Social Conventions – Objective or Subjective?
Objectivity – another desired quality of the language of science – is a term loaded with connotations and interpretations; it’s rarely a straightforward concept. It helps to contrast it with subjectivity. An entirely subjective statement is one of personal preference, such as “daffodils are the prettiest kind of flower” – this might be a consensus among a large group of people, but is not in universal agreement. Something that is in agreement with others is not necessarily objective, nor is it necessarily truth.
There are certain things, however, that are somewhat objective because of their agreement amongst individuals. Social conventions are of this nature. Money, for instance, is a great example. A particular piece of paper is money not because of any physical qualities it possesses (it’s just a piece of paper with ink), but because social agents have agreed on it and created it. In this sense, it is ontologically subjective – meaning, its existence is contingent on human consensus, and it has no meaningful existence otherwise. However, at this point, determining whether a piece of paper is money isn’t a matter of personal preference; no one could say that a five-dollar bill isn’t five dollars. It is epistemologically objective – meaning, our knowledge of this social convention, and its influence and effects, are based on ascertainable facts, independent of individual opinions. Because of it’s subjectivity, collective thought determines what society is; though because of it’s objectivity, collective thoughts are, in part, determined by society. However, those of us who aim to contribute to the advancement of civilization will benefit from understanding the subjective aspect of society.
Social reality, including rules, conventions, codes, is built on shared understandings – it is an expression of human agreement. A red light means “stop”, and a green light means “go”; but there is absolutely no reason that it couldn’t have been the opposite. Yet, social reality shapes human relationships and interactions, forms human thought and understanding, and directs action and conduct. There is a profound reciprocal relationship between human thought and social reality – each affects the other, and a change is either necessitates a simultaneous change in both.
What are the implications that social reality is ontologically subjective?
What are the implications that social reality is epistemologically objective?
If a large enough amount of people believe something to be true, does it become social convention?
What about the inertia built into the social structures that exist?