Saturday, January 24, 2009

What is Perspectivalism?

What Is Perspectivalism?

"Perspectivalism" is a post-modern way of thinking about thinking that has been articulated by Vern Poythress and John M. Frame. Frame's brief Primer on Perspectivalism outlines the method.

Frame starts by observing that every (human) act of knowing takes place from some limited perspective. Recognizing this makes us more humble about the extent our own knowledge and more eager to increase it.

One way to increase our knowledge and our level of certainty is by supplementing our own perspectives with those of others. When our own resources fail us, we can consult friends, authorities, books, etc. We can travel to other places, visit people of other cultures. Even to get a good understanding of a tree, we need to walk around it, look at it from many angles.

It often happens that someone’s idea will seem ridiculous when we first encounter it; but when we try to understand where that person is coming from, what considerations have led him to his idea, then our evaluation of it changes. In such a case, we are trying to see the issue from his perspective, and that perspective enriches our own.

Perspectivalism Is Not Relativism

Perspectivalism seems safer than absolutism and wiser than relativism. Friedrich Nietzsche captured the core of relativism in The Will to Power:
There are many sorts of eyes. The sphinx too has eyes; consequently, there are many sorts of "truths," and consequently there is no truth. (Will to Power, section 540)
Perspectivalism does not confuse the blind stone eyes of the sphinx with the many sorts of eyes that really see.

Perspectivalism Is Not Absolutism

Perspectivalism is not absolutism because it does not confuse any (finite) individual's ideas with "Truth." This is not to say that Frame and Poythress deny the existence of absolute truth--they are both theology professors (Poythress is at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Frame is at Reformed Theological Seminary near Orlando). Perspectivalism distinguishes between the finite perspective of any created being with space and time, and the ultimate perspective of the Creator of space and time.

The Power of Perspectivalism

This humble but hopeful theory of knowledge could be a breakthrough in epistemology (which seems to have fallen on hard times recently). It could also provide a "grand unified theory" of ethics, by fusing deontology, teleology, and existential ethcs.

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