When we are discussing a subject, there arises the concern for whether we are being “objective” in our handling of it or not. The subject of the discussion is generally some matter relating to a reality of some sort or of some idea. What is often overlooked in this is whether the subject is or is not itself “objective.” Can we be objective in discussing a topic that is not itself objective? In order to clear our minds about this topic it would be good to define what it is “to be objective.” That can be done by reviewing the article on objectivity on this blog. Let me carry over from that article a few key points as we consider what is needed for a subject of discussion to be objective.
- The subject of discussion must be some reality or aspect of reality.
- The subject of discussion must NOT be dependent squarely upon human thought or opinion to exist.
- There must be some collection of known facts about the reality which identifies the reality as separate from all other realities.
When discussing a subject that is itself objective, we are talking about the facts that are known about it. A Fact is a statement of truth which describes observable and measurable attributes or properties that are known about some reality in a clear and concise manner. For example, let’s say we are talking about a cube that stands before us at 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet long. When one of us says, “The cube is 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet long,” we are stating a fact that is known about the cube. (To simplify, this statement is made while it is being accurately measured by one of us, all else being equal). The cube is the subject of our discussion, it is a real object, it is observable and measurable. We know the measures of this cube because we have measured it ourselves, that is to say, we have experienced it to be so.
A Subject That is Objective
The cube is what it is regardless of what we may say about it. No matter what either one of us says about its nature or its makeup, the cube is indeed a cube. Therefore, the cube has a reality that, when we talk about the cube, sets the standard for what makes it a cube. It is not a cube because we call it a cube, it is a cube because that is what it is in reality, regardless of humanity’s knowledge or awareness of it. So, as we discuss the cube, whether we are being objective or not, the cube is itself, objective. We could also say that what makes it a cube is that there is a real standard, separate from the cube, by which the cube is measured as being a cube. We know a cube is an object with six sides, and is three-dimensional, having a height, width, and length. It exists in real time and space, is tangible, and can be experienced. These are the standards by which the cube can be determined to be a cube. Therefore, the cube is a thing which is itself, objective.
What is interesting to note out of the previous paragraph is that the cube is a cube based upon a universal principle of that which makes an object a cube, which is separate from the cube itself. Humanity has discovered this principle and has identified it as the necessary qualities of an object in order for some object to be considered a cube. However, this universal principle is not itself a tangible thing, though it is a real thing. We can experience its truth by coming across other objects that are like it and realizing that, regardless of variant attributes, such as overall size, color, location, or age, the cube is still a cube. So, is it still objective? Yes, because it is a real thing, it exists in reality, and it exists as it is regardless of humanity’s knowledge or awareness of it. Is the principle (or standard) by which the object is identified as a cube also objective? Yes, even though the principle is not itself a tangible thing on its own, it is an explanation about what makes a tangible thing what it is. So whether we are discussing the principles of what makes an object identifiable as a cube, or we are talking about a cube sitting right in front of us, these are both objective things. One is an intangible thing that exists as spoken word, the other is the tangible reality that the spoken word is describing. We can also say that one is an immaterial thing, the other, the material thing that is described by the immaterial.
This provides us with the example of an immaterial thing that is indeed real. It exists and can be experienced, but is only knowable and experienced in human understanding, though it is not dependent on it to exist. That is, it can be discovered by humanity. This also shows than an immaterial thing can itself be objective, as it is based on something real, and is itself a fact by its very nature. If this were not so, then we could not say that facts and statements in general have any connection to reality. There would be no justice, there could be no such thing as truth, facts would not be possible, and objectivity would not be possible.
But What About a Non-Objective Subject?
In order for a subject of discussion to itself not be objective, it would have to meet the following criteria:
- The subject of discussion must not be some reality, but can be about some reality.
- The subject of discussion must be dependent squarely upon human thought or perception (whether the discussers are aware of it or not) in order to exist.
- The subject of discussion must be what some reality may or may not be, possibilities about the reality, and the reality itself must not be known.
The subject of discussion then must be about some reality that the individuals involved in the discussion have not experienced yet. It must be about some reality that is not yet fully known or understood. Because the discussers do not know the reality they are talking about, the actual subject of their discussion (the substance of it you could say) is only about what the reality might be or could be. It is important to understand that it is not the reality which is the subject of discussion, it is what the discussers are assuming about the reality. In other words, the discussion is about some possible thing which is related to the reality, something about its possible nature. The discussers are talking about their opinions, their beliefs, or perhaps their perceptions. Therefore, the subject of their discussion is not based on some reality or fact, it is based on their thoughts and perceptions about the reality.
Now, it is important to note that it is completely possible for the discussers to know some facts that relate to the reality about which they are discussing. But the subject of the discussion is about what they do not yet know about the reality. They may attempt to mention what facts are already known, and demonstrate some arguments from those facts that may defend their view of the unknown, but those facts themselves are not the subject in this case. It is their view of the unknown that is being discussed or is the subject of the discussion.
Since the subject exists only in their own thoughts (even though their thoughts are derived through logical processes from the known facts about the reality) it is not itself an objective thing, it is a subjective thing. That is to say, it is subject to the thoughts of a human in order for it to exist as it does. It is not dependent upon any reality for the subject to exist, but is instead an immaterial thought in the mind of a human being only. Therefore, to be subjective, the subject of a discussion must exist only in the mind of the person speaking it. It can not have any connection with reality. As an immaterial thing, it exists, but only as a thought in the mind of the person who thinks and imagines it. Though it may have been derived from certain known realities, it is itself separate from those known realities. It is important to remember, though it is an immaterial thing which exists, it is not connected with any known reality. Whereas the intangible and immaterial principle which “governs” the cube is connected with reality, the subjective is not.
Being Objective About an Objective Thing
Can we be objective while talking about an objective thing? Yes. Can we also be subjective while discussing an objective thing? Yes, we can. In order for the discussers now (not the subject of discussion) to be objective in their discussion about the objective thing, they must acknowledge and speak from the facts about the objective thing. If a discusser is talking about the unknowns of the objective thing, then that discusser is being subjective, offering only speculation and opinion about the objective thing. So, being objective when discussing an objective subject, such as a principle of reality or some reality itself, so long as the discussers are talking about the different real features and their related principles or standards, then they are being objective. However, if they start discussing their opinions on how beautiful it is, or perhaps what color they want to make it, or discussing theories about how the objective thing works that is not yet known, then they are being subjective.
Being Objective about a Subjective Thing
Can we be objective while discussing a subjective thing? No, we can not. When we are talking about something that is itself subjective in its very nature, we are talking about what it is as a subjective thing. That we can be objective about. But we have to acknowledge that it is a subjective thing, and is nothing more than a possibility, not a known reality. However, if we begin to treat the subjective thing as though it were objective, we are no longer being objective. At this point, we are attempting to validate the subjective thing, and the subjective thing then becomes the subject of discussion, and as such, the discussers can only fall into subjective discussion based on their own preconceived notions. However, it is at this point that the discussers can be “open-minded.” That is to say, they can be willing to hear each other’s differing subjective views, and be willing to consider them as a possibility. At which point, views the subjective thing being discussed as a subjective thing, and we return to the discussers being objective as they acknowledge the subjective thing as such.