Saturday, June 07, 2014

Subjectivism: A Bolt-Hole

"The young Socrates, like so many philosophers in distress, takes refuge in a limited ad hoc subjective idealism: perhaps, he says, forms are only thoughts. Parmenides with one turn of the wrist pulls him out of that bolt-hole..." R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of Nature, p. 64


  1. It struck me that subjectivism, at least of the moral kind, doesn't really make any sense: to call it subjective feels like it can't be called morality. Likewise, I realized thatit seems if morality didn't exist, then words like "permissible" and "impermissible" would be meaningless.

  2. Samson,

    Subjectivism can be really tricky to understand. I don't think that "to call [morality] subjective feels like it can't be called morality.... [it] seems as if morality doesn't exist." Subjectivism actually doesn't imply that morality doesn't exist, nor does it even hint that it doesn't. Subjectivism is a meta-ethical theory (that is, it deals with the nature of "what 'good' is" rather than "is this thing 'good'?"). Subjectivism does state that morality exists - it is just that what constitutes the goodness or badness of something is subjective, not objective. Michael Huemer, in his extraordinary book "Ethical Intuitionism", uses sexiness as a good example of the point trying to be made here; what each individual finds to be sexy is dependent on the psychological responses that they give towards the girl in question. You might think that large women are sexy, but I could easily respond "I don't; they are lacking in the symmetry that I find in female athletes." We are both experiencing the psychological attraction that is described by the term "sexiness", it is just that because this "sexiness" is dependent on our psychological - or, subjective - responses, it cannot be objective. For something to be objective, it seems as though it must not be dependent on the subjective preferences or psychological response that something has towards it. Idealists, of course, would likely rephrase this (here is looking at you, Gene, to give a suggestion or correction) as "what it means for something to be objective is not that it is wholly outside the realm of experience and perception; it is just that these experiences and perceptions are more (or, even, completely) accessible to others despite their intentions or inclinations."

    Hope that this helps.



"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb