Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

how do the concepts of "objectivity" and "subjectivity" relate to anarchic perspectives?

+3 votes
many discussions i have related to anarchy and anarchist perspectives end up hinging on those concepts (objectivity and subjectivity). maybe the first thing would be to have some descriptions of those terms to work with.

i think of objective as meaning something like: based strictly on undeniable facts, universally true, with no bias or opinion involved.

i think of subjective as meaning something like: based on personal observations, experiences, feelings, thoughts, instincts, opinions, intuition, etc.

"that tree exists in that location"  might be considered objective.

"that tree looks unhealthy."  might be considered subjective.

i am interested in how others would describe those terms, since i think that is a key to how folks see them related to anarchic perspectives.
asked Apr 24 by funkyanarchy (11,290 points)
i think it plays a huge role, with someones acceptance of laws and the power of the state. universal objective morality justifies laws.

also something i have noticed is a lot of non @'s turn it into a conversation about the "best system" and what "works", which both seem like objective ideas, or the idea that there is an objective goal, truth, or way of doing.
now I'm greatly wondering for everyone, do you make a distinguishment between concrete ideas and abstract oneS when considering this? like I have a lot easier time accepting the objectivity of how salt dissolves in water than I do of a single ideal political system..

thoughts?

edit: added when considering this (subjectivity vs. objectivity)

i don't know that i think in terms of ideas that are "concrete" vs "abstract". for me, ideas have a certain element of abstractness by their very nature.

but i think i agree with your general point. certain physical realities are essentially undeniable (except in abstract ways), while the assumptions that underlie ideologies of all types rely on the universal truth/correctness of particular ways of thinking/being. it is very easy for the dogmatist - and probably for all of us, at some times - to turn a subjective observation (or even just desire) into an objective fact.

the way i see it, objectivity denies context; and that is my primary issue with how people tend to use it.

what if salt doesn't dissolve in water, and instead water eats the salt?

ie, subjectivity (aka interpretation) cannot be divorced from language. there is no neutral or objective language. objectivity is so occluded as to be almost useless.

that may be opening a whole other can of slugs, but we shouldn't be keeping slugs in cans anyway.

ps: i just finished the man with compound eyes, and it was exhausting, and i'm recommending it to people here. (i read it on recommendation without researching it, and that's how i suggest since easily accessible reviews of deep books usually are stupid.)
i don't know how i could experience anything (or describe an experience) "objectively".

dot: "the man with compound eyes" looks good to me....thanks for the suggestion....i think about plastic floating around in the seas on a somewhat regular basis....so that aspect alone intrigues me... :)

"what if salt doesn't dissolve in water, and instead water eats the salt?"

I fee like this is what funky meant when they said, "certain physical realities are essentially undeniable except in abstract ways"

the language you are using to describe it is subjective while what happens is not, same @baa, I agree that experiences cant be described as objective because everyone experiences things differently, however, I'm talking about the things themselves.

​ex: everyone sees the same colors differently due to concentrations of rods/cones in their eyes, however, the frequency of the light wave, is objective?

but how do you know "what happens"? the "frequency of a light wave" depends on a particular way of looking at something we call "light".

who determines "what happens" independently of themselves? how do they do that?

i mean all the language and numbers and experiments function as representations and human-derived ways of expressing observations through methods and instruments created by other humans....and i can understand why people feel interested in trying to understand life in this way....i just don't feel interested in trying to think about "how things are objectively".

to answer one of your earlier questions, i'd say "no", i don't distinguish between different types of ideas ("concrete" vs. "abstract") when it comes to objectivity....the concept of objectivity itself does not interest me....but i don't mean to attempt to talk you out of it. :)

if a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there ...

maybe part of my question should have been:

what is the relationship (if any) between "objective" and "subjective"? and what is the role of "context" in both/either?

i do not tend to think in terms of "objectivity", since everything i experience is, kind of by definition, "subjective". so where does that leave "objective" (when used as an adjective, rather than a noun, of course)?  fuck if i know.

for folks that do see some ideology or principle (or whatever) as objectively true/correct, i wonder how they view subjectivity? how is one discerned from the other? does something being "objective" imply some higher force/power/dogma/whatever-the-fuck, which imbues it with that (supposed) correctness? that is where this question relates to anarchic perspectives, for me.

