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?

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