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Subjective Matters vs. Nonsubjective Matters


The aim of this tutorial is to help you learn to differentiate between subjective and nonsubjective matters.

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2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

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An issue is either subjective or nonsubjective.


Determining which of these it is can be extremely important because an argument about each kind of issue requires different tactics and expectations. Most basically, an issue is nonsubjective when there are generally agreed-upon criteria for settling it. On the other hand, there are no agreed-upon criteria for settling a subjective issue. It is helpful to remember that when two people are on opposite sides of a nonsubjective issue, it is impossible for both of them to be correct. This is not the case with a subjective issue.
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2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Consider the following issues and determine whether they are subjective or non subjective.
whether PCs or Macs are the best kinds of computers to use for graphic design applications Are there generally agreed-upon criteria for settling this issue? If the answer is no, then this is a subjective issue. If the answer is yes, then this is a nonsubjective issue.

For instance, if we agree that the standard for deciding should be what type of computers are used by most professional graphic artists, then this is a nonsubjective issue.
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2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

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whether Africa contains the greatest number of different animal species (or South America)
If the answer is no, then this is a subjective issue. If the answer is yes, then this is a nonsubjective issue.

Are there generally agreed-upon criteria for settling this issue?

This is a nonsubjective issue. It is logically possible to actually observe and count all the species on each continent. Though this is impossible in practice, its conceivability still makes the question a nonsubjective issue. There is a fact of the matter that can be checked empirically, at least in theory.
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whether Wilt Chamberlain was a better basketball player than Michael Jordan
If the answer is no, then this is a subjective issue. If the answer is yes, then this is a nonsubjective issue.

Are there generally agreed-upon criteria for settling this issue?

This is an interesting case. There are some criteria that are generally used to measure the skill of basketball players: field goal percentage, average points per game, average rebounds per game, etc. However, even the experts argue about how to apply these criteria to players from different eras, or who typically play different positions, or who are on talented or not-so-talented teams. So, this is most likely a subjective issue.
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2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Is the death penalty morally acceptable or not? Are there generally agreed-upon criteria for settling this issue? If the answer is no, then this is a subjective issue. If the answer is yes, then this is a nonsubjective matter.

Another interesting case. In its widest sense this is a subjective issue since people across the world, or even across our country do not agree upon criteria for determining morality. However, within a given culture whose members generally agree on a set of moral rules, this might be a nonsubjective issue.
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2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

As you can see from the preceding examples, although the general rule used to differentiate between subjective and nonsubjective issues is quite easy to understand, it is often more difficult to apply that rule clearly. It is usual for people to disagree about the existence of criteria to use to decide an issue. When we cant agree about the existence or nonexistence of criteria we will not be able to clearly decide whether we are dealing with a subjective issue or a nonsubjective one. It is in these troublesome cases where ones critical-thinking ability will be the most use.
This is the end of the tutorial.
2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.