Perspectival Realism
Perspectival Realism
Perspectival Realism

Conference II Abstracts

Barry Stroud (University of Berkeley)
Knowledge From a Human Point of View
Human beings know a great deal about the world, and they know everything they know about it from a human point of view. They also know a great deal about that human point of view itself: how human beings know things about the world, how knowledge has developed through the history of human thought, culture, science, politics, technology, etc. I would like to explore the general question whether we can understand how human beings know (inevitably from a human point of view) that the world is so-and-so, or that at best we can understand only how human beings know that the world is so-and-so from a human point of view.


Rachel Zuckert (Northwestern University)
Attempting to Exit the Human Perspective: A Priori Experimentation in Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’
In the non-metaphorical sense, when we speak someone seeing from a perspective, we understand other people to have other perspectives. And we take it that people can change their perspectives by moving away from them, to a different one, from which they could then see the location and limits of their original perspective. When Kant claims in the Critique of Pure Reason that human beings know from a particular perspective, however, he of course denies that we can occupy different perspectives, or move away from the one we occupy, for our perspective is the human perspective as such. Hegel and other post-Kantian philosophers therefore accuse Kant of self-contradiction: he claims that we can know only from one perspective, and yet, in order in fact to recognize that perspective, he himself does and must go “outside” of it. They argue that one should therefore reject Kant’s limitation of knowledge to the human perspective as incoherent. I shall argue in this paper that Kant’s response to this charge is the Dialectic section of the Critique: when one attempts to know things that in fact lie beyond or outside the human perspective – to exit it — one falls into contradictions, empty thinking, fallacy. On Kant’s view, then, we do not have to stand outside our own perspective – impossibly — in order to establish its limits. Rather, our perspective comes both with an impulse to transcend itself, and (correspondingly) with a horizon or barrier of error, incomprehension, failure that marks the place of such transcendence. Such failed attempts, I shall argue, are part of the confirming “results” of the a priori experimentation Kant proposes in the Preface to the Critique (Bxviii-xx): the hypothesis of transcendental idealism – Kant’s identification of the character and limits of our perspective – is shown to identify the dividing line between successful and failed, productive and contradictory attempts at human knowledge.


Steven Hales (Bloomsburg University)
Nietzsche’s epistemic perspectivism
Nietzsche’s audacious decrees are usually meant to shock the reader out of a complacent conformity to traditional dogmas, not to seriously advance some kind of nihilism. In the case of knowledge, he is not promoting skepticism, but a view of knowledge that rejects Kantian things-in-themselves as objects of knowledge. He writes that “Insofar as the word ‘knowledge’ has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings—‘Perspectivism.’… Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm” (WP 481).

There are many senses in which knowledge could be perspectival, some more radical than others. Knowledge could be contextual in ways familiar to contemporary epistemologists, and Nietzsche might be gesturing at that. In this case perspectival knowledge is interesting, but non- threatening. Or one’s perspective can be a matter of limited information or evidence, which leads to knowledge only in limited domains. Then advocating for perspectivism amounts to promoting interdisciplinary, collaborative scholarship to gain the truth. Alternatively, a perspective could be more akin to a worldview or an investigative paradigm that delimits which opinions should even count as reasonable ones. Another idea is that perspectives are like the proverbial blind men palpating different parts of an elephant, where the understanding each reaches is only a component of the truth, and the whole truth is elusive. Perhaps the most radical idea is that perspectivism is a far-reaching relativism about truth, and there is no absolute truth to be had; all knowledge is constituted by our various perspectives.

In this chapter I will explore Nietzsche’s ideas about how knowledge is perspectival. It may be that he is offering a variety of perspectives on and critiques of epistemology and scientific knowledge, not one well-developed theory. Such a multi-faceted approach would be most consonant with his advocacy of perspectivism and underscore the continuing reward of grappling with Nietzsche’s thought.


Nick Treanor (University of Edinburgh)
Quantities of Knowledge and Ignorance in Perspective
It’s natural to think that how much one knows changes over time, both about specific topics and overall, and that people similarly differ, or at least can differ, in how much they know. In this paper I will explore whether we should think of quantities of knowledge and ignorance as quantities from or within a perspective.