"what if salt doesn't dissolve in water, and instead water eats the salt?"

dd, i don't think that speaks to how some physical realities may be seen as objective, so much as it speaks to how that physical reality (water mixed with salt) is perceived/understood, and how it came to be that way.

and even that "physical reality" (water mixed with salt), i could easily view as a "shared subjective reality" (which is how i tend to think of it). is that really different than saying "objective reality"? depends on your perspective. ack! infinite recursive loop!

dot: "subjectivity (aka interpretation) cannot be divorced from language. there is no neutral or objective language."

interesting. i kind of like that idea, though i am not sure i fully agree (or even fully understand). i mean, take the statement: "it is raining". as per an exchange over in the eprime thread, that could be seen as "objective", compared to an eprime alternative such as "i see/hear/feel rain". (of course that assumes everyone means the same thing by "rain").

or have i misunderstood?

i do not have the same relationship with language that many - especially writers - seem to. for me, language is a mere tool; a means to an end (the end being clarity and mutual understanding in communication). to some, language appears to be an end in itself. and i can absolutely appreciate that, at times.

it is raining /= god is spitting /=clouds are crying, etc.

one of the beefs with english is that it purports to be clear and rational, but what that really means is that its biases are harder to see (especially for native english speakers, and probably even more especially for native english speakers without other language fluencies).

it's not that one of those watery phrases is correct and the others are not, it's not even that all could be/are correct, it's that biases are in each of them, and (one of) the biases of the rain one are mechanistic, objective.
true that.

that's kind of why i said: of course that assumes everyone means the same thing by "rain".

i think your point highlights the role of context.

and while i would consider your latter 2 phrases just more poetic ways of saying the same thing as the first, for a serious religious person "god is spitting" might be every bit as mechanistic as "it is raining" is to the poetically and religiously challenged.

do you think bias is inherent in language per se, or in how people choose to use it? (or both?)

english... clear and rational...  bwahahahahahaha!!!!

"if a tree falls"

to a philosoher, it makes no sound, because no one is there to hear it, to a physicist, it makes a sound because vibration occurs independently of whether anyone is there to perceive it. i think this is the crux of the cookie. i get what yall are saying about that not being particularly useful, and unprovable. but personally i lean toward some physical consistency on how things happen, without making any sure claims as to how those things happen (solipsism right? we cant know anything?).

""what if salt doesn't dissolve in water, and instead water eats the salt?"

dd, i don't think that speaks to how some physical realities may be seen as objective, so much as it speaks to how that physical reality (water mixed with salt) is perceived/understood, and how it came to be that way."

funky i think we are saying the same things, i am saying that the words we use to describe it may change, but that is how it is understood/expressed, not IT itself. kinda like here:

"but how do you know "what happens"? the "frequency of a light wave" depends on a particular way of looking at something we call "light"."

i feel like this is another example of how we describe and measure things being plastic while the things, much more than other things anyways, seem more rigid. example: im 5'9", we could convert this to cm, someone in denmark may consider me to be short, someone in mexico may consider me to be tall, someone could measure me incorrectly and get 5'10", but none of these things change anything about me.

dot i like what you said about bias, the each implies certain things about why it is raining or what rain is.

