Objectivity and Subjectivity: An Unnecessary Battle

As I walked into my first class this semester I noticed the syllabus looked different from the normal Biola syllabus. In my next class, I noticed the same style was applied to their syllabus. In fact, every syllabus had changed to this new format. Why? Because the new syllabus is part of Biola’s accreditation. We have learning outcomes, IDEA initiatives, and tons of measurable data. These are all to show that we as a university are meeting our goals in first teaching and second teaching things that are deemed important. Even in AS, we’ve been carefully working to ensure that everything we do meets some sort of learning outcome. That everything we do is measurable and can satisfy WASC (the accreditation people, though I always think they’s called WASP, like the insect).

objectivityMy concern is that we are continuing on a trend of elevating objectivity and suppressing subjectivity. Clearly objectivity is good. The raw facts unaffected by bias and other things is important. That God exists is an objective fact. Measuring things and having exactness that reflects reality is important. However, when we squeeze out subjectivity completely, when we consider it  invalid, we can miss the meaning of facts, be blinded to the significance of data and information that goes beyond the objective.

I see this a lot in two places: art and business.

A few months ago Justin Timberlake came out with his new album The 20/20 Experience. Several of my musically inclined friends said it was one of his best albums. One even mentioned how he would hate to have anyone else write seven minute songs. Listening to seven minute versions of Starships or Fireworks probably isn’t the best experience. One of my other friends though has a different opinion. She used to love Justin Timberlake. She had all his albums and was looking forward to his newest one. But when it came out, she was disappointed. She said it was his worst album and wasn’t any good. This is the same album that so many people said was amazing. How can these opinions be reconciled? Is one person right and the other wrong? I don’t think so. I think it’s a matter of objectivity versus subjectivity. Objectively, an album or song may be good. There may be many levels of “good” such are vocals, mixes, album flow, or even marketing. An album may be good or bad objectively on any of these levels. However, this does not mean it is subjectively good to everyone. The album could have been perfect, but my friend could still subjectively disliked it and called it bad. And to her it was. It did not meet her subjective expectations. It missed the mark and to her it was validly a bad album. Conversely, the album could have objectively sucked, but my other friends could have subjectively loved it. We have to keep the line in mind when we say if something is good or bad. subjective-by-michael-kloran

This also comes up in business. In interviewing, it is very easy to look at the objective skill set of a person and not the more subjective component of if they will work well with your corporate culture. There may be two candidates that have exactly the same skill set, but one may have a bad attitude. Noticing that some what subjective quality is important. It’s not something quantifiable on a test but something that’s qualifiable by emotions, feelings, and instincts. One blogger notes quantitative is grouped with objective and qualitative with subjective. That doesn’t change the value of qualitative data, but creates a proper boundary. The two should not be confused nor miss-weighed.

My biggest concern is that we are making the objective to be the ultimate source of knowledge. If we do this, we miss out on so much. Art will become plastic and sterile. Businesses will become inefficient. Learning will become confined to objectives. I don’t believe the new syllabus format is bad. On the contrary, I believe it is good to have objective ways of measuring our education so we can put a dollar sign on our degree. But I am weary about the emphasis on everything being objective. Like so many say, most learning happens outside the classroom, where subjectivity is freer to reign. It’s these experiences that draw people to Biola. The subjective value of community, friendship, and living together is valued more than the objective lack of air conditioning, making tons of money, and living a “free” and sinful life. Biola is proving that it is both an objectively good school and subjectively good school to its students.

Objectivity and Subjectivity should work in harmony, not discord. They give value and functionality to one another. Without objectivity, there would be nothing to strive after, no Goodness to aim at. Without subjectivity there would not be a multitude of expressions of objective truths. Objectivity keeps the world spinning. Subjectivity makes it joyful spinning.

Let me know your thoughts on the idea. Am I completely off, on track for something good, or just a college student who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Let me know.

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