Subjectivists believe that there are no universal truths about what’s right or wrong. They believe that right and wrong are up to each individual’s feelings (Candle of Subjectivism).
Why a Candle?
A Candle’s flame is often created by, and for, an individual. This is similar to the Subjectivist’s idea that we each decide what is right individually, and that there is no independent standard of what’s right, just different opinions (e.g. different candles). Subjectivists believe that right and wrong are up to each person’s feelings and that there’s no way to prove that one person’s feelings are more right than another person’s feelings. Different individuals may hold different opinions, just as different individuals may hold different candles. Subjectivists believe that the morals of an individual cannot be wrong, just different. They often live by some of these sayings: “Who am I to judge?”, “To each their own”, “Live and let live”, “You be you” or “You do you.”
Some attitudes are just how people feel and are neither right nor wrong (e.g. preferring public praise or a private note to acknowledge your good work). By asking: “Who am I to judge?” Subjectivists remain open-minded and focus on the idea that some things are just personal preference. They tend to accept different ways of viewing the world and get beyond imposing individual preferences. They typically avoid the assumption that one person’s perspective (including their own) is based on some universally accepted objective standard and that it is better than another perspective. Some behaviors and ideas are just based on feelings.
In their efforts to be open-minded Subjectivists may not consider evidence that there can be very good reasons and solid evidence why one decision is more right than another. There are some things that seem to be clearly wrong regardless of what someone feels (e.g. child abuse, genocide). For example, person A may accept person B discriminating against people who are in interracial relationships (“Who am I to say that their feelings about interracial relationships are wrong?”), but person A changes their mind when their own child is in an interracial relationship. Then, person A sees the serious harm done and decides that it is clearly wrong for person B to discriminate against people in interracial relationships.
Candle’s Theoretical Background:
Ethical Subjectivism (Note: Subjectivism can be seen as a more extreme type of Relativism, but Subjectivism concentrates on an individual’s feelings as opposed to cultural differences)
Candle’s Conclusion and “What do I do now?”
Subjectivism highlights a valuable lesson: some attitudes are just how people feel and are neither right nor wrong. However, this does not mean that nothing is right or wrong. Reasonable people agree that there is plenty of evidence that standing up against unfair persecution is right, even if we are not the perpetrators (e.g. helping to fight discrimination against people with disabilities). Therefore, we must look to other perspectives (e.g. see Pluralism) when deciding what is right or wrong. Note: Subjectivism can be seen as a more extreme type of Relativism.
To better understand this focus area, see the PDF Handout.