Subjective disposition

If, from our very earliest moments, we learn to conceive ourselves as beings who exist in space, an object among objects, within a world held in common — and then later to understand subjectivity as a way to account for differences in how we apparently experience this shared space-bound, object-filled reality we inhabit together, our basic disposition will be objective.

Is this the natural human intellect, or is it cultural? I don’t know, but I can say that this was the disposition I had when I emerged from the oblivion of early childhood, and it seems to be, if not universal, common to most people around me.

When I was very young, Unless I was confronted with evidence to the contrary, I assumed people experienced things the way I did. When they didn’t, this seemed to require explanation. Of course, every child learns the fundamental fact of subjectivity, that I have my experiences and others have theirs. I can feel pain or pleasure, when others do not, and vice versa. To recognize that an something painless or even pleasurable to me might be painful to another is less obvious. And to suspect that that the pain another is attempting to express or describe might be of a kind unlike any pain I’ve known is far from obvious.

But all of these ways of conceiving subjectivity, as means to explain difference in a common objective field, belongs to what I’m calling an objective disposition.


Somewhere in my early 30s I shifted my disposition to a subjective one — or rather, I began to — because the first event in the shift was a second objectivity.

I want to clarify what I mean here by shift, because this shift was not only a change in ideas, or assessment of what ideas were true or false, better or worse, more or less compelling or more or less useful for my purposes.

The shift in disposition arose from a mixture of interrogating my basic understandings and values, and experimentally entertaining new understandings and values, but did not consist essentially of new ideas or ideals. Something else happened, and it could not be communicated in any direct way. It could only be indicated or expressed, not explained. All I could say about the change itself was that it defied speech, that it changed literally everything and that I could not imagine a supernatural event more surprising or momentous than this.

Strangely, what I was able to talk about was the objective world as it reemerged in a very new way — what Richard Rorty calls redescription. This new world demanded redescription.

Later, the need to bridge this new objectivity and my own experience of it with the understandings of others around me, especially those closest to me, became urgent. As I reflected on the relationship between subjectivity and the multiple objectivities that had seemed true to me, and in fact, in both cases were indistinguishable from reality itself, I shifted from a second objectivity to what I am calling a subjective disposition, which sees all objectivity as arising from subjectivity.

I stopped feeling the need to root my metaphysical accounts in a shared objective, spatial world containing objects and subjects, as the primary setting of reality, and everted the relationship so that space, time, objects and fellow subjects were contained within subjects who have the strange ability to interact and even to commune into larger subjectivities and to individuate into smaller ones. Where consistent commonalities of experience occur across subjectivities, objectivity emerges, expands, stabilizes and establishes itself so firmly it becomes possible to evert truth so fully that subjectivity seems to be an epiphenomenon of objectivity.


So, now, I’ll ask you: Was this a religious conversion?

When I read accounts of religious people, I believe I know exactly what they are talking about.

However, if you were to ask a typical smart atheist to make a list of all the stuff they do not believe, I would probably share most of their disbeliefs (if not all of them).

So, I had a strange shift in pretty much everything all at once, and reached for the concepts available around me to make sense of it. Had I experienced the same thing a thousand years ago, I would have had different concepts around me. Perhaps I would have made sense of it with angels and demons and netherworlds, instead of subjects and objects and redescriptions.

Leave a Reply