Theory associated especially with Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), who named it, Edward Sapir (1884-1939), BENJAMIN LEE WHORF (1897-1941), Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000) and Thomas Samuel Kuhn (1922-1996).
Perspectivism says that there can be radically different and incommensurable conceptual schemes (ultimate ways of looking at the world) or perspectives, one of which we must (consciously or unconsciously) adopt, but none of which is more correct than its rivals.
For Sapir and WHORF our own scheme is dependent on the language we use. Like some other forms of relativism, perspectivism is open to the objection that it cannot cater for itself: is the view that there are different conceptual schemes itself something arising only within one, non-mandatory, conceptual scheme?
Also see: indeterminacy of reference and translation, though it has been claimed that this is inconsistent with incommensurability.
M Krausz and J W Mciland, eds, Relativism: Cognitive and Moral (1982);
I Hacking, Rationality and Relativism, M Hollis and S Lukes, eds, (1982)
Perspectivism was thought about in Plato’s rendition of Protagoras (c. 490 BC – c. 420 BC). A more recent philosophical source of perspectivism is Leibniz’s theory of monads.
Perspectivism rejects objective metaphysics, claiming that no evaluation of objectivity can transcend cultural formations or subjective designations. Therefore, there are no objective facts, nor any knowledge of a thing-in-itself. Truth is separated from any particular vantage point, and so there are no ethical or epistemological absolutes. Rules (i.e., those of philosophy, the scientific method, etc.) are constantly reassessed according to the circumstances of individual perspectives. Truth is thus created by integrating different vantage points together.
People always adopt perspectives by default – whether they are aware of it or not – and the concepts of one’s existence are defined by the circumstances surrounding that individual. Truth is made by and for individuals and peoples. This view differs from many types of relativism which consider the truth of a particular proposition as something that altogether cannot be evaluated with respect to an absolute truth, without taking into consideration culture and context.
This view is outlined in an aphorism from Nietzsche’s posthumously-assembled collection The Will to Power:
In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable [emphasis in original] otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings.—”Perspectivism.” It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. [emphasis added] Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm.— Friedrich Nietzsche; trans. Walter Kaufmann, The Will to Power, §481 (1883–1888)
The importance of perspective appears in Nietzsche’s published works as early as The Gay Science, where he describes the effects of seeing things from different viewpoints.
From a distance.— This mountain makes the landscape it dominates charming and significant in every way. Having said this to ourselves a hundred times, we become so unreasonable and grateful that we suppose that whatever bestows so much charm must also be the most charming thing around — and we climb the mountain and are disappointed. Suddenly the mountain itself and the whole landscape around us, below us, have lost their magic. We have forgotten that some greatness, like some goodness, wants to be beheld only from a distance and by all means only from below, not from above; otherwise it makes no impression.— Friedrich Nietzsche; trans. Walter Kaufmann, The Gay Science, §15
Richard Schacht, in his interpretation of Nietzsche’s thought, argues that this can be expanded into a revised form of objectivity in relation to subjectivity as an aggregate of singular viewpoints. These aggregated perspectives illuminate, for example, a particular idea in seemingly self-contradictory ways. Upon further consideration they reveal a difference of contextuality and a rule by which such an idea (that is fundamentally perspectival) can be validated. Therefore, it can be said each perspective is subsumed into and, taking account of its individuated context, adds to the overall objective measure of a proposition under examination.
In contemporary philosophy, perspectivism was revived by José Ortega y Gasset.
Contemporary varieties of perspectivism include:
- Individualist perspectivism
- Collectivist perspectivism
- Transcendental perspectivism
- Theological perspectivism