The Difference Between Objective and Subjective

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If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? This a common question posed by philosophers. Objectively the falling tree created vibrations, causing sound waves and therefore the tree made a sound. But from the subjective point of view for sound to exist there must be a hearer.

The word objective refers to an impartial, unbiased reporting of events. It is based in fact and not influenced by personal opinions or feelings.

If something is objective it is actual or real; it is external to and independent of the mind. Objective events are based on observable phenomena. Objective refers to anything that is undistorted by emotion or personal bias. It is independent of perception or individual conception.

Subjective is the opposite of objective. It is the individual perception of events. An individual viewing an event, say a thunderstorm, may report if as sum of emotion evoked by the event. It could be described as horrific, scary, awesome, beautiful etc. This is subjective reporting of an event. It is based on individual feeling and perceptions.

Personal opinion and impressions are subjective. If you see a policeman roughing up a thief you may find his behaviour commendable or distasteful, depending on your individual bias. Your mind processes the event and puts a tag on it.

To sum up we could say that objective is the reality and subjective is our perception of reality. Both are essential to the smooth functioning of the world we have built. The information we receive about our world comes from so many different sources. Some of these are subjective some objective. Take a newspaper for instance. It is one of the primary sources of information. The news items reported are ideally expected to be completely objective. The reporter does not permit personal opinions and bias to be reflected. This is good as we know what has happened e.g. an international embargo has been declared on a rogue state. This is a statement of a fact. It has happened. There is no argument about it. It is objective reporting of events.

The editorial pages of the same paper will give the reader a subjective reporting of the same event. The editor expresses his/her own opinion on the event. The article will reflect the author’s individual bias, opinion, political leanings, prejudices, attitudes. It is subjective and creates an atmosphere of debate and discussion, essential to a free and fair society.

Encyclopaedias and other reference materials need to be absolutely objective. They are a review of varied viewpoints. Bias has no place in these sources of information. Research papers are a subjective source of opinion. The author presents a thesis and validates it through experimentation and data collection. However, other papers may present opposing theories and equally strongly validate them. The word subjective implies that the event is open to interpretation. Social media is an important source of subjective reporting. It is instrumental in forming public opinion.

Historians are also supposed to be objective, whereas biographers are subjective. The events in history are presented by the historian and the biographer can interpret them.

Decision making is expected to be entirely objective. However this is almost impossible. People tend to go with their gut, to have per-conceived notions about political parties, institutions and business houses. These subjective elements cannot be wholly repressed are play an important role in decision making.

Objective and subjective are called opposites. One supposedly precludes the other. However, the subjective human mind is the most powerful element in a human body that can otherwise be explained objectively. Therefore it is almost impossible to make the two mutually exclusive. Our objective reality is determined by our subjective reality and vice versa.

For a student who does not wish to wander into the realms of mysticism and philosophy, it is sufficed to say that the objective occurs outside the mind and the subjective within.

In the matter of exam papers the objective section mostly requires a tick or cross, whereas the subjective section expects long answers or essays.


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