I'm pretty new to philosophy and I just have a quick question in regards to about how people use the terms 'objective' and 'subjective'.

Does objective value mean anything that is independent of one's mind? Meaning, no matter what one agrees or disagrees of the existence of something, it still exists? Whereas subjective value is mind-dependent?

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    It should be noted that all of the answers that follow address the Modern meanings of subjective and objective. If you are looking at pre-Modern philosophy especially medieval philosophy, the meanings are roughly opposite.
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 2:07
  • A great answer from the Spekr philosophy page about the objectivity of ethics: "Self-ownership is the natural state of being whereby consciousness has exclusive authority over the physical body it inhabits, authority meaning the power to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. The body is subject to the will of the individual. This is fact, not opinion. Self-ownership is an observable phenomenon that exists in reality. Anything that interferes with this natural state is unnatural, an attempt to deny reality, in other words it is incorrect".
    – Keeper
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:40

9 Answers 9


As a starting point, I can tell you that, generally:

- the term "objective" refers to things which we deem as true/existing independent of our observations of them, and

- "subjective" refers to a things which we deem as true/existing contingent on our observation of them.

The cake and apples example in the other user's answer below is an example of this, although it fails to take into account the fact that our count of the apples is itself subjective (maybe there's 100's of apples in a big bowl and we miss counting one). True, the actual amount of apples on the plate is an objective fact (by 'fact' here I simply mean a 'piece of knowledge that I hold as true'), and if we were able to calculate this without error then sure, the example works. But I think a better example is the idea that my mind (myself) exists — this is more readily and more universally agreed to be an objective fact. Under no circumstances can we conceive of a situation where the thinking self ("I") does not exist, for if we are thinking we must necessarily exist. Whether this thinking self is "smart", however, is subjective — to an ant I may be considered smart but to a super-intelligent alien species I may be considered as unintelligent as the ant is to me. My smartness thus is a subjective fact.

The problem however is that even what we might call as objective facts we arrived at only through the processing of our own minds, which are inherently subjective. This is the problem with the apples example, as well as for mine. Objectivity for us on a human-level, it seems, is not actually intrinsic objectivity (which we can't seem to know) but rather a form of collective subjectivity. Just because everyone agrees on the "truthness" of a fact doesn't mean that it's automatically an objective fact.

As you can see these concepts quickly become complicated, which is why I originally wrote that this question bordering on "too broad to be reasonably answered". Subjectivity and objectivity mean many things to different philosophers depending on their particular views on a wide range of concepts. A good, solid answer in my opinion would really touch on all the major lines of thought that deal with it, but that's perhaps too much work for a single question. There are many important concepts that come into play, pretty much everything in philosophy of mind, but specifically concepts such as:

- reality

- phenomenology

- perception (see also Quale)

- substance theory (see also materialism/physicalism, dualism)

- consciousness (see also mind-body problem)

- object/properties (see also bundle theory, universals, noumena)

Note, I linked only Wikipedia articles above. Do also check out the equivalent articles at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  • Re " these concepts quickly become complicated", no, not at all, the concepts themselves are simple IMHO, but the determination of what is objective and what is subjective, can be arbitrarily complex. Commented May 14, 2015 at 17:40
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    Well, I guess it's pretty subjective whether they are complicated or not. :P
    – stoicfury
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 18:53

(new account, not enough rep to comment reply to Michael's follow up question)

There are four apples and therefore the objectively correct answer is four. The third observer is wrong to claim there are 5 apples when there are four. Of course, it might be that there really are 5 apples and that the third person is correct and the first two wrong. Another possibility is that they are all wrong and there are six apples. Regardless, this is a situation where there is one correct answer.

The subjective question is about personal taste. Since it is about taste there is no conflict inherent in having different answers to the question. It is a known property of humans that they differ in their tastes. The question "Is the cake yummy" really should not be taken literally that way. The question is actually reinterpreted by people to me "Do YOU find the cake yummy". Which when asked of different people will generate multiple objective questions, one for each person.

In this case lets call the girl Sue and the boy Joe. The subjective question, "Is it yummy" converts into two objective questions, "Is it yummy for Sue" and "Is it yummy for Joe". The respective answers are yes and no. If Joe were to turn to sue and say "No it is not yummy" then he could be making one of two mistakes. He is either claiming that Sue thinks the cake is not yummy. In which case he is wrong. Or, he thinks that Sue was claiming the cake was yummy for everyone and was disputing that because he doesn't like it. Depending on what Sue meant he could be right or wrong, but only about his interpretation of what Sue was saying. After all if Sue meant it was yummy for everyone she is objectively wrong.

