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  1. dillseed
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    dillseed Active Member

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    It's all relative...it's all subjective (are they the same?)

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by dillseed, Apr 28, 2014.

    Are "it's all relative" and "it's all subjective" synonymous, meaning that everything is quantifiable in terms of individual perception or opinion?

    For example, Mike thinks Sarah Jessica Parker is attractive; Pete thinks she is quite homely. It's truly all subjective, or relative. You may think it's cold out, and I think it's quite mild. Everything is relative (or, subjective).

    No matter what, everybody out there is going to have differing opinions on what is good, bad; kind, evil; hot, cold; pretty, ugly; etc. Everything is truly relative to one's opinion because everything is in the eye of the beholder. This is my understanding, anyway. Do you concur?

    Thank you.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    subjective and relative seem to have slightly different shades of meaning, so i would not advise using them interchangably without being sure the meaning is exactly what you intended...
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's kind of a sticky one, but @mammamaia is right. The two are not totally interchangeable, although there may be instances you could use either.

    Basically, I think 'subjective' means something that can't be verified by fact. Your opinion on whether a painting is good or not is 'subjective,' because there is no right or wrong answer. However, your opinion on whether 2+2=4 is NOT subjective. There is a right or wrong answer. Your opinion is either right, or it's wrong.

    'Relative' denotes comparison, not correctness or incorrectness. It also implies differing points of view.

    I'd say Sarah-Jessica Parker's attractiveness is a subjective issue, because it's a matter of opinion. Attractiveness not a verifiable fact. However, when you're comparing how two people see her, then their opinions about her looks are 'relative.' If that makes any sense?

    1) Mike thinks Sarah Jessica Parker is pretty because she looks like his girlfriend; Pete thinks she is homely because she reminds him of his English teacher. It's all relative.

    2) Mike thinks Sarah-Jessica Parker is an attractive woman. I don't think she's attractive at all; but that's subjective. She is definitely a woman, though. Can't argue with that.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2014
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    In my mind the two words have completely different meanings .

    In the examples you've given, "it's all subjective" says one is basing one's judgement or opinion on internal or personal factors. Most people make the false assumption, if it is one's personal opinion, there is nothing we can put our finger on as to the source of that opinion. In reality one can quantify such opinions if one teases out the criteria the judging person is going by. A simple example would be a person who likes big butts vs a person who prefers a fashionably dressed woman. The thing which is subjective is personal preference.

    "It'a all relative" applies more to your temperature example. The opinions about temperature could also be subjective, but large butts vs fashionable are not relative to each other. A room feeling cold vs warm might be. You come in from the cold and the heated room feels comfortable. You warm up and decide the room is now too hot. I'm rich compared to a poor person and poor relative to someone richer than I am. In those opinions, I am comparing one thing relative to another.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    But it's less likely to be relative in that example and I wouldn't use the word relative there for that reason. The difference can be inapparent unless you finish the sentence with the unspoken comparison.

    Here are a couple of examples from the Free Dictionary that might provide an example to clarify the difference.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/relative
    In #5, the relative merits are subjective as to which merits one finds important or irrelevant. Al likes gas because it's cheaper, Bob likes electricity because his source is hydroelectric and he believes it is less polluting. Those are subjective reasons but gas and electricity are being compared relative to each other.

    In #6, happiness is relative to more of it or less of it and a person finds their own dividing line on the continuum.

    In the example of beauty, one is not typically comparing more of it to less of it. It's possible but it's not a typical comparison. Cindy is beautiful but when Deb walks in the room Cindy looks average. That would be a relative comparison. Comparing Cindy and Deb's beauty is much more likely to be subjective and it would only be relative under specific circumstances.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm just winging it here ...but I changed my example slightly while you were reacting to it. (We crossed in the ether!) Do you think I've expressed the 'relativity' idea better the second time around? I'm trying to make their opinions relative to what they're comparing her to. Or am I still off base? It's tricky...o_O
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Mind you I'm going by gut reaction here, but I don't think that addresses the problematic issue either. Your sentence is still
    an example of a subjective valuation rather than a relative one.

    Relative would be more like this:
    1) Mike thinks Sarah Jessica Parker is pretty because he doesn't know anyone prettier; Pete thinks she is homely because he knows a dozen Playboy Bunnies. It's all relative.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I'd say that they're different.

    Jane Doe may be beautiful relative to the average woman on the street, but not relative to movie-star beauty.

    Jane Doe may be beautiful based on Fred's subjective standards of beauty, which value dark hair and a curvy figure, but not based on Joe's subjective standards of beauty, which value blond hair and a tall, thin figure.

    I'd say that "relative" most often refers to a comparison on a scale that most people can agree on, while "subjective" doesn't even have a scale--it's about personal preference.

    So an evaluation of beauty is almost always going to have a substantial subjective element--my first "relative" example only works at all if we assume that most people agree that most movie stars are more beautiful than most average women.

    An evaluation of cold, on the other hand, can be relative--based on temperature and maybe wind chill. Or it can be subjective--based on what an individual perfers or is accustomed to.

    "Relative" also requires a comparison, while "subjective" doesn't. I'm not saying that it grammatically requires one, but I would consider it vaguely incorrect to use "relative" if at least an implied comparison is not present.
     
  9. dillseed
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    dillseed Active Member

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    Thank you all so very much.

    Good stuff.

    The Seed
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think from now on, I'll only use 'relative' when I mean somebody's auntie! o_O
     
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  11. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak you've earned enough Drae points for a BIG digital cookie.

    [​IMG]
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Stop making me hungry, @Andrae Smith, I'm on my annual Spring diet.:)
     
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  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Woohoo!
     
  14. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I'll consider us even then. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to ride my bike down to the coffee shop after seeing your name. ;)
     
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