Goldberg: Objectivity is the soul of legitimate discourse

There is significant difference between the statements "I like x better" and "x is better," and both statements are meaningful.

We may not always be able to tell when to definitively apply the second statement, but that does not mean that it is inapplicable to the real world.

In a college community where we're all so concerned about being tolerant of all viewpoints and opinions, we are constantly on the verge of falling into the abyss of taste. In this abyss there is no way to judge right and wrong; every value judgment one makes is simply an expression of one's opinion, one's feeling and not truly a meaningful proposition.

I fundamentally reject the notion that tolerance for divergent opinions and viewpoints necessitates the occupation of such an abyss of taste. I do so on the basis that objective evaluation of almost anything is possible.

I of course mean objective insofar as the evaluation is independent of taste and that any "perfectly rational" human being, regardless of culture, would be able to come to the same conclusion. I do not refer to objective as implying that such evaluations reveal properties about anything in reality that exist independently of the evaluating subjects. For elaboration on what I mean by "perfectly rational," see Thomas Nagel's book, The View from Nowhere.

Let's start with an obvious comparison. Consider this: I am a better basketball player now, at the age of 20, than Michael Jordan was at the age of 20.

I am willing to bet that you think I am wrong in asserting that proposition. For most of you, that is a sentence with a truth value, a negative one, but one which is accessible to your reasoning. It is obvious that within the context of fulfilling the criteria of being an effective (good) basketball player, 20-year-old Michael Jordan better satisfies the criterial definition of "good basketball player" than I do. Anyone who knows about basketball will be able to come to this conclusion, and if someone does not, they will be regarded as wrong.

Sure, someone may appreciate the badness of my skills, or find joy in watching the futility of my efforts to score baskets, but these are preferences, not evaluations of the example against a set of discernable criteria.

Now, the criteria may not always be discernable to us given our current level of reasoning, and we may not always be privy to how to evaluate examples against the criteria of certain categories of evaluation. For example, I don't know enough about the art of ice sculpturing to evaluate the greatness of one ice sculpture against another, but this does not mean that such an evaluation is not possible!

I will consent that in extremely close cases - LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant as opposed to me versus MJ - such evaluation seems impossible. But again, this does not mean that such an evaluation is in fact impossible. Perhaps we just need to strengthen our mental capacities to perceive smaller differences in criterial comparisons.

I therefore propose that we work out our mental muscles by doing more of this kind of work, not shying away from it under the pretense of not wanting to call out anyone for being wrong.