@baa i dont take it like you are trying to discourage me from objectivity at all, enjoying the challenge of this one and sharing with yall

thanks, dd.

hey funky...yes, that same saying popped into my head about "if a tree falls with nobody there..."

usually when someone has asked me that, i respond with "why does it matter?"

but also, i had an experience of a tree falling without my physical presence....in that particular instance, i sensed it through something other than the well-documented five senses....basically, through a dream.

dd, i wouldn't say "we can't know anything".  i know lots of things...just not anything i haven't experienced in some way....and i definitely see consistency in how many things happen. i don't mean to imply that i don't. but that means something different to me than "objective". the "you" that gets measured constantly changes, moment to moment.
definitely both, f@.

i actually hate the "tree falling forest" premise. the idea that a tree is ever alone, *especially* in a forest, ffs, is asinine. one of those thought exercises that makes people stupider, afaic. grumble grumble
yes, dot, about the "tree falling forest" question.

the question also rules out the possibility of knowing a tree has fallen even when you didn't see it with your eyes or hear it with your ears....something i've experienced.

edit: on second thought, maybe that question doesn't rule out knowing through other senses....but it doesn't seem to invite the possibility... :)
how would you define objective BAA? I'm having trouble coming up with anything other than consistent throughout the universe. I wouldn't say "same for everyone" because that implies experience which we seem to have agreed is inherently subjective.

I wasn't saying I'm a solipsist, I was basically saying that the statement "I think some physical realities are consistent and unchanging" and "I know what those realities are certainly" are independent of each other. I suppose maybe I am a solipsist though, I would say I know lots of things too, but that is based on my senses which are again fallible.

"the idea that a tree is ever alone, *especially* in a forest, ffs"

ffs lmao, the illustration is actually humanist (I'm trying to say biased against non humans) as it values human perception over the animals in the forest.

not joking. just a side note

@dd just fyi solipsism is a philosophy that contends all of experience to be mental phenomena of one mind, which totally precludes any external physical reality.  you are definitely not a solipsist.  also not all philosophers would agree with you on the tree thing.  i would be inclined to the response 'who cares', like other here.

you also keep referring to this notion of an existent external reality independent of your experience; i would be interested as to why you frame your ideas this way.  im assuming you have arrived at this conclusion through subjective sensual experience?

dd, i don't know how to define "objective" because i can't conceive it. 

and the idea of objectivity (as i understand it from other's/dictionary definitions) doesn't appeal to me as something i'd like to think about...and it feels impossible to do.

i don't think of my senses as "fallible" because that would require me to compare what i experience to the "objective", which i don't know how to determine. i think of my senses as ways to experience and communicate and relate, not as a way to find "objective reality" (or truth, or whatever).

your description "consistent throughout the universe" works for me as a way to begin to talk about events/phenomena i think happen repeatedly and consistently. and if we had a conversation where this idea came into play, i'd prefer to talk in more detail about the specifics of what appears consistent, perhaps how you or i came to that particular understanding, and so on. in other words, share our observations/sensations/thoughts about what we think (or others think) happens consistently, the impact of it in our lives, etc.

i also feel curious about your inclination toward distinguishing an objective reality from your experiences....anything you'd like to share i'd appreciate.

skyline....have you read either becoming animal or spell of the sensuous by david abram? i think you might like them.

thanks sms, maybe I should know shit first, but actually as for the question of whether the universe actually exists or if it is simply a "shared subjective reality", I make no claims, it is unknowable. I wouldn't say ive certainly came to that conclusion, that's why I said I lean toward some consistency, ​I don't think it has to be either one to have a degree of consistency. I did use the word reality, but ever since we've been discussing "knowing things" ive been thinking to myself we cant know anything because all knowledge is built on some assumptions.

I wasn't quite trying to say all philosophers would agree as I was pointing out two different ways of analyzing the problem. I wasn't implying it matters either, I discuss and do lots of things that don't matter but I can see why others would choose not to.

