News

Loading...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Methodological Subjectivism

All of the special sciences are free to try out postulates and see how they work out for developing that science. It is not, however, the job of philosophy to blindly accept such postulates, but instead to interrogate them. For instance, while physicists may decide to consider only physically quantifiable aspects of the world as real for their purposes, that decision in no way obligates philosophers to accept that as a philosophical principle.

Similarly, when an economist says "all value is subjective," that may or may not be a good postulate for economics. But social philosophy is not bound to accept this postulate merely because it works in economics. And, in fact, the social philosopher must reject it, because, while it may be a useful assumption for the economist, once it is examined without arrest or reservation, i.e., philosophically, it is seen to be plainly false.

First of all, nothing at all is purely subjective, for this would mean an experience that is all subject and no object, i.e., it would be an experience of nothing whatsoever.

Secondly, we obviously do talk about what we value all the time, defending our valuations or persuading others they should value things similarly. If value were "purely subjective," all of that talk would be impossible. We could not even talk to ourselves internally about our values if that were true: as Wittgenstein showed us, a private language is an incoherent concept.

Thirdly, much of what we value is shaped for us by factors over which we had no choice: did you really think it was a coincidence that you like the same television program 18 million other people like? If the very same you had lived in 18th-century France, or 10th-century Arabia, or 2nd-century China, you would have valued very different things then you do today. To a great extent, your values are not "your own" at all, but have been handed to you by your culture.

UPDATE: Does that final sentence raise your hackles? Then think about this one: To object to the idea that one's values are not mostly self-chosen is something you do because of the culture in which you live. Most of the people in most of the times and most of the places of history would hear that statement and respond, "Well, of course."

14 comments:

  1. I don't believe that we can regard philosophy as a science that can give us the one and only final truth but as one that gives many answers to same eternal questions. I cannot see how can there be a final proof or disproof of subjectivism. I can see how can it can be argued that it is an outdated concept, but not that it has ben refuted and therefore to be an imposible position.
    "If value were "purely subjective," all of that talk would be impossible." - seems to me to be a non sequitur since for example emotions are purely subjective - they exist only for ourselves - but we can perfectly talk about them, and are certainly not nothingness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "seems to me to be a non sequitur since for example emotions are purely subjective - they exist only for ourselves - but we can perfectly talk about them, and are certainly not nothingness."

      That is exactly backwards: the fact we can talk about our emotions demonstrates that they AREN'T purely subjective. Again, see Wittgenstein on this point: each of us, in fact, learns what emotions we feel from others.

      If anger, say, were "purely subjective," you would have no idea what I meant when I said I was angry, and I would have no idea what you meant. But the fact is, each of us DOES know what the other is talking about. QED, emotions are not purely subjective.

      Delete
    2. And, Miran, understand, I am *not* trying to criticize ordinary speech e.g. when someone says "That is just your subjective emotion."

      I am saying that as philosophers we must not speak so loosely.

      Delete
  2. I often think of the world of human consciousness, thought, and society as a combination of both subjective and objective phenomena. There are some things that are hard-wired as an aspect of our being human, and all that that entails. But we also have individual perspective, which is certainly distinct and entirely subjective.

    Both are evolving over time, and thus are creating new realities, both objective and subjective. Language is a perfectly fine example of this strange balance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "But we also have individual perspective, which is certainly distinct and entirely subjective."

      Joe, isn't your individual perspective a perspective *on something*?

      Delete
    2. Of course, but it is the subjective insights that ultimately add to the objective knowledge thereafter. We are all working with past knowledge, which is objective. However, all new knowledge is formed from the subjective thoughts and insights of the individual, and is then and only then objective. This is inescapable in my belief.

      Delete
    3. Aren't all of your thoughts about some object or another, even if it is an abstract object like a number?

      Delete
    4. Yes, but that gets us nowhere.

      Progress, as I see it, is only arrived upon when somebody takes these objects and forms their own conception of them, and then changes the qualities of the object. It is this personal change of quality that ultimately makes space for new objects to ponder upon and observe. If all we had was the object themselves, then nothing would ever change, at least as far as knowledge is concerned.

      I don't contest the fact that the existence of objective phenomena is a real and integral part of knowledge as a whole, I only mean to say that subjectivity is required for change to occur in such a system. If all we had was the objects and observable features of reality, then it would infinitely loop in a continuum. The only way to break free of this is to use one's own insight, which is surely based upon past objective information, but whose impetus is that of personal perspective and speculation.

      Professional gambling, for example, would be completely impossible in an entirely objective world.

      Delete
    5. "Progress, as I see it, is only arrived upon when somebody takes these objects and forms their own conception of them..."

      But that conception involves the objects, and so, is not "purely subjective."

      "Professional gambling, for example, would be completely impossible in an entirely objective world."

      Don't worry, Joe, it is just as impossible for something to be purely objective as to be purely subjective! Experience always involves both subject and object: they only exist separately as abstractions.

      Delete
    6. "They only exist separately as abstractions."

      Ok, I can agree with that.

      Delete
    7. Oh my God! We must memorialize this day as more important than 9/11: an Internet discussion has led to a meeting of minds! Has this ever happened before? (Joe, just to be clear, I'm laughing at how rarely this happens, not at you at all.)

      Delete
    8. It has happened many times before, and I was involved. Don't forget, I also changed my view on the use of force in society.

      You can see from the above that I was really close to the same conclusion, only that I was trying to stress the importance of the subjective in progressing to a new objective reality. To me, that is the most important aspect of the interplay between these two things regarding moving society forward and gaining new knowledge.

      Unfortunately, often when trying to discuss the merits of these ideas, you can get stuck into somewhat of a chicken and egg sequence. That's usually when my brain starts hurting.

      Delete
    9. Obviously I am exaggerating! But it is fairly rare. That it happens with you is to your credit.

      Delete
  3. "... as philosophers we must not speak so loosely."

    Good thing I am not a philosopher, otherwise I'd have to bite my tongue indefinitely.

    ReplyDelete