What is subjectivism?
Question: "What is subjectivism?"
Answer: Subjectivism is the philosophical theory that there is no truth outside of one’s own experience. It is contrasted with objectivism, which believes the opposite: that truth exists outside of experience and that, though we may not entirely understand that truth, it is there and it is absolute. Subjectivism says that truth is subjective and that it is basically dependent on the subject’s mind and experience. Subjectivism is quite like relativism in that it says what is true for one person may not be true for another. Determining good and evil must happen on a case-by-case basis, and reality is seen as fluid and plastic, moldable as circumstances demand. One absolute standard, according to the philosophy of subjectivism, does not fit all.
It is true that we all have subjective experiences. Part of wisdom is the understanding that other people think and perceive and feel differently. Forcing everyone into the same mold and the same methods is often counterproductive. Two very different personalities can believe objectively in the same truth, even if their way of learning about and relating to that truth is different. Take, for example, the experiences of the apostles Peter and John. Jesus related to those two men in very different ways and taught them each according to what He knew they needed—all without changing Himself or His message (John 21:15–23; Matthew 16:23; John 13:23–25). Repeatedly, Jesus’ gentleness toward John is evident, while Jesus is tougher and more combative with the strong-willed Peter. Jesus presented the truth differently, but He did not change the truth. He did not espouse subjectivism. He is the truth (John 14:6).
Subjectivism says that truth actually changes to fit the individual. Largely, subjectivism is a postmodern reaction to the horrible conflicts that have arisen from people fighting over the definition of truth. Over the centuries, the world has been embroiled in many conflicts, with all parties claiming the high ground based on the “truth” they espouse. People have been oppressed because of their beliefs, it seems, since the beginning of time. Given this history, a society whose philosophy is subjectivism feels safe and progressive. But subjectivism brings its own chaos. Today, many in our world empathize with terrorists, puzzle over how many genders there are, and question the very reality of reality.
While it may attempt to avert conflict, subjectivism—which is essentially a total rejection of belief—is not immune from conflict. In the void left by the banishment of absolute truth, another principle rushes in: tolerance. Tolerance becomes a rule in and of itself, and when thoughts and ideas can be categorized as “intolerant,” then they can and should be legally suppressed. If one person’s “subjective” ideas might cause an (equally subjective) offense, then that individual’s ideas cannot be tolerated—tolerance is intolerant of intolerance, however it chooses to define it. Thus even subjectivism can and does result in oppression.
The fact is objective truth exists and that truth is presented in Scripture (John 17:17). This is not a popular idea today, but since when have the ungodly loved God’s Word (see Romans 1:32)? Any philosophy that attempts to explain the universe apart from God’s revealed truth will end badly because it inevitably places the will of the individual in the center. And whenever one will is pitted against another, there will be conflict. Conversely, when all wills are submitted to Christ, there will be peace; conflict ceases (Galatians 5:13; John 13:34–35).
A world that denies the truth and embraces subjectivism will naturally be in conflict with those who hold to absolute truth. That’s why Jesus promised that His gospel would create conflict (Matthew 10:34–36). Christians are not to seek peace at the cost of objective truth; therefore, subjectivism is a philosophy Christians cannot accept. Instead, Christians cling to the truth and refuse to deny Christ, even when it results in conflict and persecution (Matthew 5:10–11; 10:33).
Recommended Resource: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
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What is subjectivism?