BAA coming back later.

i just wanna say i appreciate this discussion. it is largely what i was looking for in asking the question.

it should be clear (from this question and many others i have engaged with here) that i am not a fan of the concept of "objectivity". yet i am interested in how folks understand the world that exists independently of one's "subjective" - experiential, sensory, ... - reality.

i do not relate to the idea that there is NO existence or reality outside of my own subjective reality (much less the idea that there is no reality, nothing actually exists). which is very different from the idea that whatever exists outside my reality is simply not part of my reality at that time. i am using the word "reality" quite a bit, do i need to clarify what i mean by that?

when a few of us are together and observe/experience an object/event/situation, i don't see that as "objective reality"; i see it as part of a shared subjective experience. each of us will experience that "same" object/situation in our own way, which will likely have some similarities and some differences. there was, in each of our experience, an object/event. but nothing about that makes it "objective".

edit: i just saw dd's most recent comment.

"whether the universe actually exists or if it is simply a "shared subjective reality"

it seems you are creating a dichotomy there, where i see none. if it is part of your subjective reality, or a shared subjective reality, then by definition it exists for you, no?

but maybe you all are just getting a bit too philosophical for my subjective reality.

funky I suppose I am simply making a distinction between something seeming to exist or me experiencing something and it actually existing. what if I'm in a dream, a sim, or a delirient drug trip, or something else I cant imagine, coma? how would I actually know?

I would say that something could be real and the experience of it is the shared subjective reality.

BAA I'm not so sure if I have an inclination or a desire so much as I just do, if I do subconsciously it probably just comes from feeling more comfortable imagining it that way, probably because that tells me I can do certain things and expect a certain result.
again you refer to this external reality that exists without your perception.

how are you to interact with what exists beyond your perception, as you are never without your perception?  what can 'actually exist' mean, if not 'exist in your awareness'?  when you say objective it seems that you mean what the vast majority of people mean by objective; existence independent of experience.  but if something interacts with you, it interacts with you only as a part of your experience.  so what relation does his 'actually existing thing' have to me directly?  it seems to be your notion of 'objective' is entirely abstract, but you still 'believe' that there exists an external reality.

i went up into the forest and tapped a maple tree. i left the forest, and went back a few weeks later. my bucket was full, so i pulled the tap and took everything back home with me.

did the forest "exist" while i was gone? does it continue to exist now while i am not there?

it undeniably exists for me, since i experienced it; it remained (and remains) in my conscious awareness, my perception. does it exist for someone who has never been there? that might depend on what they have heard/read/etc about it, and how much they trust that. what i consider undeniable is that they have not experienced it (no matter how good the descriptions they have seen or heard).

can something exist for someone without them experiencing it? what does experience really mean? i - as ba@ has also mentioned - have had experiences that were completely independent of the generally accepted sensory faculties (and not even when i was tripping, although i think there is much to explore there related to experience).

now i'm just rambling...

quick rambling edit:  where i used to live (for many years), the skies were often the most insanely beautiful thing i have ever experienced. i took probably hundreds (maybe thousands) of pictures of those skies over the years. i showed pictures to friends that have never been there, and they deeply appreciated the beauty of what was in the photo. but that is a far cry from experiencing those skies. eventually i gave up taking pictures of it, because i realized that the snapshot could never relay the experience, and it was the experience that was important to me. did those skies "exist" for the folks i showed pictures to? i would say the photos exist for them, and perhaps those photos evoke some imaginary or abstract existence of the skies, for them.

/end babble

funky@, to add to your rambling (which i liked)....

i think when someone shows photos or tells a story about an experience they had, the person seeing the photo or hearing the story also experiences the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of the person showing/telling (as they show and tell). i agree with you that their experience differs from what you originally experienced in a variety of ways....and perhaps i don't tell a story in an attempt for another person to experience exactly what i did, but in order to evoke feelings or emotions within them, or for them to sense my emotions/thoughts/feelings. i also have felt (what i perceive as) your disappointment when showing photos of something you saw that struck you deeply......the flattened and static image doesn't create the same feelings in the person i relate them to as i experienced in those moments.

regarding this sentence...