Matthew Brown (University of Texas at Dallas)
Pluralism, Realism, and Perspectivism in the American Pragmatist Tradition
There are productive relationships between contemporary discussions of “perspectivism” and the American Pragmatist tradition. On the one hand, the thematization of perspectivism in contemporary epistemology and philosophy of science can benefit from resources in the American Pragmatist philosophical tradition. On the other hand, the Pragmatists have interesting and innovative views on pluralism and realism that can be illuminated through the lens of perspectivism. I pursue this inquiry primarily through examining relevant sources from the Pragmatist tradition. I will examine the way that central Pragmatist doctrines including fallibilism in epistemology, the Pragmatist elucidation of truth, and cultural pluralism can enrich contemporary versions of perspectivism. I will also show that perspectivism is a thread that extends through Charles S. Peirce’s and John Dewey’s theories of inquiry, Peirce’s evolutionary metaphysics, William James’s radical pluralism, Jane Addams’ standpoint epistemology, Dewey’s contextualism and immediate empiricism, Horace Kallen’s and Alain LeRoy Locke’s cultural pluralism, Locke’s theory of race consciousness, and Richard Rorty’s anti-essentialism. It is often asked about the diverse group of thinkers that we call “the American Pragmatists” whether they have anything substantive in common. In this chapter, I will argue that one compelling answer is that they were all concerned to elucidate or make use of a form of perspectivism.



J. Adam Carter (University of Glasgow)
Virtue Perspectivism, Relativism and Epistemic Circularity
As some relativists have insisted (e.g., Rorty 1979; cf., Boghossian 2001), any attempt we might make to justify our own system of epistemic principles will be inevitably epistemically circular; we will, as a matter of course, appeal to the epistemic principles comprising our own epistemic system in the service of justifying that very system. However, if all epistemic systems aspire to at most epistemically circular justification, then—as the relativist here insists—all epistemic systems are ultimately on equal epistemic standing, equally justified or equally unjustified. One promising attempt to block this notorious move from epistemic circularity to epistemic relativism has been defended in various places by Ernest Sosa (e.g., 1991; 1997; 2009). Crucial to Sosa’s argument is the role of an epistemic perspective in epistemological theorizing. In this paper, I will (after sharpening the relativist’s argument from circularity) articulate what I take to be the strongest version of the virtue-perspectivist response to epistemic circularity Sosa has to offer (cobbling together some of the best aspects of this response strategy as he’s defended it in different places throughout his career); I will then show that the most compelling expression of Sosa’s perspectivist response to the circularity problem ultimately has the resources to handle some of the strongest objections that have been raised against it.


Mario De Caro (Roma Tre and Tufts)
Perspectivism and naturalism
Contemporary naturalism has many faces. The most common one is reductionism or eliminationist in spirit, since it states that all our ontological posits and forms of explanations (if legitimate) are, in principle, reducible to the posits and forms of explanation of the natural sciences. Another form is quietist about metaphysical issues and pluralist about explanations. A third one accepts pluralism regarding both explanation and ontological posits. Remarkably, at different stages of his long and astounding career, Hilary Putnam has been a vocal advocate of each of these views. In the chapter, I assess the merits (and demerits) of these three forms of naturalism by comparing them with perspectivism.


Natalie Ashton (University of Vienna)
Perspectival Realism and Standpoint Epistemology
Defences of perspectival realism are motivated, in part, by an attempt to find a middleground between the realist intuition that science seems to tell us a true story about the world, and the Kuhnian intuition that scientific knowledge is historically and culturally situated. The first intuition pulls us towards a traditional, absolutist scientific picture, and the second towards a relativist one. Thus perspectival realism can be seen as an attempt to secure situated knowledge without entailing epistemic relativism. A very similar motivation is behind feminist standpoint theory, a view which aims to capture the idea that knowledge is socially situated, whilst retaining some kind of absolutism. Elsewhere I argue that the feminist project fails to achieve this balance; its commitment to situated knowledge unavoidably entails epistemic relativism – though an unproblematic kind which nevertheless allows them to achieve all of their feminist goals. In this paper I will explore whether the same arguments apply to perspectival realism (and so it is committed to an unproblematic relativism, capable of achieving scientific goals) or whether it in succeeds in carving out a third kind of view, between or beyond the relativism/absolutism dichotomy.


Kareem Khalifa (Middlebury College); Jared Millson (Agnes Scott College)
Perspectives, Questions, and Epistemic Value
Epistemologists frequently endorse truth monism, the thesis that only true beliefs are of fundamental epistemic value. However, such a view faces searching counterexamples, particularly when trying to account for various facets of scientific practice. While many of truth monism’s critics adopt a pluralistic view in which other epistemic goods are as fundamental as true belief, we opt instead to alter the letter, but not the spirit, of truth monism. We dub the resulting view “inquisitive accuracy monism,” which holds that only accurate representations are of fundamental epistemic value, and that a representation’s accuracy is to be assessed by its success in providing correct answers to relevant questions. Which questions are relevant is a function of a putative representer’s perspective, which is characterized by his/her social role, abilities, interests, and presuppositions. We argue that inquisitive accuracy monism outperforms both truth monism and its pluralist alternatives in accounting for the epistemic value underlying a variety of scientific practices.