Thinking may be conceived of as being either objective or subjective. Where objective thinking means reasoning according to a set of logically objective standards, while subjective thinking refers to reasoning without objective standards and is thus largely contingent on the nature of the individual subject conducting the process.
A subject is a person or thing, in this context subjective means pertaining to or characteristic of an individual person.1 Likewise it can mean relating to properties or specific conditions of the individual mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.2 Subjective thinking is then thinking from a single, subject-centered perspective. An example of subjective thinking would be Eurocentrism, seeing the world from the single subjective perspective of a European person, which can not be generalized to all.
Subject-centric thinking is centered on the individual and specific to that individual, it can not be generalized or made objective because subjective though is thinking based on emotion and personal preference rather than rational logic. A subjective statement is one that has been altered by the specific character of the speaker or writer. It often has a basis in reality but strongly reflects the perspective through which the speaker interprets the world.3
Humans have evolved from creatures whose own survival depended upon being focused on their own interests, often at the expense of others, as is typically the case with animals. Biologically we develop from children that are essentially the center of their own universe with little comprehension for the existence of other entities as in some way separate from them.4 Physiologically we experience the world through our individual body, located in a specific time, place, culture, and society. All of these place a subjective interpretation on the world as a default position to the human condition; a view of the world that is centered around the individual subject.
In this respect one might think of subjective thinking as first-order thinking – as we are all born with it – and objective thinking as a form of second-order thinking in that it is something that must be purposefully developed through standards that we place on ourselves and try to live up to. There is nothing inherently wrong with subjective thinking, we all experience the world as subjects. But subjective thinking is not based on objective standards it is dependent on the nature of the individual, it is conditioned and contingent on the character of the individual. Thus subjective thinking can be positive or negative depending on the subject. Depending on the nature of the individual, subjective thinking can be shaped by an altruistic or egoistic perspective.
Altruism or selflessness is the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others.5 A belief, thought or behavior may be described as being altruistic when it is perceived to be motivated by a desire to benefit someone other than oneself for that person’s sake.6 The word was coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in French, as altruisme, as an antonym of egoism. He derived it from the Italian altrui, which in turn was derived from Latin alteri, meaning “other people” or “somebody else”.7 Altruism in biological organisms can be defined as an individual performing an action which is at a cost to themselves, but benefits, either directly or indirectly, another third-party individual, without the expectation of reciprocity or compensation for that action.
There has been some debate on whether or not humans are truly capable of psychological altruism.8 Complete altruism may be seen to be as impossible as complete egoism in that no one individual exists independently from all other things – and can thus be solely focused on their individual interests without interest in others – vice versa no individual can exist as completely a part of everything else – being able to be interested in only the whole and others without regard for their own individual interests.
Altruism is a traditional virtue in many cultures and a core aspect of various religious traditions and secular value systems. 9 Altruism is often a core component of a belief/value system’s conception of being “good” with acts of altruism endorsing the individual as such. Altruism is often strongly associated with religion or spiritual convictions that the world is good and whole. This is corroborated in research by Robert D. Putnam in his 1990 book10 “bowling alone,” which demonstrated that those who frequented churches or synagogue were more likely do volunteer work, to give money to charity, donate blood, help the homeless, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed etc. Religiosity, as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than other factors such as education, age, income, gender or race.11 Psychological altruism is contrasted with psychological egoism, which refers to the motivation to increase one’s own welfare.12 The two may often exist in a somewhat reciprocal role of codependency. In the book The Economics of Herbert Spencer13 By W. C. Owen the author writes “From the dawn of life, then, egoism has been dependent upon altruism as altruism has been deepened upon egoism; and in the course of evolution the reciprocal services of the two have been increasing.” Like all forms of subjective thinking, altruism identifies the world with one’s self. Just as with egoism, there is no differentiation between the subjective individual and the objective environment.
Egocentrism is the incapacity to differentiate between self and other. More precisely, it is the incapacity to untangle subjective schemas from objective reality; an inability to understand or assume any perspective other than one’s own.14 Egocentric thinking is a way of thinking that is centered around the subject’s individual motives, desires, and interests, it is a way of reasoning that places an over-emphasis on the value and importance of the subject doing the thinking. Egocentrism results in a tendency to derive information via referencing oneself and how one is being affected by the world; a tendency to view everything in relationship to oneself, without any real independent objective existence; one’s desires, values, and beliefs (seem to be self-evidently correct) are often uncritically used as the norm and standard for interpreting all judgment and experience. 15
Egocentrism is a product of a failure of psychological differentiation during development, that would result in the capacity for an objective perspective – seeing things as existing, and having value, independently from oneself. The term egocentrism derives from the work of Jean Piaget’s a Swiss clinical psychologist known for his pioneering work in child development. His 1950’s theory of cognitive development, refers to a lack of differentiation between some aspect of self and other. The classical example is the failure of perspective-taking that is characteristic of young children. Unable to infer accurately the perspective of others, the egocentric child ascribes their own perspective to them instead.
