I notice that people often get tangled up in conversation over the use of the loaded words subjective and objective. How do we come to understand one thing as ‘objective’ and another thing as ‘subjective’? Normally it seems that we simply ‘shoot from the hip’, that we ‘feel’ a thing to be either one or the other. I think we would all agree that a parent’s opinion of their first baby, or the personality of a new romantic interest, is charged with emotional, yet undeniably human, subjectivity. Whereas the fact that ‘the Earth is rotating on its axis’ would be considered by most as an ‘objective’ statement. Recently I have begun a search for a reasonable set of criteria on which to base subjective and objective perceptions. Margot Kelley suggests that when we use descriptors that are less than adequate, our perceptions are more subjective. In other words, the more precise we are in describing something, the more objective we perceive that thing to be. And the less precise, the less objective. I find this observation useful, but not entirely satisfying. I prefer to think of perception as a continuum, with subjective perceptions at one end of the continuum, and objective perceptions at the other, with variation as a medium of change. Things that vary greatly, such as the weather, or fluctuations of the stock market, may be perceived as subjective, and located at one end of the continuum. While things that vary only slightly, such as having to pay taxes, would be perceived as more objective, and located at the opposite end of the continuum. A verifiable truth, as determined by consensus, would vary little, and would occupy a position at the ‘objective’ end of the continuum. While opinion, which can vary greatly, even within a single individual, is widely considered to be subjective almost by definition.
A Collection of Writings on Nature, Science, and Art by John Holland