Objective and subjective reality; perspectivism

Nietzsche rejects the idea of an objective reality. He appears to give a generative status to the faculty of interpretation, in effect saying that the subject creates the world through her interpretations. Simultaneously, he champions the “intellectual conscience” and the value of scientific method and inquiry. How to make sense of this apparent contradiction?

It might be thought at first that the assertion that all judgments are subjective has some exceptions. After all, maybe we all agree that matters of taste and style are inherently more subjective than measurements of the length of a pencil or the weight of a stone. Maybe we would be tempted to posit a hierarchy of degrees of subjectivity. But Nietzsche rejects this too, emphatically expressing that there is no objective basis to which observations can be reduced, no judgment that is absolutely and irreducibly validated. For Nietzsche, the world seems to consist of multiple interlocking interpretations that support each other, a bit like an M. C. Escher drawing.

Elsewhere, Nietzsche invokes the death of God. Christoph Cox, in his “Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation”, points out that the death of God as an idea has only been understood in its most shallow form if it is seen as a mere rejection of Christianity. For Nietzsche, Platonism, “the thing in itself”, the “forms”, “truth”, “paradise” and “objective facts” are all — maybe paradoxically — ways of rejecting reality, rejecting the world. They are dogma. The death of God, Cox asserts, is the end of all these various forms of dogma, not just of Christianity.

As for the intellectual conscience, Cox asserts that by this, Nietzsche simply means that one must question and attack one’s perspectives and interpretations as much as possible, and that a refusal to do this — an acceptance of dogmatic thought — would be a betrayal of the intellectual conscience. In this view, Nietzsche seems to state that in order to best know the world, we must entertain multiple parallel perspectives and harden each one as much as possible through questioning.

A naive questioning of objective truth can lead to a naive relativism, in which every assertion appears to be equally valuable or equally true. It is often on this account that social philosophers and thinkers of today are criticised, as champions of a destruction and levelling of all valuation, a mindless relativism. However, the idea of the intellectual conscience does seem as if it can point the way to new and quite concrete valuation. Nietzsche’s project is ultimately a constructive one which seeks to show a way forward.

What of science then, and its claims to empirical, objective truth, found through experiment and measurement? It seems that scientific thought and scientific findings are in no way invalidated through a Nietzschean epistemology. Science would merely have to forge relationships with other perspectives and find useful ways of relating to them, instead of claiming to be the sole valid way of viewing the world.

After all, what evidence is there that the world exists objectively and independent of the mind? And if there is no evidence either way, let us use Occam’s razor. Which alternative is the simplest explanation?

Category: Philosophy | Tags: , 3 comments »

3 Responses to “Objective and subjective reality; perspectivism”

  1. Phy

    “After all, what proof is there that reality is objective and independent of the mind?”

    How about the fact that it was here before you. If you’re going to accept things like Carbon Dating and Evolution as truths, then it’s not possible for reality to be a function of perception. Don’t mistake the naturalistic functions of quantum mechanics, as they are empirical and natural, for a case that supports subjectivity.

    Irony is a person using a data point to convince other people that anecdotes are more valuable than data points.

    The concept of Axioms is key here. Example:

    “All words have subjective meaning.”

    Well, that statement makes an *objective* claim, doesn’t it? It invokes mutual exclusivity, in that it either has to be a binary of correct or incorrect. Think of the analogy: you can’t have a half-loaded gun, there is only either a bullet in the chamber or there’s not, it can’t be both ways, and this is sort of the point of Schrodinger’s argument, that once you open the box (or chamber), you discover a cat that’s either dead or alive (or in this case, a gun that’s either primed or not).

    Think of it like this. An Axiom is a position or statement that opponents of that statement would have to assume is true even to argue against it in the first place.

    Property rights, murder, physics, evolution, social engineering, The Invisible Hand of the Market… These are all examples of Axiomatic concepts.

    So much for whatever vested interest Nietzsche had left in Nihilism. For someone who claims to have hated it so much, he sure invokes some pretty Nihilistic stances.

  2. Johan Nystrom

    Hi Phy, thanks for your comment.

    I think this post reflected my attempt at understanding Nietzsche 5 years ago and looking back at it now, I’m still not sure exactly where he was going with his perspectivism. It may even have changed over time.

    I do think though, that the starting point of any notion of truth has to be conscious experience (phenomena). Methods such as carbon dating and theories such as evolution (which I certainly don’t think are “false”) are founded on this experience and on our practices of using certain kinds of equipment and concepts. Such practices exist in a historical context.

    I do think every judgment is provisional. We take up a methodology, discipline or point of view and see where it takes us. It may yield experience, insights, access to new phenomena and concepts. Of course, things get interesting because even the notion that “every judgment is provisional” as you point out must be provisional. But this might also be something like a special case, as we do not commit to something that could be proven false in the future by adopting this viewpoint.

    Let me think about your comment for a while.

  3. J C

    Data points are just chaos without a conscious observer. Think electron clouds. The interpretation of the data points creates the order out of that chaos. The determined meaning of the data points will always be subjective. Popular opinions may spread but they are not objective truth just accepted truth.

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