Subjectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to consciousness, agency, personhood, reality, and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Three common definitions include that subjectivity is the quality or condition of:
- Something being a subject, narrowly meaning an individual who possesses conscious experiences, such as perspectives, feelings, beliefs, and desires.
- Something being a subject, broadly meaning an entity that has agency, meaning that it acts upon or wields power over some other entity (an object).
- Some information, idea, situation, or physical thing considered true only from the perspective of a subject or subjects.
These various definitions of subjectivity are sometimes joined together in philosophy. The term is most commonly used as an explanation for that which influences, informs, and biases people's judgments about truth or reality; it is the collection of the perceptions, experiences, expectations, personal or cultural understanding, and beliefs specific to a person. It is often used in contrast to the term objectivity, which is described as a view of truth or reality which is free of any individual's influence.
The rise of the notion of subjectivity has its philosophical roots in the thinking of Descartes and Kant, and its articulation throughout the modern era has depended on the understanding of what constitutes an individual. There have been various interpretations of such concepts as the self and the soul, and the identity or self-consciousness which lies at the root of the notion of subjectivity.
Subjectivity is an inherently social mode that comes about through innumerable interactions within society. As much as subjectivity is a process of individuation, it is equally a process of socialization, the individual never being isolated in a self-contained environment, but endlessly engaging in interaction with the surrounding world. Culture is a living totality of the subjectivity of any given society constantly undergoing transformation. Subjectivity is both shaped by it and shapes it in turn, but also by other things like the economy, political institutions, communities, as well as the natural world.
Though the boundaries of societies and their cultures are indefinable and arbitrary, the subjectivity inherent in each one is palatable and can be recognized as distinct from others. Subjectivity is in part a particular experience or organization of reality, which includes how one views and interacts with humanity, objects, consciousness, and nature, so the difference between different cultures brings about an alternate experience of existence that forms life in a different manner. A common effect on an individual of this disjunction between subjectivities is culture shock, where the subjectivity of the other culture is considered alien and possibly incomprehensible or even hostile.
Political subjectivity is an emerging concept in social sciences and humanities. Political subjectivity is a reference to the deep embeddedness of subjectivity in the socially intertwined systems of power and meaning. "Politicality," writes Sadeq Rahimi in Meaning, Madness and Political Subjectivity, "is not an added aspect of the subject, but indeed the mode of being of the subject, that is, precisely what the subject is."
- Solomon, Robert C. "Subjectivity," in Honderich, Ted. Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2005), p.900.
- "Subjectivity and Individuality: Two Strands in Early Modern Philosophy" (PDF). Erasmus University Rotterdam. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
- Rahimi, Sadeq (2015). Meaning, Madness and Political Subjectivity: A Study of Schizophrenia and Culture in Turkey. Oxford & New York: Routledge. p. 8. ISBN 1138840823.
- Beiser,Frederick C. (2002). German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801. Harvard University Press.
- Block, Ned; Flanagan, Owen J.; & Gzeldere, Gven (Eds.) The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-52210-6
- Bowie, Andrew (1990). Aesthetics and Subjectivity : From Kant to Nietzsche. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Dallmayr, Winfried Reinhard (1981). Twilight of Subjectivity: Contributions to a Post-Individualist Theory Politics. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
- Ellis, C. & Flaherty, M. (1992). Investigating Subjectivity: Research on Lived Experience. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. ISBN 978-0-8039-4496-1
- Farrell, Frank B. (1994). Subjectivity, Realism, and Postmodernism: The Recovery of the World in Recent Philosophy. Cambridge - New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Johnson, Daniel. (2003). On Truth As Subjectivity In Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Quodlibet Journal: Volume 5 Number 2-3, July 2003.
- Lauer, Quentin (1958). The Triumph of Subjectivity: An Introduction to Transcendental Phenomenology. Fordham University Press.
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