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1 February 2016 | Draft

A Subjective Objection: Objecting to Subjection

Interplay of questions enabling transcendence of fundamental dilemmas?

- / -

Subjugation versus Objugation?
Subject and object "optically contained" by metaphor?
Interrelating subject and object in terms of knowledge cybernetics
Framing otherness, but as subject or object -- objectionable or not?


The following schema uses as a framework the classic pattern of seven WH-questions to highlight the contrasting significance of terms whose root is either "subject" or "object". The interest in this mode of inquiry derived from early participation in the Committee on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis (COCTA). The Committee was notably attentive to missing interpretations in use of terms, whether or not they were present in languages other than English.

That involvement gave rise to various explorations of prefixes (New Paradigms via a Renewed Set of Prefixes? Dependence of international policy-making on an array of operational terms, 2003; Exploration of Prefixes of Global Discourse: Implications for sustainable confidelity, 2011; Primary Global Reserve Currency: the Con? Cognitive implications of a prefix for sustainable confidelity, 2011).

In such a light, the following are useful questions, although others might be envisaged. Individual questions may well suggest several interpretations.









The interplay highlights the fact that, in contrast with "objectionable", no use is made of "subjectionable" -- offering its own ambiguous connotations -- although "subjectable" (rarely used) carries some of its problematic meaning. Clearly the pattern invites criticism, especially to the extent that it may be considered overly contrived -- or merely an exercise in word play. (Of possible relevance, after posting the above, a blog entry was found entitled: subjective objection or objective subjection, The Abysmal, 17 June 2006).

Continuing philosophical preoccupation: The original inspiration for this pattern derived from the title of a work by Max Deutscher (Subjecting and Objecting: an essay in objectivity, 1983). The questions above explore the strange interplay between seemingly disparate uses of terms which have acquired such fundamental significance. The concerns are usefully clarified in the review of Deutscher's study by G. C. Nerlich in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1984)

Max Deutscher's book is a moral work on what it is for subjects to be objective. It is about how to live the life of reason, with all its attendant attitudes, emotions and styles, in good faith. Deutscher makes this look no easy matter and he is entirely convincing on that point. The work is not so much to construct a general theory of objectivity and of the debased forms of consciousness which it may fall into, but rather a series of diagnostic probes into quite concrete forms of the vices and virtues which beset the progress of a rational pilgrim. There is plenty of subtle and incisive argument, plenty of distinctions among concepts and resolutions of paradoxes, yet it offers practical reflections on how to conduct oneself in the matters of observing, reasoning, disputing, listening, assessing, resolving and maintaining one's objective understanding....

The book begins with the 'paradox' that it is subjects who are (or fail to be) objective. To be objective, one must subject oneself to the experiences yielded by a close, flexible, sensitive, responsive observing of the object of one's interest.... Objectivity is a style, a sustained balance of tendencies in opposing directions, a kind of golden mean. It is we who are objective as agents, observers, reasoners, disputants, not the beliefs, theories, arguments or facts which are the objects of our attention.... Objectivity is prone to decay in a wide variety of ways. Almost all of the book is devoted to the movements of consciousness which maintain objectivity or corrupt it.

Excluded middle? To the extent that they are understood to be fundamental extremes, subjecting and objecting are vulnerable to the fallacy of the excluded middle (see Black-or-White Fallacy). This has the implication that they can be too readily considered as mutually exclusive. They merit consideration in the light of the clarification by Peter Suber (Non-Contradiction and Excluded Middle, 1997):

The Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC) and Principle of Excluded Middle (PEM) are frequently mistaken for one another and for a third principle which asserts their conjunction. Given a statement and its negation, p and -p, the PNC asserts that at most one is true. The PEM asserts that at least one is true. The PNC says "not both" and the PEM "not neither". Together, and only together, they assert that exactly one is true.

