"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock." (Mt 7:24-25)Today we're going to start building something I call "God from the ground up". It seems that answering one question about God, the Bible, or the Catholic faith just brings up another question. Or another hundred. In this series, we'll try to build up from the most basic building blocks, step by step, all the way to the Catholic creed, morality, and sacramental life.
Where should we start? We have to begin somewhere more fundamental than any discussion of God. The goal today is to comprehend two terms: "subjective" and "objective", and to distinguish between them. This may not be the most exciting (or most theological) information, but it's going to come up time and again as we learn more. These make up the first brick in our foundation:
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "objective" originally meant "considered in relation to its object". In other words, a thought is objective when it has to do with some object out there - outside of the person having the thought. A statement is objective when it has to do with an object out there, outside of the person making the statement.
Here is an easy test: can you change the speaker without changing the truth of the statement?
If I say "The dog is red.", I am making an objective statement. Whether I say "the dog is red" or you say "the dog is red" doesn't change the truth of it. The dog is red (and someone's in trouble for letting it into the paint!) or it isn't. You and I are both talking about some object (a dog, a sandwich, my hair, Bob*), so the statement is objective.
In contrast, if I say "I like chocolate ice cream" and you say "I like chocolate ice cream", the truth of the statement could be different. You may hate chocolate ice cream! (What's wrong with you?) Because changing the subject ("I", "you", "Johnny", "all of us", etc.) could change whether the sentence is true or false, it is a subjective statement.
It isn't as simple as "subject is bad, objective is good". It is not automatically wrong to make a subjective statement. What we need to do, though, is to recognize subjective statements for what they are. Generally, subjective statements are about opinions--things that can be true for one person and not true for another, such as "I like mushrooms on my pizza." Objective statements are about facts--things that must be the same between changes of subject.
If you say "I don't like mushrooms on my pizza" and I say "I do like mushrooms on my pizza", we may both be telling the truth. If I say "the pizza is on the table" and you say "the pizza isn't on the table", one of us must be wrong; that is an objective statement.
Where should I go from here?
- How can we discuss truths about God without understanding the difference between opinion and fact, or (our next topic) absolute and relative. Evangelical philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig discusses this critical need in his talk "In Intellectual Neutral".
- Catholic philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft asks "Is Anything Really Right or Wrong?" in a 1998 Veritas Forum talk.
- The Catechism uses the term "objective" in this way several times, including paragraphs 1751, 2109 and 2372.
* Here I mean an object in the grammatical sense. Most people treat their dogs as people, not things. And you should never treat Bob like an object, however good he looks. He still can be the object of a sentence, though.