Although we, the authors, certainly agree that each is entitled to his or her own opinion, we also contend that with respect to paintings, quarterbacks, and filmmakers, some views are better - better supported, more defensible, closer to truth - than others. We think that there are truths about these matters. We believe, for example, that Scorcese is in fact a better filmmaker than Allen, and that the belief that Scorcese is better than Allen is objectively true. Hence we think it is not a waste of time to argue with others about these topics.
In this quote they talk about "a better filmmaker" whereas earlier in the discussion they have it as "a greater filmmaker" - those are not the same thing, or at least they don't look like the same thing to me. But regardless of whether we are arguing about whether or not Scorcese is "greater" than Allen or "better" than Allen we have a similar problem. Are judgments of cinematic merit or cinematic goodness or greatness objective? If so, in what sense?
I suggest that there is an important sense in which such judgments are not objective. But it does not follow that it's a waste of time arguing with others about the topic. The claim, "It is not a waste of time arguing about the topic" does not need to be supported by claims as strong as: "[...] Scorcese is in fact a better filmmaker than Allen, and ... the belief that Scorcese is better than Allen is objectively true."
When we judge cinematic merit, we are judging whether a film or a filmmaker has qualities of the kind that we want from films and filmmakers. There are facts about that. Nothing is added by calling them "objective" facts. They are simply facts.
Furthermore, what "we" want from films and filmmakers is somewhat determinate. People who are actually interested in films and filmmakers, which will probably include most readers of this blog - but not necessarily most people in the world - probably want similar things from films and filmmakers. Since there are facts about which of those things actually apply to particular films and filmmakers, it is quite possible to have a rational discussion. Does Scorcese possess these characteristics, whatever they are, more than Allen does?
We can ask analogous things about paintings, novels, novelists, sunsets, biological specimens, cars, tools, meals, and all the other things that we evaluate. As long as we are clear in a particular case as to what characteristics we are looking for, we can have a perfectly rational discussion - and perhaps an illuminating one - as to who or what possesses the relevant characteristics, or possesses them to a greater degree than who or what else. As long as that's the case - and sometimes it will be - there can be determinate answers to our questions.
Here's the problem. The "we" involved is always to some extent an illusion or a fiction. In a small enough group, we may all want the same things from, say, filmmakers. However, we will delude ourselves if we think that everyone in the world (let alone all rational beings in the universe) wants the same thing. In a larger group, it is at best a fiction that we all want the same things. The fiction may be a convenient one, like many other fictions that we adopt when we talk and interact, but it is still a fiction, and I think we (again that word!) go wrong if, in a moment of critical reflection, we (!) insist that everyone wants exactly the same things.
This produces some fuzziness, or as I sometimes put it, some slippage. There is no doubt that Martin Scorcese is a better filmmaker than I am - or, rather, we can safely assume that no one who is interested in the matter can make any other judgment without having some weird false beliefs. Scorcese exceeds me on all possible criteria that anyone could ever conceivably use except in the most bizarre fantasy or science-fictional scenario. Scorcese's superiority to me is about as close to an "objective" fact as anyone will ever find in the field of evaluations.
But whether or not Scorcese is "better" (which I think is probably a component of "greater") than Allen is another thing. What "we" want from filmmakers is pretty damn fuzzy; there is not any full agreement on the characteristics "we" are after in a filmmaker. Moreover, even if "we" came up with a relevant list of agreed characteristics, we would not all place the same weight on the various characteristics. The result is that we can each be provided with all the relevant facts of the matter, and we can still disagree. No one need be making any mistakes about the world.
It's conceivable in any given context that there's enough underlying agreement on what we really want that, after exhaustively obtaining all the facts, and after exhaustive rational reflection on what we want, as individuals, from filmmakers, we will converge on the same evaluation. The smaller and more like-minded a group of people, the more that is likely to happen. But convergence can never be guaranteed, and the failure to achieve full convergence need not be because anyone has failed to engage adequately in rational reflection. Nor is it necessarily because anyone is making a mistake about the facts. It may well be, instead, that there are real underlying differences among what Persons 1 to n actually value in filmmakers. And if that's the case, the judgment made by Person 1 is not binding on Person n on pain of making some sort of empirical mistake or some sort of logical error.
In that sense, judgments about the merits of filmmakers are neither just arbitrary nor strictly objective. That's a false dilemma.
There are facts about filmmakers. There are facts about what people who are interested in cinema tend to want from filmmakers. There are facts about what individual people want. All of this enables us to have rational discussions of the respective merits of, say, Martin Scorcese and Woody Allen. But there are also facts about circumstances in which we can make different evaluations without anyone simply being illogical or mistaken about reality. In that sense, judgments of cinematic merit are not objectively binding on all rational parties.
That's all we mean - whoops, it's all that I mean - when saying that the claim "Scorcese is better than Allen" is not an objective one. It may be objective in other senses - e.g. I may make that judgment without being biased by any particular liking or dislike for either auteur as a person. Judgments of cinematic merit can be, or at least approach being, unbiased or disinterested. But a judgment of the kind we're talking about is not going to be objectively binding on all others.
I can imagine someone with a post-structuralist bent claiming that no propositions are ever objectively binding on all others. Perhaps; but I see no reason to think this, and it creates a logical paradox which nothing I've said above creates. I am not claiming that there are no facts about, say, what awards Scorcese has won ... as opposed to what awards Allen has won. There are plenty of determinate facts in the vicinity, as far as I can see. The point is that, even if we have these sorts of facts about the world, evaluations are not the same thing. There is an extra layer of difficulty about evaluations. Something more is going on.
None of this need be a huge problem. We are fluent in evaluating. We all negotiate the dangers of life every day making all sorts of perfectly rational, non-arbitrary evaluations. But we don't all make the same ones, and that need not (always) be because someone is mistaken. No doubt we have reasons to gather as many facts as is practical when we make evaluations and to engage in as much rational reflection as we can. That will produce more informed evaluations. But it won't produce evaluations that are binding on everyone else, irrespective of their more general desires, values, and attitudes. If we think it does, we are making an error about what it is to evaluate something.
Aikin and Talisse go on to claim that there are objective facts about moral goodness and rightness, but they are unable to tell us what makes such evaluations objectively true or false. The relevant discussion later in the book is almost embarrassing. But they needn't go down that path. Evaluations can be biased or otherwise, they can be well-informed or otherwise ... they can be many things, and they need not be arbitrary or beyond rational discussion. That is all we need if, for example, we wish to engage in cinema criticism. What evaluations cannot be is objective in the strongest sense.
But we don't need them to be. No one who gets to this point need be embarrassed about that aspect of human life.