Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Objective vs Subjective

Central to understanding Postmodernism is the distinction between an objectivist view of reality and a subjectivist view. You see, Postmodernism is characterized by a radically subjective view of truth, of morality, of religion, and so forth. In my talk earlier today, I illustrated this with a truth-claim relevant to my vocation (and avocation)...
There is an owlet on the nest.
As an avian ecologist specializing in owls and other birds of prey, I have been contracted over the years to ascertain whether and where owls are nesting. So, ascertaining the truth value (the truth or falsehood) of the above statement (in specific instances) has been bread and butter to me. On an objectivist view (also known as a correspondence view) of truth, the truth value of the statement depends upon, resides in, or is determined by the object--in this case the owl. The claim is true only if there really is an owlet in the nest.

But the Postmodernist takes a subjectivist view of truth. On this view, the owlet is not the truth-maker. Rather, the truth value of the claim depends upon, is determined by, or resides in the subject or observer--in this case, the biologist. In other words, it doesn't really matter whether there is, in fact, an owlet on the nest. If we can find even one observer who believes there is an owlet on the nest, then we can deem the claim to be true.

Of course, while Postmodernists talk as if this is reasonable, no one really lives as though it were true. Let's say I'm bidding to do some owl nest monitoring for the local Forest Service, and their contracting officer discovers that I espouse a subjectivist (a Postmodern) view of truth. She would rightly pass me by for a biologist with an objectivist view. Because if the Forest Service is going to pay out good money, they want to know whether "There is an owl nesting here" corresponds to reality, not merely whether they can find a person who can convince himself that an owl is nesting.

The owlet on the nest below was a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa).

1 comment:

Filipe W. de Souza said...

Hello! Thanks for such a great explanation of the objective and subjective views of reality. I've been using these terms for years, but you've finally grounded my definitions with the "object/subject" analogy.