Resolution to Either-Or in Objectivity vs. Subjectivity
The most typical example over what our culture seems to consider ‘objectivity’ vs. ‘subjectivity’ runs along the lines of:
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
“Beauty is a scientifically derivable concept consisting of a host of characteristics and properties.”
The typical response you get from the ‘subjectivist’ side is something like: “You mean to say that beauty is the same thing to everyone?”
The correct answer to the concept of beauty is not, I believe, actually the first idea, since it would imply by necessity, an infinitely variable string of relative properties, which in all logic and reality–cannot exist.
Think about it, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ would mean that every single person would have a completely and totally incomparable set of characteristics that they considered beautiful, since this concept entails that beauty itself can only be contained in the perspective of the viewer, and hence, has no external reality. (Which is the basis of subjectivism as a philosophy: there are no external properties, and all is contained within the individual who perceives it.)
But in order for beauty to be ‘subjective’ in this sense, it would mean first of all, that no one, nor science itself, could ever uncover any common denominators to anyone’s else’s perception of beauty.
Notice we say perception of beauty grammatically and epistemologically, which means that we already and implicity understand beauty as an external object to be understood rather than created by the viewer himself, or at least entirely contained in his or her view. That is, if beauty were internal in this sense, there would be no ‘take’ or interpretation on someone’s physical attractiveness, since it would simply be someone’s beauty, as the starting point.
A woman would ask a man if she was beautiful and it would mean something very different than what we think of today. If this were true, she would literally think that her beauty resided in HIS opinion and her opinion of herself would be dictated by every man she met. This would be a very confused woman indeed.
But, I must admit, perhaps I am off base here and this actually IS the reality of how women tend to think. Nevertheless, this does not remove it from being an intellectual error and only shows a lack of self-esteem, not that beauty is ‘in the eye of the beholder.’
To boot, if the point of departure of beauty, was the viewer, not the person, how could we say that someone is ever beautiful in general at all, which by the way we do in fact say all the time? Why would we even bother to communicate this if we knew that beauty resides inherent to the perceiver?
There would be no sense in it, since everyone would disagree with us since their perception is the beginning of their ‘take,’ and hence, completely divergent by nature of necessity, from ours. And further, how could there ever be a ‘take’ on beauty at all, if beauty were not an external reality as the starting point?
The truth is that scientific studies have been able to arrive at many common denominators of beauty in people’s perceptions such as symmetry–symmetry of the face, ankles, you name it. In fact even scorpion flies prefer to mate with those flies that have more symmetrically aligned wings. But symmetry is not all–apparently here are some others: straightly aligned chin to forhead as it cuts through the nose, high cheek bones, small chins for girls, large protruding chins for males, and many more.
In answer to this, I propose that the actual objective resolution to this debate lies in several thinking errors. The first is that objectivity is not consonant with constancy and to confuse the two is an easy to do, but extreme intellectual error.
Objectivity means: objective reality as a non-contradictory system, in that nature itself cannot contain contradictions since it simply is, and perception is not a precondition to its existence. In other words: A is A. But A is A, means only that, not that A is constant with B, C, or X. Most often we are caught calling something objective when what we really mean is: ‘external or more constant.’
That said, the rest of the story here in terms of completing the picture to what objecitivity and subjectivity actually are, lies in understanding the difference between the other side of this coin: the confounding of subjectivity for variance in exactly the same way objectivity is confused with constancy.
Variance means, a variable in the sense that a factor can vary to an extent. Subjecitivity is a type of variance, variance is not a type of subjectivity, because literally what subjectivity means at its root is the variance of perception from person to person. Notice that ‘extent’ in the first proposition is emphasized, which means to imply that nothing is infinitely anything, to being infinitely relative nor infinitely or absolutely constant. (There is an exception to this, there are indeed absolute constants, (which I will also illustrate further later in terms of ’embedded factors’) of which a perfect example of this can be found in the following deduction from these two statements:)
-Thus, there is only ever an extent or degree of constancy, subjectivity, and variance.
