Perspectivism (also perspectivalism; German: Perspektivismus) is the philosophy that perception and knowledge are always bound to perspectives and interpretation. While perspectivism does not regard all perspectives as being of equal truth or value, it holds that no one has access to an absolute view of the world cut off from perspective. Instead, all such viewing occurs from some point of view which in turn affects how things are perceived. Rather than attempt to determine truth by correspondence to things outside any perspective, perspectivism thus seeks to determine truth by comparison of perspectives to each other. Perspectivism may be regarded as an early form of epistemological pluralism, though in some forms also includes treatment of value theory and realist metaphysics.
Early forms of perspectivism have been identified in the philosophies of Protagoras, Michel de Montaigne, and Gottfried Leibniz. However, its first major statement is considered to be Friedrich Nietzsche's development of the concept (sometimes known as Nietzschean perspectivism) in the 19th century. For Nietzsche, perspectivism takes the form of a realist antimetaphysics while rejecting both the correspondence theory of truth and the notion that the truth-value of a belief always constitutes its supreme value. The perspectival conception of objectivity used by Nietzsche sees the deficiencies of each perspective as remediable by an asymptotic study of the differences between them. This stands in contrast to Platonic notions in which objective truth is seen to reside in a wholly non-perspectival domain. Despite this, perspectivism is often misinterpreted as a form of relativism or regarded as a rejection of objectivity entirely. Though it is often mistaken to imply that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitively true, perspectivism can instead be interpreted as holding certain interpretations (such as that of perspectivism itself) to be definitively true.
During the 21st century, perspectivism has lead a number of developments within analytic philosophy and philosophy of science, particularly under the early influence of Ronald Giere, Jay Rosenberg, Ernest Sosa, and others. This contemporary form of perspectivism, also known as scientific perspectivism, is more narrowly focused than prior forms—centering on the perspectival limitations of scientific models, theories, observations, and focused interest, while remaining more compatible for example with Kantianism and correspondence theories of truth. Furthermore, scientific perspecitivism has come to address a number of scientific fields such as physics, biology, cognitive neuroscience, and medicine, as well as interdisciplinarity and philosophy of time.
In Western languages, scholars have found perspectivism in the philosophies of Heraclitus (c. 540 – c. 480 BCE), Protagoras (c. 490 – c. 420 BCE), Michel de Montaigne (16th century CE), and Gottfried Leibniz (17th century CE). In Asian languages, scholars have found perspectivism in Buddhist, Jain, and Daoist texts. Anthropologists have found a kind of perspectivism in the thinking of some indigenous peoples.
Nietzschean perspectivism rejects a certain kind of 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.:61 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.
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 the 20th century, perspectivism was discussed separately by José Ortega y Gasset and Karl Jaspers.
Contemporary varieties of perspectivism include: