These are the four concepts, I have always tried to classify ideas into. They hold a very clear meaning to me and have helped me a lot to think about problems in general. So I should perhaps have written this article quite a while ago. I did not, because of a characteristic fault of mine: Laziness.
So. Now that I do get to describe them, I first need to explain why they are necessary. If you read my earlier article about Reality, you'd realize that the only things that can be proved, are either direct natural facts or their consequences. Nothing else can really be proved. I choose to call that what can be proved, Physical Reality. Its a bit circular, but lets not get into the how of it for the present. An example I typically invoke is jumping down the Eiffel tower. It kills you contextually.
The question here really is about the means to the proof of phenomena.
There is a well behaved and well characterized process that describes the construction of proofs called the Scientific method. The structure of this method is well known. To ascribe the truth value to the explanation of a phenomenon, it utilizes previously determined truth values of other explanations to related underlying (fundamental) phenomena, going back to natural facts, that are typically axiomatic in nature. The idea is, that the methodology, once established yields the same results for everyone (as in every observer performing the same 'Experiment').
What needs to be noticed here in detail, is the actual arrangement of the process. It involves the following components:
- An observer
- An apparatus
- An event
The event is nothing but the phenomenon, the explanation to which is being sought. The apparatus is a construction that measures the relevant quantifiable aspects of the phenomenon, within some scope of error (which may or may not be the significant error of the apparatus itself). The Observer is the analyzer of the data with a fixed algorithm.
What the reader should now realize is that ALL the words in the Title, are ways to assign truth values.
The description above concerning the observer, apparatus and the event can be established for all of them. Its the construction of apparatus and the algorithm and the obtained result that differentiates between the the words in the title.
When all observers using the same Apparatus and the same algorithm get the same result, the construction is called Objective.
When two observers get two different results by observing the same phenomenon, there are two possible reasons why that might happen:
- The observers have different apparatus
- The observers have different algorithms
One can already see that there is no other way in a physical reality, to explain the difference in the results.
When such kind of differences occur, the construction of the value judgment is termed RELATIVE. It is an arguable fact that most people have Relative measures to assign truth values (although not typically in Science, where the algorithms tend to converge due to maximizing the convenience of the scientific pursuit; scientists are whales of convenience except when it comes to nomenclature).
Now, there are instances, where Observers have to decide, what action they must take. If they have a clear goal and exact information and a convenient framework built on Physical reality (no other framework is meaningful), all their actions are Objective because they will always get the same result.
The problem occurs when this information is insufficient. In which case they ASSUME that certain courses of action must be set, instead of being determined objectively. Value judgments resulting out of SET concepts are called Normative. But even more simply, the process of choosing the Goal itself is even more Normative than the means. Goals themselves can not have any Objective basis. So in principle all acts of choice are Normative in nature.
This, I must declare, is the MOST fundamental description of what Normative is. A Typical example is Morality. Of every kind. Morality is based on what observers decide (instead of determining) what they consider leads best to their goal and the goal itself.
Finally, the subjective.
In the original construction of the experiment (Observer, Apparatus and Event) if different observers get different results, simply by the virtue of being DIFFERENT observers, the value judgment they pass is called Subjective. This is the definition that is implicitly made at linguistic level.
Now to some healthy dose of criticism.
There can be no true subjectivity in a physical reality. All differences within observers are due to the fundamental APPARATUS: the brain. When people get different results from the same experiment, it usually means that they are not using the same algorithm which makes their decisions RELATIVE. But due to the complexity of the idea of self-recognition, it is mistakenly assumed to be subjective.