Such issues are a continuing focus for philosophy and logic, for example:

Requisite transcendence for sustainability: Within a remarkable compilation by Michael Burns and Alex Weaver (Exploring Sustainability Science: a Southern African perspective, 2008), John van Breda discusses the complex unity of the transdisciplinary subject and transdisciplinary object from a wider cultural perspective:

It could be argued all of what has been said so far about the multi-dimensional ontology, multi-referential epistemology and the logic of the included middle, in a scnsc, culminates in the notion of the 'complex unity' bcrwcen the Transdisciplinary Subject and Transdisciplinary Object. It is cxactly this notion which sets itself apart from both Cartesian modernity and some of the radical, rclativist positions of post-modernity. The notion of the subject-object relation being that of a 'complex uniry' not only decisively breaks wirh any notion of Cartesian separation, but through affirming the interactive roles of both the subject and object, it does so in a way that positively postulates the acquisition and gaining of knowledge -- not in an absolutc finite or completed sense, but as a dynamic and open-ended process in which neither the subject nor the object, nor the knowledge emerging from their interaction, can be merely dismissed as 'social re-construction'.

Transdisplinary knowledge production acknowledges on the one hand the validity and truthfulness of the way in which our ideas and images have come to represent 'reality', on and in respect of a certain level of reality. Yet, on the other hand, when looked at from another level, this self-same 'reality' will resist our ideas and representations only to be radically changed and replaced with new ones, equally gaining the sense of valid and truthful representation of reality, albeit on another level. 'Complementarity', therefore, becoming a key concept in the vocabulary of transdisciplinarity in the way that knowledge and knowledge production is understood. (Overcoming the Disciplinary Divide: towards the possibility of a transdisciplinary hermeneutics, p. 107)

Subjugation versus Objugation?

The above-mentioned explorations of prefixes suggest an even more comprehensive pattern by applying other prefixes to "-ject". These might include abject, conject(ed), deject(ed), eject, inject, project, and reject. The pattern of interplay might then be better presented as a memorable poem or song.

Given the minimal use of subjectify and subjectification, in contrast with objectify and objectification, especially intriguing is the seemingly absence of any correspondence to subjugation -- with all its problematic connotations. What indeed might objugation imply as a contrasting extreme to subjugation?

There is little current trace of "objugation", although the term has been variously proposed or indicated by:

In earlier usage it featured in the London Magazine (Cradock, and Joy, 1827):

After a desperate struggle, I succeeded to my great joy, in securing a bed for myself, not, however, without undergoing a severe objugation from the landlady, who could not understand such unaccommodating selfishness. Short were our slumbers. By the riid order of the proprietor, we were turned out the next morning at three, and pursued our journey (De Rose's Personal Narrative)

In The Local Historian's Table Book, of Remarkable Occurences, Historical Facts, Traditions, Legendary and Descriptive Ballads, etc (1844):

Tradition says that King James scolded Bishop James to death... The cause of this royal objugation was probably Bishop James's contest with the citizens of Durham, relative their borough privileges, and to parliamentary representation.... (p. 85)

More recently, as noted by Milton A. Cohen (Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics: Stevens, Cummings, Frost, and Williams in the 1930s, University of Alabama Press, 2010):

Perhaps the nastiest attack came from Rolfe Humphries, who titled his review in New Massses "A Further Shrinking": "There is an aspect of Robert Frost which criticism can dismiss with objugation: when you call him a reactionary --, or a counter-revolutionary --, you have, in essnce, said it all". (p.140)

Described as a neologism, it features in the preview of a recent book by M. C. Raj (From Periphery to Centre: analysis of the paradigm of globalization, casteism, dalitism. REDS Tumkur, 2014; an argument which he develops elsewhere Dalitology: the book of the people, 2001):

In analyzing the phenomenon of globalization from the Indian context and specifically from the location of the victims of history, Raj brilliantly traces the roots of globalization to dominance through Brahminism. This again is distinct from the prevalent analysis of arising from the Western or Marxist basis. OBJUGATION, the new word coined by Raj brings together the twin aspects of objectification and subjugation. The spirituality of Dalits, separate from the institutionalized tools of religions is a manifestation of the relatedness between human beings and nature in the spirit of harmony and sustainability.

Given the problematic connotations of subjugation, these examples unfortunately imply that any use of objugation is more a reproachful variant rather than a completely contrasting insight meriting greater attention and cultivation. Whereas subjugation is indicative of some form of structural domination, use of objugation would seem to be limited only to verbal dominance, perhaps now best understood in terms of any blame game (Collective Mea Culpa? You Must be Joking ! Them is to blame, Not us !, 2015). The suffix is however especially reminiscent of other challenging implications of joining, yoking and binding, especially as in personal relationships.

