Explain and examine subjectivist and objectivist understanding of value?

Explain and examine subjectivist and objectivist understanding of value?

Subjectivism and objectivism are two contrasting perspectives within the field of ethics that offer distinct understandings of value. These philosophical approaches shape how individuals and societies perceive the nature of moral judgments, the foundation of ethical principles, and the basis for evaluating actions. In this exploration, we will delve into the subjectivist and objectivist perspectives, examining their key tenets, implications, and critiques.

Subjectivist Understanding of Value:

Subjectivism is a philosophical stance that asserts that the nature of value is inherently tied to individual perspectives, feelings, or attitudes. From a subjectivist standpoint, moral judgments are not grounded in objective features of the external world but rather in the subjective experiences and emotions of individuals. One prominent form of subjectivism is emotivism, a theory developed by philosophers such as A.J. Ayer and Charles Stevenson.

Emotivism posits that ethical statements do not express objective facts but are instead expressions of personal preferences or emotional responses. According to this view, when someone says, for instance, "Stealing is wrong," they are not making a claim about an inherent property of stealing being wrong. Instead, they are expressing their negative feelings or disapproval toward stealing.

Subjectivism allows for a diversity of moral perspectives, acknowledging that individuals may hold different values based on their unique emotional responses and personal experiences. This flexibility can be seen as a strength, fostering tolerance and understanding in a pluralistic society. However, subjectivism faces challenges in providing a robust foundation for moral principles and justifying moral claims in the face of conflicting subjective opinions.

Critiques of Subjectivism:

One significant critique of subjectivism is the potential for moral relativism. If moral judgments are solely based on individual feelings and attitudes, it becomes challenging to establish any objective criteria for evaluating conflicting moral claims. This raises questions about the coherence and stability of ethical principles in a subjectivist framework.

Additionally, subjectivism may struggle to account for the role of reason in ethical decision-making. Critics argue that by reducing morality to subjective preferences, subjectivism neglects the capacity for rational discourse and ethical deliberation. If moral judgments are merely expressions of emotion, it becomes unclear how individuals can engage in reasoned debates about moral issues.

Furthermore, subjectivism faces the "is-ought" problem, famously articulated by David Hume. Simply because people feel a certain way about a particular action does not necessarily imply that the action is morally right or wrong. Subjectivism, in its purest form, may lack a solid bridge between descriptive claims about how things are and prescriptive claims about how things ought to be.

Objectivist Understanding of Value:

In contrast to subjectivism, objectivism posits that moral values are grounded in objective features of the world, independent of individual feelings or attitudes. Objectivism suggests that there are moral facts or truths that exist independently of human opinions. One well-known form of ethical objectivism is moral realism, which asserts that there are objective moral properties analogous to the objective properties found in the natural sciences.

Moral realism contends that moral statements can be objectively true or false, and they are capable of accurately representing the moral features of the world. For example, the statement "Stealing is wrong" is considered true in moral realism because it accurately corresponds to the objective moral quality of stealing.

Philosophers like G.E. Moore and W.D. Ross have defended a form of moral realism known as intuitionism. According to intuitionism, individuals have a direct, non-inferential awareness of moral truths through moral intuitions. These intuitions serve as the foundation for constructing a coherent and objective moral framework.

Critiques of Objectivism:

While objectivism provides a seemingly stable foundation for moral values, it is not without its critiques. One major challenge comes from the diversity of moral opinions and cultural variations. Skeptics argue that if objective moral values exist, there should be widespread agreement on what those values are. The existence of moral disagreement across cultures and individuals raises questions about the universality of moral truths.

Another critique centers on the difficulty of establishing a reliable method for accessing objective moral facts. Unlike the empirical methods used in the natural sciences, identifying and verifying moral facts may be elusive. Critics question how individuals can ascertain objective moral truths and whether moral intuition, as proposed by intuitionism, is a reliable guide.

Moreover, objectivism faces the "open-question argument," famously articulated by G.E. Moore. This argument challenges the idea that moral properties can be reduced to natural properties or defined in non-moral terms. Moore posited that it is always logically possible to ask whether a purported definition of a moral term is correct, indicating that moral properties are irreducible and distinct from natural properties.

Synthesizing Perspectives:

While subjectivism and objectivism represent opposing views on the nature of value, some ethical theories attempt to reconcile or synthesize aspects of both perspectives. For example, constructivism acknowledges the role of both subjective elements and objective features in ethical considerations.

Constructivism proposes that moral principles are constructed through a rational process of reflection and dialogue. Individuals, engaging in moral reasoning and discourse, contribute to the formation of ethical principles. In this way, constructivism integrates subjective perspectives by recognizing the role of individual reason and intersubjective agreement.

However, constructivism maintains a commitment to objectivity by grounding moral principles in rational discourse and universalizable considerations. By synthesizing elements of subjectivism and objectivism, constructivism seeks to address some of the shortcomings of each perspective.


In the realm of ethics, the subjectivist and objectivist understandings of value present distinct approaches to the nature of morality. Subjectivism, with its emphasis on individual feelings and attitudes, allows for diversity and flexibility in moral perspectives but struggles to provide a robust foundation for moral principles. Objectivism, on the other hand, posits objective moral truths but faces challenges in establishing universal agreement and accessing these truths.

The tension between subjectivism and objectivism has spurred ongoing philosophical debates, prompting scholars to explore nuanced positions and potential synthesis. Whether one leans toward the recognition of subjective experiences or the pursuit of objective moral facts, the exploration of these perspectives deepens our understanding of the complex terrain of ethics and the nature of value. As ethical inquiry continues, the interplay between subjectivism and objectivism will likely remain a central focus, shaping the ongoing dialogue about the foundations of morality. Explain and examine subjectivist and objectivist understanding of value?



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