View Full Version : Against Subjectivity

07-10-2005, 11:01 PM
one of the most annoying things anyone can ever say, especially in regards to art (music, film, etc) is:

"it's all subjective".

when I hear this I fucking see red.

ofcourse "it's all subjective" in the bigger scheme of things, perception is reality, etc. but when this universal rule is applied to specific human endeavor, it is lazy, irresponsible, and morally reprehensible.

with everything we do, one can come up with a convincing set of criteria with which to judge it. a plate of pasta can be judged on the freshness of the vegetables, the richness of the sauce, and quality of the cheese. a hiphop track can be judged on the quality of the production, dexterity of flow, innovativeness of the bassline, etc. and perhaps there is one over-arching criteria which superimposes all criteria: fitness to purpose.

so to say "it's all subjective" reduces all ideas to the level of "opinion" and ofcourse all "opinions" are valid. it is what a hostess says when a discussion threatens to become unruly: "you are all entitled to your opion, so everyone, shhhhhhh!"

thanks for listening. had to rant.

infinite thought
07-10-2005, 11:25 PM
reckon k-punk would agree with you on this one...

08-10-2005, 04:57 AM
errrr, isn't this one of the $10,000 philosophical questions???

08-10-2005, 06:38 AM
Ah bingo! I started a thread (http://dissensus.com/showthread.php?t=2204) over under Music trying to figure out why people might say they're anti relativism, but Tim F was the only one who deigned to comment...

I guess this all makes sense to me now. Those who say they are against subjectivity aren't actually asserting the existence of aesthetic absolutes (i.e. they're not fucking nuts ;)), they just hate the way subjectivity gets trotted out as a great leveller of debate. That, plus all the good stuff Tim said. Put in this light I actually agree entirely.

08-10-2005, 08:30 AM
Another issue here is that matters of taste become the model for everything (i.e. all disagreements come to be seen on the model of 'I don't like chocolate') rather than arguments with reasons (i.e. 'I hold this belief because...') It's almost impossible to get students, for instance, to accept that there are such things as bad arguments ('it can't be bad, it's my opinion, it's only your opinion that it's bad'). It won't be accepted at all that arguments have conclusions with reasons, can be assessed in terms of internal consistency, soundness of reasons etc.

I tried to raise this one here (http://www.dissensus.com/showthread.php?t=584), but nothing really came of it.

08-10-2005, 08:31 AM
Another phrase almost as bad as 'it's all subjective' is 'it's just semantics'... what, just the meaning of words, that trivial matter?

08-10-2005, 03:48 PM
thanks for validating my hardly restrainable impulse to plunge the closest sharp object into someone's throat when ever those words are uttered. (partially kidding)

the more I think about it, the problem is one of scale. it is what happens when "laws" which govern macro systems are applied to micro systems. as above, so below, yes, but it doesn't work like this.

another case, this time in reverse: Darwinism.

the specific laws which describes specific biological systems this little biologist came up with are, for almost 2 centuries until today, blown WAY THE FUCK out of proportion to justify contemptible behavior proscribed by capitalism. for instance:

theories like natural selection are used to champion Competition as a fundamental, universal law, and to make excuses for everything from corporate malpractice to just plain old greed on an everyday level. (Nike ads come to mind) this is complete dog-shit. even in nature, examples of symbiotic relationships far out number competitive ones; and species help eachother FAR more often than compete with eachother.

and Evolution is used, in a big way, to position human beings at the end of the line, as the most sophisticated, the most intellegent, the most "favored" of all God's children (in a swift stroke of irony science providing the same self-agrandising function as religion), and therefore given the natural born right to do as they please: destroy the environment, whole-sale slaughter other species, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

08-10-2005, 05:49 PM
like kpunk i am often in close proximity to relatively young people who have been told that there is no such thing as wrong answer or it's all a matter of opinion and cannot help but agree with the general tenor of this thread - as to where this then goes i am deeply interested.

i remember something from a recent roth novel where he said , through one of his characters(in the human stain, i think), that the problem with modern students is that they couldn't stay in the place where thinking occurs, that is they were more than willing to provide a knee-jerk response but to actually take the time to think and then formulate a response was unlikely - the space where thinking occurs requires time and an inclination to go beyond the initial.

whether this a condition of youth, or some deeper more general lazinesss in applying oneself to thought i dunno...

09-10-2005, 10:18 AM
I find all this "no distinction between opinion and argument" thing a bit weird, or at least distant from my experiences. Is this a recent turn of events?

When I was at uni in the mid-90s this didn't seem the case at all. Maybe New Zealand is some kind of last outpost for formal logic, but I somehow doubt that. :p

Also, isn't it fair to say that one of the basic points of argument is that it operates from a starting premise, which may or may not have anything to do with reality? With such things as establishing the criteria on which to assess a piece of music, how do you determine whose critical framework is best?

Sure it's probably healthy to distinguish argument from opinion, but an argument being good isn't based on its truth, is it?

I guess it depends how we assess the goodness of an argument. :D

simon silverdollar
09-10-2005, 11:16 AM
i blame a.j ayer for all this.

09-10-2005, 03:52 PM
Also, isn't it fair to say that one of the basic points of argument is that it operates from a starting premise, which may or may not have anything to do with reality?

Sure, but at least those premises are stated and can be interrogated, possible presuppostions exposed and examined etc... You don't throw your hands up and say, 'well, it's all a matter of opinion'

With such things as establishing the criteria on which to assess a piece of music, how do you determine whose critical framework is best?

Well, a start - and a start is all you might get - is to admit that a critical framework is in place, which operates from a set of axioms etc...

Tim F
10-10-2005, 01:10 AM
At the risk of being accused of spamming, I talked about this issue a bit on the same ILM thread which has given rise to the hairshirt dissensians thread here.

As against the primacy of subjective opinion:

".. I dunno, i'm interested in discussions about music which carry the caveat "this is my reaction but this discussion might change my reaction". A sort of engaged politicised (in terms of form not content) subjectivity. Not sure what to call this. But it's not obstinate subjectivity.

I remember a long thread back in the dark ages of old-ILM about canons. There was a poster (Arf Arf?) who said that we needed canons in order to have discussions, that without agreed upon standards there was no point even talking.

I disagreed with that then and I still do, but there's maybe a kernel of it which is on the right track: maybe what we need is the desire to agree upon standards (which we've yet to actually finalise). ie. music discussions are not about canons, but about canon-building. The search for an impossible objectivity-to-come rather than the deference to an objectivity laid down in precedents....

...All we can ever really access is an imagined objectivity, something that seems like it must be objective but isn't really. This seeming, though, is worthwhile in and of itself. Hence the point re dizzee - if a critic insists that the music conveys authenticity of class/race etc. whether or not the artist lives up to that in truth, what we're really talking about is a certain apperance-of-objectivity rather than objectivity itself. "

(nb. whatever this "appearance-of-objectivity" is, I don't think it actually has much to do with objectivity at all, and that's why I have issues with concepts like "authenticity", which by definition need to be anchored in some objective proof - in truth the objective proof is just a nice little addendum which makes the critic feel better about their own position).