Saturday, November 10, 2007

Subjective, Objective, Relative, Existential

In the imposing, but handy, Oxford Companion to Philosophy[1], there are entries about "objectivism and subjectivism"[2], and "relativism, epistemological"[3] that lead to the following observations:

  • Objectivism says that some statements are objective, in that they are true independent of anyone's opinion. e.g. This ball is red. Alternatively, values assigned to properties can be dependent on other factors and be described by a function rather than a simple value. e.g. The color of Ayer's Rock is F(time-of-day, weather).
  • Subjectivism says that (potentially all) statements are subjective, in that they are dependent on the opinion of the person making the statement. e.g. This cake is delicious.
  • Relativism says that statements are always subjective even when the decider thinks he's made an objective evaluation. I.E. no evaluations are objective because man is always biased by his particular cultural, historical, religious, etc viewpoint, and no particular viewpoint is "the right one". e.g. This society is primitive.
  • Existential Programming philosophy says that even if something is supposedly scalar & objective, and even if one does not subscribe to relativism (thus implying that there is no need to ascribe to values a particular data source), the reliability of any particular data source is never perfect, and thus one needs to model data as if relativism were true. I.E. keep track of "says who" for each "fact" and therefore be prepared to simultaneously handle/store multiple values for everything, tagging them with "says who", "said when", etc. So, in effect, there are no scalar values, only functions with at least a data source as a parameter.
[1] Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd Ed, 2005
[2] ibid, pg 667
[3] ibid, pg 800


  1. wow, how interesting! I will have to bookmark you!

    Subjectivism and relativism seem both reasonable arguments. But to practice existential programming at all times, relative to all people that you come into contact with/ speak with, to me, sounds exhausting! You'll have to be a very thorough thinker to be able to program this existentialism in to your head at all times!

  2. Luckily, it is the *computer* being programmed to track all this stuff!

    While Objectivism, Subjectivism, Relativism, and Existentialism are all human philosophies, my theory of "Existential Programming" refers to a new approach to programming computers.

    Traditional computer programming requires a programmer to declare his/her "model" of the world in advance (much like Plato's Ideal Forms). I.E the "essence" of something must be defined before one can go making instances of it. I.E. one can't create a "cow" object in a program before one defines what a "cow" is. This is known as "Essence precedes Existence". The Existentialists reversed this motto to "Existence precedes Essence" meaning that things can exist without having a form to which they must be limited. Existential Programming would have programmers do the same, namely create objects that can not only change form (i.e. hold different data) over time, but can actually hold my definition of a cow, your definition of a cow, and Joe Blow's definition, all simultaneously.