Objective and Subjective Arguments

(Recognizing your Biases)

  • OBJECTIVE arguments are often those that have to do with logos, that is, reason, evidence and logic, generally dealing with material questions (things that can be sensed or measured and have to do with the real outside world, outside of oneself).
  • SUBJECTIVE arguments are most often those dealing with the personal situation, feelings or experiences of a particular individual, family or group, and are usually arguments from ethos or pathos (though material subjective factors may involve arguments from logos as well).

EXAMPLE: A person who is asked, "Why do you believe in equal rights for people with disabilities?"  might respond, "Well, it's simple justice!" or "Because people with disabilities can often perform just as well on the job as people who claim no disability." In other words, just the facts. These are objective reasons.  Other reasons might be, "Because if I live long enough, I myself will almost certainly be disabled in some way, and I don't want to be discriminated against at that time!" Or, "because my sister has a disability, and I don't want anyone to discriminate against her," or "Because my religion [or political beliefs, or ethics, or ideology] stands for equal rights for everyone."  These are subjective reasons.

Subjective reasoning may come from upbringing or past experiences. For instance, Charles Darwin wrote in his book, The Descent of Man, “It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, while the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason" (as quoted in http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/09/this-i-believe).

Thus, one who is raised in a Muslim household is very likely to become a Muslim, and someone raised in a Christian household is more likely to be come a Christian than vice versa. A person raised in Texas is more likely than a person raised in Minnesota to argue for the value of adding jalapeños to one's diet. A person raised as a monolingual English speaker may likely differ with a bilingual person on the value of bilingual education. An American in San Diego whose parents or best friends are undocumented immigrants may argue quite different things about immigration reform than someone who lives in Iowa or Maine and has never actually met or spoken with an undocumented person.

Subjective reasoning can also come from what one is or belongs to. A woman may have a different view on childbirth, or wearing a beard, or buying a sports car, than a man. An African American may have a completely different take on whether racism still exists in America than an Anglo, and the events of September 11th, 2001 will hold a very different significance and degree of pathos for a person who was 25 or 50 years old at the time as opposed to someone who was born in 1992 and was only 8 or 9 years old in 2001. Subjective reasoning may also come from one's own religious or political background. For instance, a practicing Muslim or Roman Catholic will almost necessarily be against abortion, while a committed feminist may have a differing opinion. A committed Democrat will likely see President Obama in a a favorable light, while a staunch Republican will probably look up to Ronald Reagan as an exemplar of good leadership. 

And, subjective reasoning can come from what one does or how he or she makes a living.  Thus for instance, a person who works for a living may see the unemployment rate or the value of the stock market far differently from one who lives on the rise and fall of investments and dividends.  And the phrase "a woman's right to an abortion" will mean quite different things to a person who is sexually active than to one who is not. A person who runs a small business will look at an increase in the minimum wage very differently from one who earns that minimum wage. A student will regard a tuition increase very differently from a college budget officer or a state legislator. The words "reform" or "radical change" will sound very differently in the ear of a person who is well off and satisfied than to a person who is out of a job.  A motorcycle owner will see the question of helmet laws very differently from  how it is seen by a police officer or an experienced emergency room physician.

There is even false subjective reasoning. Thus, a working person might say,  "What's good for the rich is good for me, since I know that some day I'm going to set up my own business and become a billionaire myself!" (even though the likelihood of this actually happening is effectively zero). In the same way, a woman victim of family violence may say, "He beats me up because I deserve it," or a student may say, "We minority students are no good at computers."  This sort of reasoning is buying into a hostile lie.


YOUR ASSIGNMENT:  State the two primary subjective reasons why you chose the theme you did, and your standpoint on that theme.  Do not violate your own right to privacy, but please be honest!

Knowing and acknowledging your own subjective biases helps you to better know who you are and why you believe the way you do.  It will also help your writing immensely if you remain consciously aware, perhaps even proud, of where you are coming from.

O.W. 4/09 rev. 1/10

For educational purposes only.

Owen M. Williamson - Education Bldg 211E - phone: (915) 747 7625 - fax: (915) 747 5655
The University of Texas at El Paso - 500 W. University Ave. - El Paso, TX 79968
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