Subjective & Objective Claims
Objective means independent from the particularities of a specific instance or individual, subjective means conditional on the particularities of the individual – the subject. An objective claim is a statement about a factual matter, i.e. one that can be proved true or false. For these factual matters there exist recognized criteria and methods to determine whether a claim is true or false. A subjective claim, on the other hand, is not a factual matter; it is an expression of opinion, belief, or personal preference. A subjective claim cannot be proved right or wrong by any generally accepted criteria while an objective claim can.1 The distinction between subjective and objective claims is a subtle one and one should be careful not to simplify it into assertions about truth values or to end up in a position of relativism or objectivism.2
Claims can be said to exist on a spectrum from being objective to being subjective depending on the degree to which they are contingent on a particular context or subject i.e. individual perspective. At the objective end of the spectrum are what are call facts.3 In that, they are deemed to exist as being true or false independent of the individuals making the claim. At the other subjective end of the spectrum are what we call opinions. In that the claim is only held to be relevant in relation to the subject making the claim, thus only the subject can truly validate the claim, e.g. “I like sports cars” is a subjective claim, the validity of this statement is fully dependent on the subject making the statement. Most claims lie somewhere in-between pure objective fact and purely subjective opinion.
To determine whether a claim is objective or subjective one can ask if it meets a number of criteria required to be considered objective. To be deemed objective claims must meet the following criteria. Firstly objective claims have a truth value, they can be proven to be true or false. Secondly, objective claims have an agreed upon method for determining whether they are true or false. Thirdly, in the event of disagreement about whether the claim is true or false at least one person will be correct.4
Thus a question of fact has a correct or incorrect answer, while a question of preference has as many answers as there are people to have opinions. While in-between the two are questions of reason that have better or worse answers. These different types of claims then create different dynamics to arguments. When it is a question of fact it is not up to anyone to decide the conclusion, it is up to all to verify the fact, to check if it is true or false. When it is a question of reason it is up to the person with the best reason to say. When it is a question of taste it is up to everyone to say.
Claims have a truth value when they can be proven to be either true or false. Objective claims are what is called falsifiable. Falsifiability or refutability of a statement, hypothesis, or theory is the inherent possibility that it can be proved false. A statement is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive of an observation or an argument which negates the statement in question.5 Karl Popper propounded the idea of falsification as a criterion for demarcating what can be deemed scientific from unscientific, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific. The practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is deemed pseudoscience.6
For example, Karl Marx claimed his writings to be a scientific account of the economic and social dynamics of capitalism. Under this guise of objectivity, he predicted that the proletariat would eventually revolt and overthrow the bourgeoisie ruling class. However, this did not happen as predicted, when it failed to occur Marxists created new reasons to defend why it had not happened without allowing this fact to falsify the claim. In such a case there is no way to falsify the claim and thus it is not objective. Likewise, claims about supernatural forces that can not be disproven can not be deemed as objective claims due to their lack of truth value. This does not mean that they are true or false it simply means that they are not objective claims, as some might like them to be.
For a statement to be objective it must be derived from some method that can determine whether it is true or false. For example, with a claim that relates to an empirical fact such as a statement that today is hotter than yesterday, we can gather the empirical data about the two days in question and compare them to derive a truth value to the statement; this is a method of validation. With a subjective claim, there is no known objective method to prove whether it is true or false. For example, with statements about the existence of a God or multiple Gods, there is no known way of proving these statements.
With a disagreement over an objective claim, there will be one party that is correct while others will be incorrect or only partially correct. When two people disagree about an objective claim one of them has to be incorrect. With a subjective claim, both parties’ claims may be true or false. One person may say that vanilla is the best tasting ice cream and another say that chocolate tastes better, these are subjective opinions on behalf of the individuals and there is no way of resolving this dispute through reason. With subjective claims truth in the objective sense does not exist, both people can disagree without anyone being incorrect.7
Agreement between members does not make subjective claims objective. One might live in a society where all like vanilla ice cream and dislike chocolate ice cream, but this does not make the claim that vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate ice cream any more of an objective claim, there is not objective truth for this statement. Subjective claims are of pure preference or taste, it does not matter how many people agree with the claim it does not make it any more valid. Agreement in this circumstance simply means that people happen to have similar preferences.8
For example, taking a pole as to what kind of ice cream people like would not derive an objective reason, all this would define is how many people agree with the statement, without finding out if it is true. We would find how many people like the chocolate flavor but we would not find out if the chocolate ice cream is truly objectively better than the vanilla flavor because no such thing exists. Different people may like different types of ice cream without anyone being correct or incorrect, it is simply their preference.
Arguments based on purely subjective claims or purely objective facts involve limited use of reasoning. Facts can often be checked to be decisively correct or incorrect, while with questions of subjective opinion there are no objective reasons for the claims and thus objective reasoning is of little use. Rational arguments happen at an in between ground, where there are both objective facts and subjective opinions involved, both certainty and uncertainty, to make for a more complex dynamic. In such a case reasoning can to be used to derive a solution, with arguments taking place where different parties construct cases for their claims based upon reasons.
For example, what food one likes is a subjective test, but which diets are healthier is a more objective fact. There is little room to argue with people about what they like, as the Roman saying goes “Concerning matters of taste there can be no intelligent discussion.” Everyone knows what food they prefer and no one knows that better than them, it is pointless to argue about it. Likewise, when it comes to the question of a healthy diet this is largely an objective fact and we would turn to nutritionists to answer this for us. However, if we all had to combine our taxes to pay for the healthcare of each other, we may decide that we do not want to pay for people who eat a poor diet and we may have to define collective standards for what food to tax. People would then have different arguments and try to support them with reasons.