As an extension of the focus on -ject (subject or object), or -jugation (subjugation or objugation), further insight might however be obtained by the implications of the prefix "ob", as in the particularities discussed with respect to the off-topic -- oblink -- in internet exchanges (in contrast with "sublink"). As noted by DaveHarris: At its best, the requirement to justify a link from some random subject back to the official topic can force novel insights. Rather like in poetry, where the need to form a rhyme can rule out conventional cliches and force you to be original.

Subject and object "optically contained" by metaphor?

Sublation and oblation: The degree of geometrical simplicity implied by each suffix above, suggests that the inquiry could be taken further through the use of -late (sublate or oblate).These also have geometrical connotations, reminiscent of widespread discussion of the container metaphor by cognitive psychology (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, The Metaphorical Structure of the Human Conceptual System, Cognitive Science, 1980; Metaphors We Live By, 1980).

Sublation then suggests some form of purification or taking away (from a stem) -- an understanding central to Hegelian philosophy (as a translation of Aufheben). It is used to explain what happens when a thesis and antithesis interact, with implications of "abolish", "preserve", and "transcend". As a contrast, however, oblation is an offering or presentation to deity -- or, in legal terms, a transfer to another domain or realm. Notions of subject and object are then appropriately entangled with such connotations.

Identity containers: It is then intriguing to consider how either subject or object are "contained" -- especially with respect to point of view and perspective -- since so much use is made of the "vision" metaphor (Cyclopean Vision vs Poly-sensual Engagement, 2006). Whether as a transparent container or with a mirrored surface, there is then the distinction between convex and concave in either case (as in types of lenses and mirrors) with the particular distortion or focus they may variously offer. Mirrors in particular are valued in philosophical discourse, as discussed separately (Stepping into, or through, the Mirror: embodying alternative scenario patterns, 2008). There has long been discussion of Plato's allegory of the cave. Clarification of the interplay between understandings of subject and object, framed by aesthetics with the aid of optical metaphors regarding perspective and image, is offered by Rayna Kalas (Frame, Glass, Verse: the technology of poetic invention in the English Renaissance, 2007, especially pp. 154-155).

How is identity to be understood as contained, whether by the subject or with respect to an object? Especially noteworthy is reference to focus in relation to optical metaphors. The distinction of objective identity as a point of focus can then be contrasted with that of any focus of subjective identity. The sense in which both have a virtual dimension is highlighted by the manner in which an image is brought into focus -- especially if this is associated with imagination. This is notably clarified in the case of parabolic mirrors and reflectors (see List of telescope types). Even more intriguing are the contrasting focal points of hyperbolic lenses, potentially suggesting a special relation between subjective and objective identity -- for which the Cassegrain reflector might offer a template. This uses a parabolic reflector as the primary while the secondary mirror is hyperbolic; modern variants often have a hyperbolic primary for increased performance.

Irrespective of experiential considerations, the question of identity containers is a significant preoccupation in logic, information science, and security (Danel Ahman, et al, When is a Container a Comonad?; Container type theory). Globalization has been explored in terms of a container theory of society by Ulrich Beck, with society as the power to create intellectual order (What Is Globalization, 2015), and otherwise by Lance E. Hoovestal (Globalization Contained: the economic and strategic consequences of the container, 2013). The question is raised separately regarding Verbal game-playing engendering a global cognitive container? (2014). The possibility may be explored as a quest (Questing for an imaginal episystemic container: embodying self-reflexivity? 2014).

A fruitful line of exploration is the manner in which identity is either enshrined in an object or subjectively embodied. Given the extent to which the former is associated with memorials and monuments, both invite metaphorical consideration through the various interpretations of "enstoning", as separately discussed (Transforming and Interweaving the Ways of Being Stoned: imagination, promise, rocks, memorials, petrification, 2012). The discussion is notably significant through the sense in which processes are conceived to destroy a subject with an object. As a challenge for the future, the fruitful reconciliation between the objectivity of fundamental physics and the subjective considerations of philosophy remains, as clarfied by Manoj Thulasidas (Perception, Physics and the Role of Light in Philosophy, The Philosopher, 96, 1).

