For example if I were about to measure beauty, I would have to describe beauty in the first place. Let's say I would define it as the amount of endorphyne which the described phenomenon causes our brains to release. The results may differ between different people, we would just count the average between all people. So my questions are: - Why we can't define beauty (or something similar "subjective") even theoretically such way? Why should be current definition any better?

  • Is there something perfectly describable but subjective?
  • Yes - love, lust and taste in food are all subjective yet perfectly describable. Dec 17, 2015 at 8:50
  • @AlexanderSKing What do you mean? The amount of it or its flavour?
    – Probably
    Dec 17, 2015 at 9:01
  • The best example is the feeling of pain, which is highly subjective and not to confuse with its causes and yet describable, see Moran on self-knowledge. The point is in not confusing the scientifically describable events that can be said to have caused them with the concious episodes themselves.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Dec 17, 2015 at 12:46
  • (1) what does perfectly describable mean? (2) the difficulty in defining beauty does not have to be related to subjectivity — we use many concepts which are not well defined — Wittgenstein discusses this a lot in Philosophical Investigations. he calls it concepts with blurred edges — an example he gives is the concept of a game — according to him the concept of game is not well defined, and cannot be. can you define what a game is?
    – nir
    Dec 18, 2015 at 22:10
  • 1) A description which can not be replaced with anything else. I tried to ask not to include qualia, because it's not definitely different, it's just we don't know, because it's not shareble (yet?) 2) Obviously, our definitons are built by your surroundings and though even dictionary doesn't give you entire meaning and usage, if we had infinite amount of time, we could explain to ourselves our point of view. Let's consider this question: Would we still see it subjectively after sharing all the factors: pluses and minuses?
    – Probably
    Dec 19, 2015 at 8:58

1 Answer 1


This is answer is inspired by Philip Klöcking's comment, and part of it was originally posted here

Yes subjective experience can be described, even though the description of the experience and the experience itself are different. The difference between the subjective experience itself and it's description is illustrated by the concept of qualia.

Here's an example that demonstrates what qualia is: Imagine a dentist called Mary, who is the top dentist in her field, she has aced every dentistry topic there ever was, can cure any patient who comes to her with a dental problem no matter how bad that patient's condition, and has studied every biological, neurological and chemical aspect of what a toothache is. In short she knows everything there is to know about toothaches. However, she has been an avid tooth brusher ever since she was a kid, and she has never ever had a tooth ache in her life. A dualist will argue that because of this, she doesn't really know what a toothache is at all. She knows all there is to know about toothaches, but she doesn't know what a toothache is, having never had the feeling herself. This difference between knowing everything about something, and knowing what something is or how it feels, is what philosophers of mind call qualia. Dualists think that qualia is proof that there is a non-physical dimension to the mind, since if the mind were purely physical, there would be no difference between the "about" and the "is".

So there can be an informal or ordinary language description of pain. And there can be a more detailed and comprehensive scientific description of pain as well. Dentists and Doctors use the description of of pain to diagnose patients all the time "Can you describe your pain?" "I feel a constant throbbing in my left jaw" "Oh - I think you have cavity in your left tooth.". And yet pain remains the ultimate subjective experience.

Note that qualia are used mainly as an argument for dualism. Regardless of whether the concept does indeed prove dualism (I personally don't believe this), the explanation above does show how something can be both subjective and describable, and what the difference between the experience and the description is.

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