The Way We Think ~ Objective vs. Subjective

Courtesy Diane Lynn Gardner

Courtesy Diane Lynn Gardner

This is a new type of post for the Reading Alcove.   It is a corner devoted to talking about the tools we use to think.  The ways in which we determine what we choose to believe, and what we should require to change those beliefs.

Philosophy (love of wisdom) is not some academic exploration of questions that few have time to deal with.  It is a study of how we reason, how we discern, how we sort out what is right or wrong.  Even if we start with the assumption that the reader is open to exploring alternative ways of looking at something, how do you present information so they can make an objective decision regarding the value of your contribution?  What, pray tell, constitutes objective data?  Is an encyclopedic knowledge of a subject necessary in order to arrive at a useful point of view?

This is an important question.  Too often I see a great deal of hullabaloo made over some sound bite that may or may not have any basis in fact.  The source is unknown, the information is sketchy, and it all comes wrapped in an emotion-packed caption or blurb.  And yet people get emotionally committed to the wonder or horror of it all because it fits with their own perception.  Here we have what would be called a subjective opinion.  It is based almost entirely on the reader’s emotions, perceptions, and general desire to see things in a certain way.

Now the other end of the scale: the objective opinion.  This is an opinion that is supposed to be constructed based purely on facts.  No emotions allowed.  It is built on reason and rational thought and knowledge of all, or substantial relevant data.  I am sure there are persons who firmly believe that they are, without exception, objective thinkers.  Philosophers of today tend to differ, quite adamantly.  They do so for this reason:  there is no feasible way that a human person can look at data and see it without the influence of their past, their own knowledge, and their future intentions.  Different philosophers deal with the conundrum differently.  Friedrich Nietzsche described something called perspectivism which is the idea that all knowledge comes from some perspective and, therefore, can’t ever be objective.

Thomas Nagel, author of The View from Nowhere, describes this issue differently.  Rather than viewing the two extremes as opposite “sides” of something (such as a coin) he suggests that we look at the terms as two extremes on a continuum.   In other words, there is no way to view something from nowhere; we all have viewpoints from somewhere.

Does this mean that there are no absolutes?  Absolutely not.   What it does mean is that for each idea, each thought, each motivation whether small or large, we have to decide what part our own peculiar being plays.  If we are going to learn, to grow as a person, we have to be open to new ideas.  But we should not sacrifice who we are at the most fundamental level unless there is a real an unavoidable reason for doing so.

So, how do we decide to decide? Even “facts” can be tainted by the prejudice, or inattention of the provider.  Statistics are wonderful tools, if allowed to speak for themselves.  Sometimes critical information is left out that lumps apples and oranges together and renders the information useless and best and dangerously misleading at worst.  For example, when comparing accidents between truckers and passenger vehicles it is only useful if miles driven, road conditions, experience of the driver and class of each vehicle is taken into consideration.  If you see a picture and it has a caption, do you know the source of the picture?  Is the caption valid?  If you are presented with material that is outside of your experience but which could have an impact on the way you view the world, how do you assess its value?

In my opinion all decisions start at a subjective point.  Somewhere you have to decide that whatever the issue is it is important enough to you to learn, to explore, to understand.  The colors of a rainbow are beautiful and almost always cause us to stop and gaze at what is really a fairly common sight.  However it is interest in such phenomenon that led us to learn about reflection and refraction.  The beauty drove the desire to know the facts, the science that made it all happen.  It all starts with wonder, with imagination, with why.

Always be a seeker.  Always question.  Just keep sight of your own lighthouse.  I hope you enjoy this new exploration.  Philosophy is one of my favorite subjects and I thoroughly enjoy taking apart the ways we think and how we learn.  Join me know and then.


Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job

8 responses to “The Way We Think ~ Objective vs. Subjective

  1. I love all this stuff and the questions you raise tend to wander through my brain as well, though in less formal and learned attire. A thoroughly well argued piece of reflection, and who would expect anything else from you

  2. Great post! It is in my nature to be questioning. I will say that I have been bitten by it, but more than not, it has helped. Lots of love, Emily

  3. Thank you, Emily, I’m really pleased you found value!

  4. Edward Forrest Frank

    Really there isn’t any way to leave out your personal knowledge and perspective from an issue completely, but the article seems to imply that it all is subjective, therefore all are the same. There is instead a continuum with some opinions or reactions being based entirely on emotional content with a minimal amount of information content, while at the other end,even allowing for personal bias in perspective an effort is made to be as analytical as possible and to base an opinion on what facts are available and attempting to minimize emotional reaction and choices in the analysis. So while there is some bias of perspective, there still is a big difference from purely emotional responses and analytical approaches to decision making – there is a continuum and all the processes and results are not the same. The flaw in the philosophical arguments lies in defining the situation in absolute terms and thereby assuring that failure will be the result.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Edward! And,yes, you are right. In an effort to conserve words I was light on the the objective aspects. I think that it is critical in most things in life to think seriously about what information is available and analyze that information with as little preconception (personal bias) as possible. There is no other way to stretch the mind. Learn to question, and to be questioned.

  5. You are so analytical! Great post!

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