something does not make it so, but the fact that we think or believe or feel a certain way is a reality that must be addressed. We ought to be aware of the state of our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs. We ought to reflect on whether these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs endanger ourselves or threaten others with harm. We ought to ponder them in light of what is unchanging, righteous, and eternal. We ought to respect that the things that are inside us are not necessarily inside other people, and that unless other people like us and trust us and understand themselves and have the necessary language to describe their own interior reality, we are not going to know what is inside of them, what drives them and motivates them to do what they do. And unless the same is true of us towards them, we will likely not communicate that internal reality to them in any meaningful way either. The fact that we cannot see the reality inside of others does not mean that reality does not exist in a way we have to take into account. By virtue of the fact that we know ourselves to be opaque beings with an interior reality that cannot be fully grasped or understood or seen by other people, we have the responsibility to treat others as beings like ourselves, to recognize their interior reality as a reality, even if that reality must frequently be corrected through participation and communication with others in a problematic world we happen to share with them.

[1] See, for example:



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s