Bigsley the Oaf

Finite Objectivity

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on February 4, 2011


This essay is an attempt to lay out a model of how the “objectivity”/”subjectivity” dichotomy is used in common discourse.

What is objective truth? Trees exist, that’s objective.

But why? Well because it’s incontrovertible. But what does it mean to be incontrovertible? It means that “everyone” believes it.

But we could conceive of one who didn’t – an insane or mentally retarded person. We could conceive of someone who didn’t believe the statement “trees exist.”

So we see that really the word “objective” cannot be defined without also defining the terms “everyone” and “crazy.” Namely, truth that is “objective” is truth that’s believed by “everyone” but not necessarily by people who are “crazy.”

What is a “subjective truth?” “Trees are good.”

But why? Because it’s not incontrovertible. Namely/equivalently not believed by “everyone.”

Why isn’t it believed by everyone? Because there is at least one individual in the set of “everyone” who does not believe it. What this means is that within “everyone” there is further difference. A statement is “subjective” if its truth is contingent on the individual who believes it.

Interesting Conclusion #1: This analysis allows us to paint a more well-defined, full picture of “everyone.” How can we tell the difference between the people who fall into the group “everyone” and the people who don’t? Well, prescriptively, the people who believe or are capable of believing objective truths are “everyone” and anyone who isn’t is “crazy.” But descriptively, “everyone” is the set of people who have normal, functioning senses (5), have certain semi-definable mental traits (e.g. the ability to perform deduction, abstraction, etc.), and have been bonded to society’s notions of truth and discourse.

E.g. Imagine that someone non-crazy from the future went back in time 500 years. They would seem crazy, and probably everyone would seem crazy to them. There would be certain very basic facts on which their opinions differed.

Finite Objectivity

Now that the basic terminology/ideas are laid out, I wanted to talk about the concept of “finite objectivity” whereby I mean objectivity that exists because some finite (generally small) subset of “everyone” believes something, and there exist systems for excluding people who do not believe that thing. This analysis starts to reveal claims which blur the line between “objectivity” and “subjectivity.”

Take, for instance, the statement ‘Christ lived, and he was our Savior.’ Within Christian strongholds this statement would be labelled as “objective truth.” Saying that “Christ existed” is just like saying “there is a tree in the front yard.” Within Atheist strongholds (subsets of MIT ) this statement is “objectively false.” Within some groups (e.g. Unitarians) this statement is considered a type of opinion. Here we have three separate “Objectivities” – i.e. groups of people for whom a statement is generally believed to be true.

Perhaps this example is lacking, however, because the statement “Christ lived” at least says something about reality. It is not a claim that is usually seen as “subjective.”

A more interesting example occurs when you have a group of people who all believe a statement which is largely seen as “subjective” truth. Generally these groups consist of artists/filmmakers/etc. or groups of critics who all believe the same thing. I don’t know about these people, though, so I’ll talk about programmers.. Among programmers there are certain groups who all believe the same thing. E.g. people at 37 signals pretty much uniformly believe(d) “rails is good!” For them this belief is as fervent as their belief in trees and cats and so on – it is religious, almost – it is compelled by de. What we have in 37 signals is an example of a small “Finite Objectivity.”

The smallest group to which this applies is a single person. As an individual, can you tell the difference between various types of truths? Is the tastiness of the apple subjective? Objective? Does it exist differently from the existence of the tree? Than the fact that the tree is brown and green?

Concluding Thoughts

The concept of finite objectivity gives us a vocabulary for describing the interactions between different groups of “believers.” It also puts all human knowledge on the same ground – meaning that there is no essential difference between statements like “trees exist,” “God exists,” “apples are tasty,” and “fat is bad.” If we model statements as pairs (statement, objectivity) where we let “objectivity” range over all subsets of people, then it becomes clear that every belief that ANYONE (including crazies!) holds is such a pair. This flattens everything out nicely.

In my next post I’ll talk about the very special set of pairs in which the statements are drawn from the set of “mathematical truths.”


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