Subjective = meaningless.

So, that’s a deliberately provocative title (which I was assured by a friend in social marketing was a good way to generate blog traffic) … but it’s vaguely accurate.

Does subjective = meaningless?


Clearly not; how I experience pain is meaningful to me. And my assessments of my own pain may be reproducible (I’ll say the same if you ask me again). And discriminatory (I’ll say different when I’ve eaten a nice bun, with a cup of tea and something on the telly, compared to when you’re taking an ABG without anaesthetic from me). And have face validity (someone seeing me writing saying ‘It hurts’ believes me).

But are somethings that should be questioned more than “If you feel it, it must be true” – if one accepts a positivist view of reality – I think those questions are “Are these truthful?” and “Are these important?”

It may be that society does not make the subjective outcome as important as the objective one. It may be that we weight the ejection fraction higher than the walk distance. And it may be that a “subjective” outcome is erroneously reported – as an “objective” outcome might be.

Sometimes though, we mistake as argument about subjectivity for one about surrogacy. For example, it may be disputed that satisfaction with a training course is important – it’s passing the exam that counts. In this case, I think the argument is not that the satisfaction is subjective but that it is a measurement on the way to something else (exam score) and an assumption being made about the link between happy students and passed exams.

(And there’s something else too … what you might call objective … length of hospital stay … is also open to the nuances of opinion and belief that are found in degree-of-joint-movement and how-tired-i-currently-feel. As another friend said, the only objective things are death and taxis.*)

– Archi

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