Objectively subjective

What is truth?

This question is being asked with increasingly frequency these days, and I’m sure some of you winced when you read it. However, it was very much on my mind when I stepped out of the shower this morning, owing to the fact that my 50 l water heater does not allow me to shower long enough to get warm after a night in a chilly room.

What does that have to do with epistemology? Well, it led me to reflect on the semantics of the following statements:

  1. I am cold.
  2. I feel cold.

Setting aside their truthfulness, which of these statements is objective, and which is subjective?

The conclusion I arrived at is the opposite of the obvious one, which is that the first statement is an objective statement, while the second is a subjective statement.

The first statement, “I am cold”, is based on the speaker’s perception of his environment and of his body. It is entirely subjective. Although a thermometer may show that the speaker’s core temperature is within the normal range, the speaker is still telling the truth as he or she perceives it. Therefore, both the speaker and the thermometer are correct, even though they disagree.

The second statement, “I feel cold”, is actually a meta-statement: it is akin to saying “although this may not actually be the case, I am currently experiencing sensations consistent with having a low core temperature”. It is an objective description of the speaker’s subjective sensation (unless the speaker is lying) and may be corroborated by symptoms such as shivering, goosebumps, etc.

In fact, a person with a rising fever will feel cold despite having an abnormally high core temperature, and usually also a high skin temperature.

That said, I can easily see arguments in support of the opposite thesis.


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