solid, sensible approach to philosophical inquiry. All thoughts and opinions are biased according to the person’s point-of-view. Perspective shapes everything. Nietzsche affirmed the importance of perspective, which allows post-modern thinkers to realize the importance of ethical relativism. Perspectivism has provided the opportunity to acknowledge other worldviews. However, there are serious and significant limitations to the perspectivist approach and the moral relativism espoused by Nietzsche. For example, relativism has enabled the perpetuation of social injustice based on the notion that some cultures have different values than others. Female genital mutilation is an example of a practice that is harmful and cruel, but which is sometimes justified on the grounds that it is “culturally” relevant. In reality, culture is simply being used as an excuse to create social and political hierarchies. Culture is not valid in and of itself, because culture only provides the means by which to interpret the world.
Contrary to the postmodern point-of-view, the absolutist view suggests that there may in fact be some universal ethical standards. Universal ethical standards are comforting, because they appeal to the part of the brain that prefers predictability and consistency, rather than chaos. Yet the world is not fully predictable and is often chaotic. There can technically be no universal standards in a world that is as diverse and potentially random as this one.
Religion and science frequently clash on matters related to perspective and interpretation. Theistic religions claim that their doctrines are absolute truths, which leads to the obvious conundrum of conflicting “truths” in the many religions of the world. A “god’s eye” view is impossible when there are many interpretations of “god,” and when atheists point out that “god” is also part of the schema. Whether one refers to a “god’s eye” view or not, the only universal ethical standards are those that can be roughly categorized into utilitarian and deontological — those that are linked to consequences or to motives. Either way, doing harm to others can be considered ethically wrong.
Beyond the harm principle, actions have no inherent value. There is no need to interpret an action, belief, or pattern of behavior because all those things are neutral. The only universal or absolute standard is the one that refers back to the essential truth of doing no harm. In fact, when Nietzsche formulated his premise about the lack of ethical absolutes, he did also allow for different moral categories or situational constraints (Wicks, 2011). Nietzsche perhaps placed too much emphasis on social status or class in determining one’s perspective or point-of-view, but clearly social status does have a strong bearing on how one views conventional morality and standards of behavior.
Similar to Nietzsche, Rorty also disavows the valueu of an absolute moral truth or standard. It becomes dangerous to assume there can be no absolute, and yet it is equally as dangerous to allow persons in positions of power to determine what exactly constitutes truth or reality. Therefore, both Nietzsche and Rorty create a space in which individuals can empower themselves to make decisions that are morally just or truthful. No one person can claim to possess a universal truth, but collectively all people possess the truth. Universal moral truth may exist in the simple act of refraining from doing harm to others, and moral truth may also be based on the ability to respect the freedoms and liberties of others to behave as they will. Moral codes that profess to be based on “god” or religious law cannot be universal because of the inherent diversity of the human experience. It is simply not possible for all of the religious doctrines to be simultaneously true; therefore, they are all equally as true and false, only relevant to the person who believes those systems. Moral truth comes down to interpretation and personal perspective.
Moral truth differs significantly from a more objective truth such as that embraced by the scientific method. Science can be used to establish the truth about objects or nature. Religion cannot provide the means by which to understand the laws of quantum mechanics or physics, but science also has its limitations. The perspective of a scientist is limited in its ability to define and codify human emotions like love or respect. A perspective or point-of-view is a paradigm. Religions, like science, have paradigms that are extensive in some ways and limited in other ways. Whereas science lacks the ability to explain phenomena that cannot be explained via the scientific method, religion cannot broach concrete facts. Science offers human beings the closest proximity to a universal language and standard of truth because it deals with agreed upon laws and observable realities that are indisputable when using the sensory organs. In fact, science can provide even the means by which to craft a new moral code using universal standards.
Philosophy is in many ways the study of interpretations. The basis of any moral or epistemological judgment is interpretation: which entails paying attention to the assumptions, values, biases, and beliefs of the situation as well as any other variables or constraints. What is right in one situation may be wrong in another. Any question needs to be further clarified by the situational variables and constraints, including the necessary frameworks such as religious, scientific, or legal points-of-view. A shift toward a more logical and empirical framework would help approximate universal standards, but there will always be a high degree of moral ambiguity. Human existence cannot be as easily classified into the absolute categories that appeal to the logical and orderly aspects of the mind.
“Nietzsche’s Perspectivism.” Retrieved online: http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/alevelphilosophy/data/A2/Nietzsche/NietzschePerspectivism.pdf
Ramberg, B. (2007). Richard Rorty. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved online: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rorty/
Wicks, R. (2011). Fredrich Nietzsche. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved online: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/
Part 2: Discussion
We are in fact constantly interpreting reality based on our schemas. Our language, culture, and personality all impact our interpretations. How we read another person’s body language, or the “signs” we see in our daily life all relate to interpretation. For the most part, people agree on the fundamental aspects of perception such as physical objects and their qualities. Beyond that, there is an infinite number of ways to interpret reality. A shaman views health and illness completely differently than a doctor schooled in the modern Western model. A religious person interprets a car accident in terms of “God’s will” versus a person who simply views it as an “accident.” Some people see coincidences, whereas others read meanings into those situations. The extent to which our interpretations influence our lives can be so complex as to come in the way of clear communication with people from other cultures. This is why it is difficult to translate exactly what we are trying to say to a person from another culture. The words we are trying to use cannot convey the essence of what we are saying because we are working within completely different schemas. We interpret every aspect of existence differently, leading to the need for more open-mindedness in our communications.
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