Objectivity does not mean that beauty is either perceived exactly the same way by everyone, nor does it mean everyone perceives beauty completely differently. In terms of what science has uncovered, the concept of beauty, as with any other concept, is all three, variance, subjectivity, and constancy in that it has degrees of all three and may lean in any direction the evidence uncovers.
At present, it appears that beauty is consonant with the logic I outlined earlier and that external reality and common denominators override the variance in people’s interpretation. The variables appear to be things like weight, fat, thinness or haircolor and skin color.
The constants are symmetry, high cheeks bones, and all those I mentioned earlier. Variables are always sub-types of concepts, since a concept by its nature, requires an absolute constant. As Leonard Peikoff points out, “Conceptualization is the algebra of cognition.”
This is true because a concept Objectivity means all three: constancy, subjectivity and variance put in an absolutely constant and dynamic state in which there can be more subjecitivity than constancy or more constancy than subjectivity or variance. Illustrate in your head, how this is true for everything.
A single tree is an object, but is not a constant unto itself due to that fact, it is an absolute in that it exists in and of everything it exists from and is, but must be considered as a type of something else. A pine tree is a variant of tree just as much as we say beauty is a type of harmony or efficiency, or freedom is a type of value in a belief system.
So, there can be subjectivity than constancy or the other way around pertaining to a thing, but note, there is no such thing and is a mere semantic error to think that there is ever more subjectivity than variance.
This is an error, you cannot have more subjectivity than variance or vice versa, any more than you can have more ‘chair’ than ‘table’ or more ‘furniture’ than ‘domestic goods,’ since furniture is a type of domestic good, and chair is conceptually incomesurable to table.
To illustrate this concretely, a good start to a proposition for an objective definition of beauty then, might be: ‘those characteristics in a person’s physical countenance which provoke the emotion and occurence of psycho-physical attraction.’ or ‘the phenomenon of human attraction from one to another human being as the result of physical properties filtered through one’s psychological and perceptual interpretation resulting in an emotion and the act of attraction itself.’
Or maybe, as I outlined earlier, that these two are both wrong or at least semantically improper, and beauty is nothing but the physical characteristics of beauty itself, alone, and the interpretation in the case, must be divided from the external reality. External reality is yet another thing that ‘objectivity’ is confused with.
But never forget: objectivity, that is, the objective refers not merely to external reality, but all reality, in and of everything that exists. This would be the case, that is, the objective would still be objective reality even if the whole universe were some supreme being’s dream, or that we were all really inside the ‘Matrix’ as from the relatively recent movie.
This would not change the fact that we did not create it, that it cannot be changed through our perception, nor would it change the fact of it existing, since existence merely means that something is, not what form it comes in.
Now let me return to another very important concept to this ‘site map’ or concept tree I’m building in terms of understanding objectivity vs. variance and subjectivity. That concept has been mentioned but not illustrated: I will call this concept– ’embedded factors.’ An example of embedded factors is something like: ‘absolute constancy.’
This is another dire pitfall of a dangerous intellectual error to overlook embedded factors. There are absolute constants as much as it is not a self-endorsing contradiction to say that there are also constant variables. Notice how this relates to the term ’embedded’ in that it is somewhat of a concatenation of types.
So, since we cannot say that beauty is inherently ‘subjective,’ nor is it inherently ‘constant’ since to say both would be saying that it is either-or across the board in either direction–we can only say that beauty is objective.
This again, is not in the sense of its externality as completely isolated from perception, but in the sense of its existence as external from perception, and relational to perception only in the sense that it has a relationship with it, or it would be useless.
I think this is what people really mean when they say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ undivorcable of course with the fact of beauty’s perception varying from person to person. That is to say in other words, that beauty exists independent of our perception of it, but does not useful in and of perception itself.
That is, if every human being and every sentient being in the universe suddenly ceased to exist and all who was left was one ‘beautiful’ woman, she would still be beautiful in that she would retain all of the physical characteristics she had before, unchanged, but that these characteristics would be useless to a degree (degree since this is with exception to what is observed in a mirror on her own).
In other words, beauty is something we are observing about the world. It is also something we are perceiving, but its objects in the sense of its attributes that provoke our idea and emotions attached to beauty, are external.