Clarifying Nietzsche’s Perspectivism

By R.N. Carmona

Them who, for philosophical reasons, adopt perspectivism or them who, in the interest of preserving their beliefs, adopt perspectivism misunderstand what Nietzsche intended to achieve. Nietzsche was not arguing that all perspectives are created equal; he recognized that some were better than others. Neither was he arguing that objectivity was not possible. He wrote: “The more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our ‘concept’ of this matter, our ‘objectivity’ be.”1

The truth isn’t a democratic process. Taken together, he was arguing that if we to consider all perspectives worth considering, namely those perspectives that are among the best, we can arrive at a more objective conclusion. On political, legal, moral, philosophical, and even scientific matters, informed perspectives can help us arrive at the objective truth. Nothing at all is shielding people from the facts of the matter. Our perspective may be wrong or distorted, but if we account for other perspectives, especially better ones, one can adopt a better perspective.

This take is more accurate than a take which argued that the truth is equal to opinion. Nietzsche would not have argued that. Most contemporary perspectivists miss that crucial point: objectivity is not impossible; in fact, the more complete one’s accounting of better perspectives is, the closer one gets to achieving objectivity with regards to the case in question. Opinions are not created equal; some are better than others. Opinions and perspectives are virtually interchangeable. While opinions are informed by one’s given perspective, one’s opinion would differ given that one’s perspective differed; this is to say that opinions are contingent on one’s perspective. An opinion might even be considered an iteration of one’s perspective, a way of explaining one’s perspective or putting it into words.

This isn’t necessarily a post-truth era, since truth still exists. The truth can be avoided or flat-out denied, but this doesn’t imply that we now find ourselves in an era in where there’s no truth. There are still truths, both mundane and profound–from your particular date of birth to the fact that the universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old. We are, unfortunately, free to deny these truths, but that doesn’t change their status. Contemporary perspectivists have bastardized Nietzsche’s view and presented it as an enemy of truth. In fact, perspectivism may be the only account of truth that makes sense, both philosophically and practically. If one were to consider that, for instance, arguments were needed to tell people why slavery was wrong, one will begin to see that a fuller consideration of better perspectives helps us to see reason. Arguments were also needed to show people why misogyny was wrong; arguments were needed to overturn the nonsense law that allowed men to keep the belongings of their former wives. This new Act allowed women to have rights to their inheritances and property–even the property they acquired during marriage.

In a post-God era, Nietzsche’s view makes sense. If God is truly dead, the only unity of human reality we can achieve is one that accounts for as many human perspectives as possible. Nietzsche’s perspectivism, when considered fully, is a valid theory of truth. Contemporary proponents of a more simplistic perspectivism would fool one into thinking that there’s no objectivity to be had. Nietzsche clearly didn’t argue that. His perspectivism is much more careful in how it proceeds and gives us a way to achieve objectivity — a way that is in keeping with history. This should come as no surprise coming from a philosopher who was concerned with the use and abuse of history. It is only fitting that his theory of truth is one that is supported by historical trends.

1 Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond good and evil ; and the genealogy of morals. New York: Barnes & Noble , 1996. Print.

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6 comments

    • R.N. Carmona

      Objectivity is what’s true despite one’s predilections and beliefs. Objectivity is what is actually true over and above what someone believes to be the case. For a given subject, s/he may want to believe that elephants have a secret ability to fly. Despite this belief, what is true is what you, me, and every sane person recognizes as the case: elephants have no capacity to fly. It’s clear that Nietzsche meant pretty much the same thing; he didn’t think objectivity was impossible.

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    • R.N. Carmona

      I think the truth is the sum of all sane perspectives; this isn’t to say that insane people don’t rightly understand certain things. We can contemplate a given phenomenon or situation or thing. From your perspective, you may rightly understand x about this phenomenon, situation or thing. From mine, I may rightly understand y. Someone else might rightly understand z. Taking x,y, and z, we now understand this object more fully. It isn’t about belief; it’s about what is objectively the case. Take General Relativity, for example. Newton rightly understand that on Earth, gravity is constant. He formulate a law that shows this. GR subsumed Newton’s Law of Gravitation and showed us how gravity operates over larger areas. So it’s not that Newton was wrong; it’s that his perspective is limited. Einstein’s is broader. Despite this, Einstein’s perspective and Newton’s perspective may not be the complete picture. Quantum Gravity might be the case and yet, no one or collective perspective has apprehended it yet. In the end, perspectives can be falsified or verified; true perspectives are objective and such is the nature of truth.

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    • R.N. Carmona

      Correctly and fully. Though I’m someone who might seek the fifth leg on a cat, even I know when something can’t be understood further. Hereditary relationships, as mentioned earlier or spatial facts (e.g. locations), which were also mentioned earlier are good examples of things that don’t require us to go further. Ultimately, extreme skepticism is inapplicable; some philosophers and philosophy enthusiasts ask others the question you just asked, but never ask themselves that question. If I can’t rightly understand a thing, you can’t either. Should you persist in thinking that you have that capacity, it’s incumbent on you to recognize that capacity in others. Otherwise it’s an inconsistent skepticism; I remain convinced that skeptics and nihilists don’t live as they should, so it would be best for them to give up their pretenses.

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