Saturday, September 26, 2015



Multiple Responses:
Subjectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to consciousness, agency, personhood, reality, and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Three common definitions include that subjectivity is the quality or condition of:
  • Something being a subject, narrowly meaning an individual who possesses conscious experiences, such as perspectives, feelings, beliefs, and desires.
  • Something being a subject, broadly meaning an entity that has agency, meaning that it acts upon or wields power over some other entity (an object).
  • Some information, idea, situation, or physical thing considered true only from the perspective of a subject or subjects.
These various definitions of subjectivity are sometimes joined together in philosophy. The term is most commonly used as an explanation for that which influences, informs, and biases people's judgments about truth or reality; it is the collection of the perceptions, experiences, expectations, personal or cultural understanding, and beliefs specific to a person. It is often used in contrast to the term objectivity, which is described as a view of truth or reality which is free of any individual's influence.

I’ve been throw­ing this pre­ten­tious word around a lot and I ought to define it. The way I’m using it, “sub­jec­tiv­ity” means “sense of self.” I’d argue that a colo­nial Amer­i­can has a dif­fer­ent sense of self than a mod­ern Amer­i­can, and to vary­ing degrees women have a dif­fer­ent “sub­jec­tiv­ity” than men, and slaves have a dif­fer­ent “sub­jec­tiv­ity” than masters.

So why not just say “sense of self?” Well, “sub­jec­tiv­ity” implies some­thing about larger power relations. If you’re in the Army, you have a dif­fer­ent sense of sub­jec­tiv­ity than if you’re a civil­ian, because in the Army you’re “sub­ject to” the Army’s rules and reg­u­la­tions. You are also the “sub­ject of” its efforts to train you (the enemy is the object) and you are sub­ject to the Army’s goals and struc­tures. A farmer is sub­ject to the weather and the cows: he’s the sub­ject ofpolit­i­cal squab­bling or pol­icy debate. I have a dif­fer­ent “sub­jec­tiv­ity” as teacher than I do as a hus­band than I do as a par­ent then I do as a voter than I do as a tax­payer or a recip­i­ent of health care ser­vices. As an adult cit­i­zen I’m sub­ject tothe IRS and also the sub­ject of the IRS’s inter­est. The IRS was invented in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury: it made a new kind of sub­jec­tiv­ity pos­si­ble. To be a med­ical patient is to expe­ri­ence a dif­fer­ent kind of sub­jec­tiv­ity. You are sub­ject to inva­sive med­ical pro­ce­dures and also the sub­ject of the med­ical profession’s inter­est. As a con­sumer, you’re sub­ject to the adver­tis­ing pro­fes­sion and to eco­nom­ics: they cre­ate an iden­tity. “con­sumer,” which you then inhabit.

Think of it maybe this way: “drunk­ard” and “alco­holic” both con­cern the same basic prob­lem, but a “drunk­ard” is a moral fail­ure, a per­son of weak will. An “alco­holic” is a sick per­son, suf­fer­ing from a dis­ease. They are dif­fer­ent “sub­jec­tiv­i­ties.” In the 1830s, you’d be a drunk­ard: in the 1990s, you’d be an “alco­holic,” and the way peo­ple under­stood you, and you under­stood your­self, would be dif­fer­ent in the two eras.

Peo­ple use “sub­jec­tiv­ity” to get at the way the sense of self is com­posed of social forces that bear on indi­vid­u­als. They also use it to describe the way the sense of self varies with cir­cum­stances: it isn’t sta­tic. Dis­ci­plines like psy­chol­ogy or crim­i­nol­ogy invent new kinds of sub­jec­tiv­i­ties: in the gilded age, a whole bunch of new “sub­jec­tiv­i­ties” were made available/forced on peo­ple. For exam­ple, you could be a klep­to­ma­niac or a nympho­ma­niac: you could be “nor­mal” or “per­verse.” You cold be this new thing just invented, a “homo­sex­ual.” “Sub­jec­tiv­ity” in this sense might be described as “a new way of think­ing about peo­ple.”  and “a new set of pos­si­bil­i­ties or pro­ce­dures for deal­ing with those people.”

So “sub­jec­tiv­ity” implies not just the indi­vid­u­als sense of self, but the ways that sense of self is acted on and even made up by out­side forces.

Human Subjectivity
We are starting our enquiry from the premise that everything in the universe responds to a universal order which is independent from our thought (see metaphysics). Nature is a physical order in an objective physical reality. It is in the physical world, which is both external and immanent to us, where we find the elements that reflect the invariable, transcendent, unitary and universal qualities of Nature (these, in contrast to the elements of thought, imagination or fancy which are subjective, circumstantial and transitory constructions of our mind).

The problem is that the physical world is not immediately known to us. The world that we know, is the world that appears to us from perception and that we integrate through conception. So we live in two worlds. One is the objective real world, and the other is our subjective mental world.

Our mental world is subjective in many ways. The main ones are:
  • Human natural subjectivity
  • Cultural subjectivity
  • Personal subjectivity
  • and Developmental subjectivity
  • Natural subjectivity is related to the subjectivity inherent to our human nature. We didn’t evolve to see the world objectively, but we evolved to satisfy a nature of self-preservation; and our interpretation of the world adjusts to this nature. There are two forms of natural subjectivity: subjectivity on our perception and subjectivity on our conception.
  • Cultural subjectivity is related to the subjectivity on the values, ideals and beliefs that we learn from others. These change in time, and differ among social groups, like among nations, social classes or family groups.
  • Personal subjectivity is related to the subjectivity of world views that adjust to our individual needs, inclinations and personalities.
  • and Developmental subjectivity is related to the unique learning experiences that we have in life.
Each one of us live in a world of our own; with our own beliefs, values, joys, problems and priorities. What is important for one is irrelevant for another. What is truthful for one is false for another. And what is inspiring for one is indifferent for another. Yet, we all exist in the same objective reality. We might conceive, value and appreciate it in different ways. But independently of our thought, the world is one and the same for us all.

We are confined, by nature, to see the world from a subjective point of view. But subjectivity is relative. Some point of views are more subjective than others. More objective point of views are more independent from culture, character, the particularities of development and our nature of self-preservation. In other words, more objective point of views are more independent from place and time. They are points of views that adjust better to the universal and invariable reality of the world. Objectivity is not given to us by nature, but it can only be gained through a developmental process (for more on this subject see The relativity of truth).

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