"what i consider undeniable is that they have not experienced it (no matter how good the descriptions they have seen or heard)."

i don't consider that undeniable, as i've experienced things (as you alluded to) without the presence of my body....but i would say i experienced the particular thing/event/person/place in a different way, through different senses and perceptions than had i witnessed it with my eyes, ears, hands, nose, tongue.

regarding the idea of the forest existing while you went somewhere else....

i'd say the forest (wherever that begins and ends, who knows?) constantly changes...so that even a few moments later, it doesn't "exist" in the same way it did before....one leaf falls off that tree or a grasshopper jumps onto it, the sunlight hits it differently....and then the concept of "time" comes into play too....and even my perception or recollection of that experience in the forest (or of a particular tree) changes as i recall it....or if i go to that place again, my eyes or ears have changed, the earth has moved in space since i last saw the tree, the bark has changed due to air or critters inside of it, or the tree has grown taller or wider or the leaves have become more brittle or softer, the "place" has changed.....so the idea of something "existing" outside of my experience doesn't appeal to me....i experienced something in some ways, and then, poof, it vanishes into the next moment, into another encounter and perceptions...even if i do notice a lot of similarities in something from another moment, from another experience...

i miss amorfati on this site....i think they'd have some interesting things to say on this topic.

and yes to the exploring of perceptions when tripping.... :)

edited for additional rambling and wandering around...

ramble on....

yes, i bet amorfati would have some rather interesting perspective related to this discussion.

and yes, i agree fully about how "existence" is impacted by the flow of time. change is constant. or something like that.

experience, existence, ...  these are terms that sometimes seem so obvious and clear, yet clearly and obviously are NOT. there are times when i can find that kind of exploration fun, but usually, it just isn't important or interesting enough to me. i'd rather experience existence than try to articulate all of the nuance around experience and existence.

but i dig that others are into it. it allows me to indulge myself when i feel like it.

funky: "i'd rather experience existence than try to articulate all of the nuance around experience and existence."

yes!

and i think the articulating creates another experience....that as you said, you can indulge in when you feel like it.....sometimes that talking/writing/thinking feels enjoyable or deep or creates emotions i want to feel....but quite often i prefer to leave thinking and articulating for all the ways i can sense or experience life. 

@funky and @bornagain; i love both of these rambles!  i have no idea if either of you were trying to respond to my dry psudo-intellectualisms, but they pretty much capture exactly how i feel about this topic! @funky's especially your discussion of experience vs description, and @bornagain ur heraclitean -the never step in the same river guy- emphasis on change! :D
sms, thanks....i have no idea either!

but i like the ping pong effect of ideas and imagining and recollections as we bounce around in thought in cyberspace....

now i've got to type "heraclitean" into my browser...i don't recall him....but that doesn't mean i haven't seen him somewhere in my consciousness....cue twilight zone theme song....
funky.....thinking about your comment about experiencing rather than articulating about experience....reminded me of something i read saying that sounds often convey much more than a bunch of words....

an oooh or ahhh when seeing a shooting star....a moan or scream during sex....an "mmmmmmm" sound when eating ("a yummy sound" per young frankenstein)......a yelp or cry when something cuts or scrapes or scares you....

this discussion (thanks for the topic question, funky) reminds me that i want to use language more to describe and evoke emotion and imagery, than i do to "figure things out"....certainly much more than i want to "debate"....but authority's reach runs deeper within me than i like.....so i need to keep letting go of the ideology of authority, to use language for play, as a creative process, as a way to elicit emotion, to reveal myself, to resonate...

funky, sms....and whoever else might feel interested...

this discussion brought to mind a zine i stumbled upon recently....

toward an anarchist ecology,

and a second called "knowing the land is resistance",

on the website called "knowing the land".

they talked, in part, about experiencing versus talking about experiencing....and about forests.... :)

you've got to hunt and peck a bit to find the zines on the website....let me know if you want to find them but can't. (edit: if you click on the two zine links i provided above, you can download/view them just below the first paragraph on the web page for each one)

i liked and resonated with a lot they had to say....even though with my proclivity for e-prime, i'd prefer a title of "knowing the land creates resistance"!  :)

i found reference to it through an interview on the anarchist library

thanks for the links ba@.

