Almustapha asked:

Describe the difference between objective valuation and subjective valuation.

Answer by Martin Jenkins

Objective Valuation

Objective valuation in ethics, would make recourse to a criteria, an index that is characterised by impartiality or by some absolute authority. It is not up for debate, dependent on people or the product of their feelings, impulses or desires. For example, Immanuel Kant would maintain that his Categorical Imperative is a product of detached, impartial reasoning. It is devoid of subjective impulses or desires for particular results or resting on the same impulses and desires acting as motives (which he would term a Hypothetical Imperative: If you want B then do A). This permits acts, goal oriented acts which could be completed when resting on less than honest motives. For instance, I help the person across the road in hope of monetary reward-or approbation from others or feeling good myself. The acts and its consequence is good (i.e. vulnerable person has crossed the road) but the motive is wrong. Similarly, my motive may be good — to help a vulnerable human being — but the outcome less than good: I help the person across the road only to find that unintentionally, I helped him evade his pursuing and exasperated carers. ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ as Sartre wrote. Subjective valuation does not therefore, guarantee a good motive or consequence.

So for Kant, Reason demands that the Imperative is not subject to confusion or contradiction by its being ‘universalisable’ — it can feasibly be applied to all human beings. It is a matter of deontology: the act alone is good. Regardless of motives or consequences, it will ‘shine like a jewel’.

Subjective Valuation

Although much criticised by Kant, Subjective valuation is for some thinkers, the only basis of ethical valuation. They are and only can be person dependent. For Nietzsche, objective valuation claiming its basis in Judeo-Christian religion, is a myth, part of the two-thousand year valuations of the of Judeo-Christian religion which is ‘Platonism for the people’. In actuality, objective evaluations are social projections of a particular peoples values — a ‘table of values’ as he terms it in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (or, those of its creative thinkers/ philosophers). The value of such values are those of a timid, uncreative, restrictive and repressive mentality which has done untold damage to the culture of Europe. In no sense are they objective. They would, Nietzsche believed, be replaced by the valuations of ‘new philosophers’, initially termed the Ubermensch.

Further, Nietzsche believed that Kant’s Categorical Imperative was, like all evaluations made be humans, a subjective testament to their creator-symptoms of who/ what s/he is. Kant’s objective evaluation was in essence, the subjective valuation of a human being who valued order, timidity and being subject to commands from external authorities-in this case, Reason.

Finally, how could the ‘objectivity’ of such objective valuation be tested? It would have to be contrasted or verified by criteria. This is either self-justifying-assuming the truth of that which has yet to be proven i.e. Kant assumes the truth of Reason. Why? Or, the problem of justifying objective valuation leads to an infinite regress. i.e. the value of Reason is valued by what? by something else? This in turn is subject to another criteria and so on ad infinitum.

Regarding subjective valuation, you might also want to look at the philosophies of Max Stirner and Ayn Rand.