OBJECTIVE OR SUBJECTIVE?
The first theorist on relevancy wrote that one of the
'distinctive advantages' of the term relevance lies in its
bringing out its 'subjectivity'.
'e did not mean, however, that the
relevant is an arbitrary creation of the individual subject, but that the
relevance of something depends on 'its value for us and our attitude
'er subjective merely meant
Nevertheless, because of its 'selectiveness' one might select too little or
too much, and —as the argument continued— relevancy
remains a risky affair.
(Incidentally, this disputableness of the concept was assessed as an
Now, A may be taller than B and shorter than C, yet this does
not make being taller than and being shorter than merely
subjective terms: that a notion is relational in no way forces
us to adopt subjectivism with respect to that notion.
When an ethical theorist, for instance, writes that whatever 'difference of
kind between persons and situations any particular moral thinker sincerely
takes to be relevant are so for him', 'e confuses the relational nature of
relevancy with its being 'relative' or 'subjective' in the sense of not
There is nothing inconsistent
tho in maintaining that a
certain difference appears 'relevant from one interested point of view' and
not from another while claiming at the same time that the difference is
'objectively morally relevant in a certain context', so long as the context
is allowed to vary with someone's situation or conditions.
The doxastic view on relevancy is, of course, inherently
subjective. This is not only the case in phenomenological
thought, but also certain (more) analytical philosophers have
argued that whether an attitude is relevant or not depends on
'the outlook and scales of value of different persons'.
'No amount of intimate acquaintance with the circumstances of the action
can avail against the indeterminacy of boundaries of relevance' — it
has been pointed out.
Altho one theorist argued for the 'objectivity' of relevancy (or rather the
truth of beliefs which make considerations relevant), 'e derived this
'objectivity' not from the relevance relation itself but from the purported
invariability of the focus.
'im the kind of focus of relevancy was
given by the very purpose for which people
deliberate and weigh the pros and cons. People's so-called
'fundamental consideration-making belief' would simply be the
maximization of satisfactions and the minimization of frustrations.
But even if this goal were given, or not contested anymore, it would
not prove relevancy itself to be an objective notion.
Also the objectivity of moral relevancy has been
wholeheartedly supported. Thus it has been claimed that what is
morally relevant is 'not an arbitrary matter, or a matter of
choice or opinion'. Yet, the question of the choice of focus
(a moral goal in this case) is confused here, too, with the
question of the opinion someone may have about the relation itself.
That relevancy is a matter of choice because of its
relational nature does not imply that it must also be a matter
of opinion. Given the focus of relevancy chosen, something is or
is not relevant in respect of this focus, regardless of what a
certain person or 'er opponent may opine.
The objectivity of relevancy is no different from that of truth, if one
accepts that there is an objective,
nonpropositional reality which is
entirely independent of one's talking or thinking about it.
Given a particular goal, then, the relevance or irrelevance of
an entity of the appropriate category with respect to that goal
is fixed. The practical, real-life problem is, of course, to
know what is relevant and what is irrelevant in respect of a
certain goal. Those who do not go beyond the notion of what
people believe to be relevant have a doxastic conception of
relevancy. The equivalent with respect to truth would be that
truth is all a matter of what one believes to be true, or of
what the group or society in which one lives takes to be true,
for example, because that's the most satisfactory (as in the
pragmatist theory of truth).
The phenomenological 'relevances' we have been acquainted
with are basically doxastic. Where the phenomenological theorist
on relevancy speaks of 'knowledge' it includes all kinds of
belief, thus being nothing else than belief. (And therefore it
does not deserve the epithet epistemic.)
The domains and systems of (doxastic) relevances are part of, or
constitute, the 'relative natural conception of the world' prevailing in a
particular group or society — it is said.
This conception would determine or codetermine, for example, 'the
competences and qualifications everyone eligible for a position has to
But now, it is also argued that often 'elements are included in
the definition which have no, or merely a remote, connection
with the proper fulfillment of the particular position'. The
matter discussed in this context is that people over thirty-five
years of age are excluded from eligibility for certain jobs.
Elements which should, properly speaking, be irrelevant in respect of a
certain requirement turn out to be frequently included in a particular
group or society's conception nevertheless.
One such qualification which can be irrelevant (altho not doxastically to
judge by the phenomenologist's own assumptions) is being-35-years-of-age,
if the focus of relevancy is merely the eligibility for a position.
To notice this means, however, that the phenomenologist
does take cognizance of the fact, albeit unwittingly,
that doxastic relevancy is something else than relevancy proper
after all. Especially when 'e also speaks of 'fictitious schemes
of relevances' 'imself 'e cannot but admit that doxastic relevancy
is one thing, and objective relevancy quite another.
This example should underline again that (at least) the
relevancy of discrimination is not a matter
of belief but an entirely objective notion in the sense given here.