Preoccupation with "con": The prefix "con-" has a widespread role in implying an outcome to inter-relationship of some form: container, conference, confidence, and the like (Considerable Conglomeration of "Cons" of Global Concern, 2012; Embodiment of Identity in Conscious Creativity: challenge of encompassing "con", 2011). This suggests that the various threads above, whether subjects or objects, might be inter-woven for further exploration (Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways: noonautics, magic carpets and wizdomes, 2010). A tabular presentation, as used in the above-mentioned papers on prefixes, offers preliminary indication.

  Sub- Ob- Con- Inter-
-ject(ion) subject(ion) object(ion) conject(ion) interject(ion)
-jugate subjugate objugate conjugate interjugate (?)
-link sublink oblink conlink (?) interlink
-lation sublation oblation conlation (?) interlation
-tain(er) subtain(er) (?) obtain(er) container intertain(er) (?)
-cave subcave (?) obcave (?) concave intercave
-vex subvex (?) obvex (?) convex intervex (?)

Many of the prefix-suffix combinations do not correspond to common words in use, even though (possibly for that reason) they may well have been adopted as the distinguishing names of collective initiatives. The pattern raises useful questions about how subject or object are perceived and distinguished, whether in relation to a container, through a lens, or in a mirror. With respect to a mirrored or transparent container, is the subject or object to be understood as within, without, or identified with the container? Use of the prefix "pro-", as in project, is clearly also of relevance to any exploration of subject in relation to object. What fruitful meaning might come to be associated with missing combinations?

In that respect, for example, "conjugate" offers particular scope for speculative consideration (Authentic Grokking: emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003). It is possible, as a pattern of transformations, that it could be explored in terms of the metaphors basic to the subsequent study by George Lakoff and Rafael E. Núñez (Where Mathematics Comes From: how the embodied mind brings mathematics into being, 2000).

The inside-or-outside theme offers a continuing focus for reflection, as separately discussed (Global potential for living sustainably "outside-inside", 2013; Transformation of worldview from "inside-outside" to "outside-inside", 2013; Paradoxical cycling between "inside-outside" and "outside-inside", 2013; Imagining transcendence appropriately challenging to comprehension, 2013).

Interrelating subject and object in terms of knowledge cybernetics

A new understanding of the relation between subject and object can be derived from the insights of knowledge cybernetics, as formally defined by Maurice Yolles (Organisations as Complex Systems: an introduction to knowledge cybernetics, 2006). Yolles uses that framework to consider the nature of associative projection (Understanding Corruption and Sociopathology,Journal of Organizational Change, 2009) as originally defined by Jean Piaget (The Development of Thought: equilibration of cognitive structures, 1977, p.20) in his seminal study of child development. Following the explanation of this by Robert Priddy (The Human Whole: an outline of the 'higher' psychology, 1999), as noted by Yolles:

... the mind is active in forming an image of phenomenal reality, rather than being simply being a passive receptor. The image is formed through its ability to reason and create perspectives. An agent that has an ability to create associative projection therefore also has the capacity to form an image that can be projected phenomenally, this image demonstrating recognition of the behaviour of others....

The nature of an object is determined from a knowledge created perspective of the subject. The two are irrevocably bound together, and it is from this association that action (the source of experiential knowledge) originates. It is through the dialectic interaction between the object and subject that the object is discovered in its properties that frees knowledge of its subjective illusions. This dialectic interaction enables the subject to organise its actions into a coherent system that constitutes its intelligence and thought.

While the subject appears therefore to be formulated through tacit knowledge, Piaget (1977, p.62) considers that objects are only seen as pictures that have been theorised such that they can be interpreted.... these pictures can be seen as virtual images maintained in the virtual system existent in the noumenal domain. This suggests that the relationship between the subject and the object is likely to be adequately described in terms of a second order ontological couple. Thus it is cognitive processes that establish theorising principles from which the subject and the object are ultimately connected....

Imposing a subjective feeling on another person or situation is a condition of empathy, or the identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives, or the attribution of one's own feelings to an object... It is difficult to logically distinguish between genuine empathetic and egocentric projection. Empathy implies a kind of emotional sharing between subject and object that has more than a cognitive explanation... Egocentrism is applied to the state of recurrent subject-object confusion that operates to confine an individual to a singular and highly personalised point of view while denying to others the uniqueness of their own vantage. Perspectivism, however, refers to the progressive capacity to differentiate between one's own and others' points of view. It implies the recognition of universality rather than the absence of subjectivity....