Another distinction that can be made is whether something is metaphysically or epistomologically subjective or objective. Metaphysically objective things are things we call can see. For example the apples. Things that exist in the real world independent of any one person. Metaphysically subjective things are that which only each person experiences and can verify against each other. Exactly how Joe experiences the taste of the cake is not something Sue can experience nor directly verify. This is usually referred to as qualia. This exists in the real world but only to a single person.

Hallucinations are metaphysically subjective and NOT metaphysically objective. That is they exist subjectively but not out in the real world. Metaphysics is about what exists. Certainly hallucinations exist, and the objects of the hallucinations don't exist or they wouldn't be hallucinations.

When speaking epistomologically we are talking about truth claims. Those truth claims that can be decided by metaphysically objective facts are epistomologically objective. Those claims that can be decided by metaphysically subjective facts are epistomologically subjective. The statement "There are four apples" is something all parties can determing by counting. The statement "This cake is yummy" is something that is determined subjectively by tasting it.

I could tell if my cat finds foods yummy by whether she eats them. That's an objective standard for measuring a subjective experience.

  • Are you "user4598" and replying to Michael's comment response to that picture? Normally your reply would go there, but you don't have enough rep to comment, so a new answer is fine for now. Here is a vote to get you 1 step closer to commenting. :)
    – stoicfury
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 21:34

The terms are somewhat ambiguous as to whether the sense of their use is ontological or epistemological. Professor John R. Searle explains as much in his paper, "Consciousness"

Here is the ambiguity: We need to distinguish two different senses of the objective-subjective distinction. In one sense, the epistemic sense (“epistemic” here means having to do with knowledge), science is indeed objective. Scientists seek truths that are equally accessible to any competent observer and that are independent of the feelings and attitudes of the experimenters in question. An example of an epistemically objective claim would be "Bill Clinton weighs 210 pounds". An example of an epistemically subjective claim would be "Bill Clinton is a good president". The first is objective because its truth or falsity is settleable in a way that is independent of the feelings and attitudes of the investigators. The second is subjective because it is not so settleable. But there is another sense of the objective-subjective distinction, and that is the ontological sense (“ontological” here means having to do with existence). Some entities, such as pains, tickles, and itches, have a subjective mode of existence, in the sense that they exist only as experienced by a conscious subject. Others, such as mountains, molecules and tectonic plates have an objective mode of existence, in the sense that their existence does not depend on any consciousness.

As for objective and subjective "value" roughly yes, but this also depends upon how "value" is being used. For example, "the old worn sock puppet may not have been worth it's weight in cotton, but its sentimental value to the child was beyond measure" is a subjective value; "the arithmetic expression evaluates such that x has a value of seventeen" is an objective value.

In the second example you may want to also look into distinguishing observer-independent and observer-relative (see section 1) as the computation of the arithmetic expression as done by a (non-human) computer is observer-relative, tho when the arithmetic expression is evaluated by a human, it is observer independent. For example, a map my show the directions from where you are to where you want to go - from point A to B. The "information" (also an ambiguous term) on the map is relative to an observer that can interpret it. The map does not know how to go anywhere. This is distinct from you actually knowing how to get from where you are to where you want to go - the information "in your head" is not relative to an observer, the conscious thought is psychologically real, actual and observer-independent.

From "Theory of Mind & Darwin’s Legacy" by Searle:

Related to the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity is the distinction between those features of the world whose existence depends on human attitudes and those features that exist independently of anyone's attitudes. I call the former “observer relative” and the latter “observer independent” or “absolute.” Observer relative phenomena include money, property, marriage, nation states, universities and summer vacations. Observer independent phenomena include mountains, molecules, galaxies and tectonic plates. In general the natural sciences deal with observer independent phenomena; the social sciences deal with observer relative phenomena. The observer relativity of a phenomenon introduces an element of ontological subjectivity into its very existence. So the existence of money and language, for example, is observer relative and consequently contains an element of ontological subjectivity.


These terms might be used in different contexts with different meanings, still, there is a core meaning for them as visualised below: (and as it is said in the question itself)

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    A follow-up question: why the number "4" is necessarily objective? Just because these particular observers agreed in their count? What if the 3rd observer comes, agrees with the girl that the cake is yummy, but says that there are 5 apples on the plate, would the count of apples be as subjective as the yumminess of the cake or will the objective-subjective distinction remain?
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 16:58
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    If two people respond differently to the same medicine, does that mean their bodies are 'subjective'?
    – labreuer
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 7:17

Objective- an unchanging truth not dependent on perception. A universal truth. Subjective- how you understand something to be. It is your interpretation.


