‘Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.’ –Epictetus


The term ‘perspective’ comes from the language of vision. We literally see things from and with a particular perspective. Our eyes are located at a particular point in space, from which some things are visible and others are not, e.g. the top of the table, but not its underneath. A scene looks different from different perspectives. […]

Nietzsche is saying that philosophical beliefs about truth and goodness are part of a particular perspective on the world, a short-sighted, distorting perspective. One of its most important distortions is that it denies that it is a perspective, that its truths are unconditional, that it represents the world as it truly is. But philosophers are wrong to think that it is possible to represent or hold beliefs about the world that are value-free, ‘objective’, ‘disinterested’. […]

We can support Nietzsche’s argument by an evolutionary account of human cognition. We can’t possibly take in everything around us. We must be selective in order to survive at all. So from the very beginning, our intellects are responsive to our interests, our biological instincts and all that develops from them – our emotions, desires and values. So we do not and cannot experience the world ‘as it is’, but always selectively, in a way that reflects our values. […]

If Nietzsche claims that all our knowledge is from a particular perspective, then his claims about perspectives and his theory of perspectivism must itself be from a particular perspective. So is what he says about perspectives objectively true or not?

{ Michael Lacewing | PDF }

image { Camille Henrot, still from The Strife of Love in a Dream, 2011 }