The Nature of Subjectivity

One of the main reasons for connecting place to embodiment and affordances is to raise the question of the nature of subjectivity. Westerners usually think that there is a self inside of us that exists in a solely causal relationship with the outside world. Thus, the ideas of subjective and objective, and their existence as opposites, become part of our unreflective understanding of our relationship to the world.

Phenomenology questions this. It is seen as a metaphysical commitment, part of our naive view of the world that doesn't stand up under scrutiny. The more we understand about just how our knowledge comes to be, it becomes clear that the old empiricist model isn't good enough. Along with that, the fundamental separation between subject and object is a problem as well.

What does this mean? Well, how often have you heard someone say that something is subjective, by which they mean it is a matter of personal taste or preference, as over against something that is objective, available to the public world. We can make a list of the things that people usually would put in each category:



  • Existence of God, religion
  • Feelings (both physical and emotional)
  • Art
  • Preferences
  • Morality
  • Empirical matters
  • History
  • Geography
  • Morality

If we take embodiment seriously, one thing we are faced with is whether this distinction still works. Each of these things can be seen as having aspects of the other. And, there's the possibility of a third category, what we might call intersubjectivity, which recognizes that we share assumptions about the world that come from collective human practice rather than either individual will or physical reality. It is the basis for the idea that reality can be socially constructed. This does not mean that there is no reality, but rather that reality always comes as something meaningful, and that meaning is not an inherent feature of the reality itself.