The Toronto Philosophy Club Message Board › Objective/Subjective Distinction
There seems to be some confusion over the "objective vs. subjective" distinction. But to fully appreciate that distinction in the context of philosophy of mind, one must also be intimate with another type of distinction, and that is "ontological vs. epistemic". I believe Searle covers this in his 2011 lectures that Julie has assigned to us (I didn't make it that far, but I've heard him explain it during a different set of lectures).
First, the definitions:
### ONTOLOGY and EPISTEMOLOGY ###
Ontology has to do with what exists. Epistemology has to do with what (and how) we know.
### OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE ###
Subjective means to be experienced by a subject (namely, a conscious agent, like yourself). Objective is, not surprisingly, something that does NOT depend on conscious agents.
Since we have 2 distinctions at our disposal, with 2 categories each, we have a total of 4 scenarios that should be able to neatly describe any "objective/subjective" proposition we may come across during our philosophical travels:
1) Ontologically Objective - Tables, chairs, cars, trees, and the moon can all exist without us (insofar as we know). If you can answer "yes" to the question, "would it still exist if there were no conscious agents around to experience it?" then you are referring to something ontologically objective.
2) Ontologically Subjective - Beliefs, desires, pains, hopes, doubts, wishes, pride, shame, and elation can only exist as experienced by a subject. You don't just have a free-floating "thirst" in the universe (as if it were an extra element on the periodic table) but you need an experiencer of thirst. That means, with "thirst" comes along first-person subjective ontology. And, of course, what goes for thirst goes for any mental state whatever. (This is where most materialistic accounts of the mind break down - they deny this distinction).
3) Epistemically Objective - Claims such as, "The water is 95 degrees Celsius" are considered epistemically objective because, while there is a truth-value to the claim, it still has to be discovered or validated in the external world (hint: the minds of other conscious agents are part of "the external world"). If the knowledge in question needs to be validated by probing the world, then it falls into this category.
4) Epistemically Subjective - These are claims such as, "I feel hot" or "this tastes bitter". There are still truth-values to these claims (because it's possible for someone to utter the sentence and be lying about it) but the difference is that no reference to the objective (external world) is required for truth-validation. Here, the knowledge in question need only be truth-validated against other 1st-person mental states.
I put this together rather quickly, so forgive me if I'm over-simplifying or it's not very clear. If you require any further explanations/clarifications (or you wish to discuss/debate the contents) please post here and I'll do my best to reply.
Thanks, Tony, for this posting. Here are some thoughts and questions for your consideration and response.
Ontology: Is "what exists" the same as or different from "Being"?
Epistemology: Is the "what we know" the same as or different from the "what exists" of Ontology? Would the "how we know" include the nature of knowledge and its presuppositions?
Subjective: Your wording makes no sense to me. Surely, subjectivity has to do with statements made by an agent about his/her experience, inner or outer?
Objective: If objectivity is possible without a conscious agent, how would that object to which the objectivity is referenced, be possible? Who or what would distinguish the object from the larger background of existence? Who or what would make statements on behalf of the object so distinguished?
Once I get those clarifications, I could better understand (and perhaps respond further to) the helpful distinctions you have made.
>> Thanks, Tony, for this posting. Here are some thoughts and questions for your consideration and response. <<
No problem. You'd be surprised how often this distinction gets muddled; I just wanted to help shed some light.
>> Ontology: Is "what exists" the same as or different from "Being"? <<
I'm not that good when it comes to continental philosophy. ;-) From my interpretations of the definitions: roughly speaking, they're the same.
>> Epistemology: Is the "what we know" the same as or different from the "what exists" of Ontology? <<
Crucially different. Think of this trivial example: It may be the case that a lamp exists in the other room (ontology) but whether or not /you know/ that the lamp is on (epistemology) is a fact about you, not the lamp.
>> Would the "how we know" include the nature of knowledge and its presuppositions? <<
Correct. You'll often hear it defined as, "What can we know, and how can we know it?"
>> Subjective: Your wording makes no sense to me. Surely, subjectivity has to do with statements made by an agent about his/her experience, inner or outer? <<
Well, to which "subjective" are you referring? Remember I described 2 flavours: ontological and epistemic.
Subjectivity has to do with 1st-person qualitative experiences (don't use the word "statements" because you'll think subjectivity has something to do with language, when in fact language (or speech acts, in general) require 2nd- or 3rd-person experiences).
>> Objective: If objectivity is possible without a conscious agent, how would that object to which the objectivity is referenced, be possible? <<
Two problems here:
1) This is what we call a category mistake. "Objectivities" aren't referenced; objects are.
2) Only conscious agents can assign reference to objects (twigs don't refer to stones, unless an agent establishes that semantic link).
>> Who or what would distinguish the object from the larger background of existence?<<
Conscious agents describe (i.e. "carve up the world") any way they see fit. There may be disagreement about these descriptions (i.e. what constitutes one object or another?) but it does not follow that reality is *dependent* on such descriptions.
>> Who or what would make statements on behalf of the object so distinguished? <<
Again, that's a category error. If we're just talking about objective ontology of the physical world, then statements (and consciousness in general) are not required for the continued existence of reality.
Thanks for the good questions.