Two Kinds of Subjectivity

What makes a predicate subjective? For example, why is it that (bare) predicates of personal taste like tasty, disgusting and fun are subjective according to certain tests, but ``phenomenological category'' predicates like semantic(al), metaphysical and epistemological are not? To a certain extent at least, this question is independent of the question of how (or whether) subjectivity should be captured by semantic theory, in the sense that any theory that recognizes a subjective/nonsubjective distinction in the first place should be able to say what kinds of features constitute the difference between the subjective and the nonsubjective terms of the language. However, it is often the case that a better understanding of fine-grained details of the lexical semantic properties of particular classes of terms can inform our theoretical understanding and analysis of the categories and constructions that those terms enter into. The aim of this paper is to begin to develop such an understanding. My strategy will be to focus on one empirical domain, scalar predicates, and to look for patterns of distribution and interpretation of expressions that track the subjective/nonsubjective distinction. The conclusion will be that there are (at least) two kinds of subjectivity which are distinguished in that one affects distribution and one does not: subjectivity that is associated with vagueness generally, and subjectivity that is associated with predicates that involve qualitative assessment, independent of vagueness. A caveat: focusing on scalar predicates allows me to carry out a fine-grained examination of lexical semantic details, but it remains to be seen whether the conclusions that I reach about subjectivity in this domain can also help us understand subjectivity in modals, conditionals, and other kinds of constructions.