However, egocentrism is a broader concept that encompasses a number of additional features of psychological development, these include realism – the confusion of objective and subjective – animism – a confusion of animate and inanimate – and artificialism – a confusion of human activity or intentions with natural causes. What these forms of egocentrism have in common is the inability to differentiate subjective and objective perspectives. Children project subjective qualities onto external objects or events; are unable to decenter from their own perspective, or else assimilate objective reality to their subjective schemas, the result being a deformation of reality in some way.16 Piaget suggested that egocentrism was a primary characteristic of children’s thought processes until around six to seven years of age, or when they are able to form objective mental models during attempts to solve problems.17 However, when egoism continues past this level and the child fails to differentiate between self and other this becomes an issue. There is nothing wrong with people following their own objectives, interests, and desires, the problem arises when that is done without regard for others – which is often the case when an objective perspective is not developed in order to give balanced value to others.
Subjective thinking focused on the individual extends to their group, creating ethnocentrism. Which are tendencies to regard one’s own social context or culture as central, based on a belief that one’s own cultural group is superior to others. Ethnocentrism is a form of egocentrism extended from the self to the group that the individual identifies with. Much non-reflexive thinking is either egocentric or ethnocentric in nature.18 Egoism, like all exclusively subjective philosophies, is prone to constant self-contradiction because it supports all individuals’ self-interests irrespective of any logic.19 Because individuals develop within different contexts, and thus form different subjective perspectives, the result can be overall disunity.20
Subjective thinking, whether over altruistic or over egoistic, derives from a failure of the individual to differentiate themselves from the objective world. The result is a naive perspective that the world is simply transparent to their conception of it. Subjective thinking is naive in nature in that it lacks the capacity to analyze information according to some set of objective standards that might determine its value or validity. Indeed, subjective thinking, in it different forms, leads to a projection of one’s own way of being onto the rest of the world; whether the individual’s way of being is seen as positive or negative i.e. altruistic or egoistic.
With egoism, this often means naive cynicism. Naive cynicism is a philosophy of mind, cognitive bias, and form of psychological egoism that occurs when people naively expect more egocentric bias in others than actually is the case.21 Likewise, an individual with an altruistic perspective will tend to project their own will onto the world, in trust and faith that others and the world are in some way “good” – the opposite from naive cynicism. Equally subjective thinking naively leads to the conclusion that one naturally sees the world in some objective way, and that there is only really one perspective on the world. As Piaget noted, “an egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear, and feel exactly the same as the child does.”22 In a social context, subjective thinking leads to people believing what they believe, not because of evidence and reasoning but simply because they have been raised to believe that. This naive perspective is maintained by a lack of exposure to other ways of thinking, by staying within a single culture or society that maintains a single dominant belief or value system – the result being that they believe their cultural perspective is the only correct interpretation of reality.
The idea that people naïvely believe they see things objectively and others do not has been acknowledged for quite some time in the field of social psychology.23 For example, while studying social cognition, Solomon Asch and Gustav Ichheiser wrote in 1949: “[W]e tend to resolve our perplexity arising out of the experience that other people see the world differently than we see it ourselves by declaring that those others, in consequence of some basic intellectual and moral defect, are unable to see the things “as they really are” and to react to them “in a normal way.” We thus imply, of course, that things are in fact as we see them and that our ways are the normal ways.”24
Subjective thinking uses objective reasoning as a means to justify its own ends to others as being in some way objectively derived. We are motivated to believe especially those things that we want to believe. The default mode of human psychology is to arrive at beliefs for largely emotional reasons and then to employ our reason—more to justify those beliefs than to modify or arrive at those beliefs in the first place. Subject thinking often results in the process of starting with the conclusion and then figuring out which arguments can be marshaled in order to defend that conclusion. On the other hand, objective reasoning focuses on the process going forward, where the conclusion follows from the logic and not the other way around.
Rationalization is symptomatic of the desire within subjective thinking to make reality fit the subjects desired conception of it, rather than the subject altering their conception in accordance with some objective logic. Because subjective thinking is dependent upon a single perspective or conclusion the thinker will more often alter reality to make it fit their thinking, and will be unlikely to abandon their thinking in the face of a reality that refutes it, until completely necessary.