A subjective statement is one that refers to a subject. Anything else is "objective".

Does objective value mean anything that is independent of one's mind? Meaning, no matter what one agrees or disagrees of the existence of something, it still exists? Whereas subjective value is mind-dependent?

Subjective theories of value can have a number of meanings e.g.

there is an entrenched usage in metaethics for using the latter [subjectivism] to denote the thesis that in making a moral judgment one is reporting (as opposed to expressing) one's own mental attitudes

As well as what this article terms "non-objectivism"

Non-objectivism (as it will be called here) allows that moral facts exist but holds that they are, in some manner to be specified, constituted by mental activity.

The "non-objectivism" is about mind independence, but like the article suggests, there any many ways to define "independence" and so

the notion of “mind-independence” is problematically indeterminate

Please note that this "non-objectivism" or subjectivism is the claim that there are no moral facts independent of the mind, not that there are no moral facts. I sense some confusion in your question about that, though it may be my imagination.

Finally, it is not clear to me if relativism is a subjective theory

Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

If anyone wants to leave a comment explaining if it is, that'd be great!


Since you wrote objectively that you are [pretty new to philosophy] and even thought I subjectively think otherwise about you maybe you will have some additional fun on exploring the World 1, World 2 and World 3 from Karl Popper (as suggested by Sir John Eccles) in the conference of Alpbach, August 1982 with the subtitle "in search for a better world" (free translation from Portuguese) in one hand and exploring "objective reality", "subjective reality" and "intersubjective reality" as presented by Yuval Noah Harari in Homo Deus. You can make a matrix with 3 X 3. It is fun to see how certain things remain the same no matter the packaging we organize them ☺☺☺

How objectivity is part of the universe


That's a pretty good first attempt at defining the difference between the two things.

Very simply put, Objective means that the thing is true or not, independently of how you happen to feel about it. E.g. the law of gravity or the statement that eating too much carbs without exercising will make you fat.

Subjective means that what is true for you may not be true for someone else. E.g. I think post-modern art is uniformly awful, whereas others may think it's the best artistic movement they've ever come across.

For bonus points, Subjective values may be defined as the type of values which may be arrived at by different methods depending on one's own tastes and priorities. E.g. which car you think is the best depends on whether you like off-roading, long road trips or short trips to work and back. Objective values are constant and can only be measured by one fixed set of tests, e.g. whether or not a Toyota Prius is a good choice for off-roading.

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    That is a very superficial answer, and with no sources at all.
    – iphigenie
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 13:08
  • One tailors one's answers to the audience. The OP is new to philosophy and as such will not profit by a full meta-ethical treatment. Anyone with even a basic grasp of rhetoric will understand this. Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 13:20
  • While I certainly agree on tailoring your answer, answers are supposed to be helpful to others as well, and even a novice could do with sources to check out for further reading, no?
    – iphigenie
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 14:09
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    @Iphigenia: Sources are only needed if one argues that the terms have different meanings in philosophy than in natural language, or if that is in doubt, or if obscuriantism is a requirement. Then one would need some definitive authority on Terminology In Philosophy, the ISO Standard of Philosophical Terminology. Do you think it exists? Can you link to some place it can be bought? Why is it in your opinion a good thing to obscure and cite authority on the utterly trivial? Commented May 14, 2015 at 16:18

Subjectivity is a subset of objectivity. The best way to think of objective vs subjective anything is to view it at facts vs opinions. What is interesting is that opinions are also objective in many ways. For instance, if you tell me your opinion on cake, I can objectively tell you the fact that you like cake if I know that you like cake. So subjective things are usually an uncertain thing or a thing which is illogical as logical things can be proven to be objectively true in all circumstances where the terms to which the question are relevent are necesarily specific. It is not a subjective statement that there is currently dust on my ground. It is a subjective statement if I were to say I can't tell that there is dust on the ground with my present knowledge. If I knew more, I could make he objectively true statement that there is in fact dust on the ground. So objective knowledge can only come from understanding the entirity of the relevent components of the presently observable system while subjectivity is like an unsubstantiated belief.

  • Welcome to Philosophy.SE! It would be nice if you could add some references to this.
    – user2953
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 19:24

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