The subjectifying process is one of shifting the boundaries of what constitutes the subjective. To do this, the difference between subjectiveness and objectiveness needs to be understood. While a subject is composed of personalised experiences, an object is a non-personalised set of phenomena. The nature of an object is determined from a knowledge created perspective of the subject. The two are irrevocably bound together, and it is from this association that action (the source of experiential knowledge) originates. It is through the dialectic interaction between the object and subject that the object is discovered in its properties that frees knowledge of its subjective illusions. This dialectic interaction enables the subject to organise its actions into a coherent system that constitutes its intelligence and thought....

The capacity of an individual to change the relationship between object and subject through the coordination of perspectives, therefore creating a new frame of reference, results in an ability to shift roles. In particular, the ability to take the role of another is seen as a special case of a more fundamental capacity to decentre or departicularise the focus of ones conceptual activities to consider and coordinate two more points of view.

Yolles clarifies this argument by providings a schematic interpretation of Piaget's notion of the relationship between subject and object.

Framing otherness, but as subject or object -- objectionable or not?

There are clearly fundamental issues arising from the (legal) definition of citizens of any country as "subjects" -- especially when there is a contrasting tendency by government agencies to treat them as "objects", freely to be manipulated in service to a higher cause. How then to recognize the subtle implications of contrasting phrases such as an "object of concern" and "subject to confirmation"?

Such a distinction takes a different form at the interpersonal level. Here questing for a liaison, marital or otherwise, is primarily understood as for an "object of desire" -- with the subjectivity of the other being but a secondary concern, if not irrelevant. The former attitude is notably deprecated by feminism. The latter attitude is typically associated with the domestic subjugation of women -- variously emphasized by a range of religions. This pattern contrasts with the prominence strangely given to use of "subject of adoration".

The long-standing challenge to the binary distinction of subject and object may now be usefully seen as matched by the challenge to the distinction of the sexes -- as offered more generally from recognition of sex differences in humans from a psycho-social perspective. These have been recently highlighted by new research into collective intelligence (Anita WoolleyThomas W. Malone, Defend Your Research: what makes a team smarter? More Women, Harvard Business Review, 20 June 2015; Derek Thompson, The Secret to Smart Groups: It's Women, The Atlantic, 20 January 2015).

The psycho-social factor is especially evident in terms of transgender experience of a mismatch between aperson's gender identity (or gender expression) and their assigned sex. Emphasis is however now placed on recognition of gender expression as being on a continuum along which distinctions are unfruitfully distorted by any rigid system of categories, although such categories are indeed commonly employed, as clarified by Andrea James (The uses and limitations of transsexual categories, 1996). The genetic factors contributing to the degrees of intersexuality, transsexuality and XY-sex determination are less well known, despite the insights they may offer (Radical Disagreement Reframed Metaphorically through Intersexuality: relevance to faith, ethics, policy, and ways of knowing, 2009). These understandings suggests that the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity could also be usefully considered in terms of a continuum -- necessarily anticipating similar controversy when there is preference for clarity in binary terms.

Engagement with otherness of any form is clearly a fundamental challenge in society -- with its extremes of violence and being in love. Whether understood in the form of dialogue or otherwise, that engagement can be explored metaphorically as "intercourse" ("Human Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other", 2007). There is some irony to the further possibility that insights into the challenge of relating subjective and objective modalities might be derived from those of human mating strategies.

The matter is further complicated by insightful experience of intersubjectivity, namely the psychological relation between people emphasizing the inherently social being of people. This is itself complemented by current preoccupation with forms of interobjectivity (Gordon Sammut, Interobjectivity: representations and artifacts in cultural psychology). Such understanding is also implied by the Internet of Things, namely the network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, enabling them to collect and exchange data. People may well be understood as "things" and "objects" enhanced in that manner.

Given the use of optical and vision metaphors, including "projection", it remains a matter of speculation and reflection (whether in metaphorical or other terms) how an "image" of the other may be recognized as "objective" or "subjective" -- both being presented as unduly rigid categories framing and defining the other and determining the nature of the relationship. The role of wave theory in articulating understanding of optics and vision, suggests that it may be of relevance to the encounter with otherness (and the images of it) as separately argued (Encountering Otherness as a Waveform -- in the light of a wave theory of being, 2013).


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