(i want to point out that knowing the land is resistance is a play on words, and means something really different from "...creates resistance". an argument against eprime, in that instance...)

@dot, my pleasure.

it might mean something different than "creates resistance" , but since i don't get the play on words, i only read "is" as an equal sign....so an eprime expression would still make the intent clearer to me. i could have said "resistance by knowing the land" or any number of other things, but i like the image of instilling resistance through knowing the land, so i said "creates". i did read the group's answer to what it meant (and just now reread it), and i liked their description, but i don't think it comes across in the title very well.  but i'd like to hear the play on words as you understand it.
knowing is resistance
vs
the land is resistance

actually, that work with creates too. never mind! (d'oh)

1 Answer

+3 votes
Perhaps this anecdote will relate, or perhaps not. A few weeks ago I was trying to explain to a co-worker why I don't think time "exists". His response was that a second is based, objectively, on the amount of time a certain molecule takes to decay; I found it very hard to find the language to explain to him why that was still subjective, but I'll lay it out here. Holding off on the question of whether a person can actually "experience" what he described, even a calculated observation is a subjective experience.

Taking time as the question, we've probably all experienced an hour that lasts an eternity or a day that lasts about a second. The "objective" answer to this issue might be that there wasn't a stable measurement available, we didn't have a clock, or an even more accurate measure. The issue for this is that measurement is still interpretation. Even if we could see the decay of molecules, actually see the pattern of decay, the fact that we give this process a name and a meaning is subjective, it has to do with the way a mind might work. It has to do with value all the way down, with a want to determine that there is something we experience called time, that someone wants to measure it, that this measure has any meaning/relates to something "real".

To talk about things that are perhaps more "concrete" like the tree/whatevs, the concepts of existence, of what is alive and how we relate it it/it relates to us are subjective. To say that something truly exists is not only to make a subjective judgement, but to also make a large claim to knowledge that I'm not interested in. To get woo for a sec, I'm more interested in how a tree experiences me and how I experience the tree, and how this is only the surface level of an enormous ball of relationships.

Also, sorry if none of that made any sense.
answered Apr 30 by dim (380 points)
made perfect sense to me!  i have very similar thoughts!
i agree it makes sense. but it doesn't answer the question, particularly? or maybe i'm just not getting how it applies to your anarchist thinking?
Hmmm, I guess I don't know if I can separate things out to be specifically about my anarchist thinking. Perhaps what I take as a personal anarchist principle involves starting from the view of myself as very small/knowing very little. Moving out from there informs, I hope, my thinking generally, and specifically in terms of how I want to attempt, or attempt at some point in the future, to relate to people, animals, *things*, etc. I seem to keep finding new and exciting ways to say small things with lots of words!
yes, dim, your answer "makes sense" to me too....

i especially like the "woo" part.

i think it relates to anarchist thinking this way....anarchy does not imply an "objective" truth as does all institutional ideological thought that i know of - law, religion, education, science, etc.
yep, i think ba@ hit the nail on the head regarding how it relates to my anarchistic perspective. objective truth only exists in the realm of authority.

dim, i like your use of time as an example. i think there are situations when some consistent measure of time can be relevant and useful in shared subjective reality - at least in the current world. but time as a dynamic, flowing "dimension" of experience is completely subjective. most folks who have experimented with psychedelic substances can attest to the complete subjectivity of time.

for that matter, some movies that claim to be 2 hours long seem like they last for fucking days. others that claim the same duration seem like they are over in a few minutes. of course to someone else, those movies might seem like the reverse.
...