Perspectivism (German: Perspektivismus; also called perspectivalism) is the epistemological principle that perception of and knowledge of something are always bound to the interpretive perspectives of those observing it. While perspectivism does not regard all perspectives and interpretations as being of equal truth or value, it holds that no one has access to an absolute view of the world cut off from perspective.[1] Instead, all such viewing occurs from some point of view which in turn affects how things are perceived. Rather than attempt to determine truth by correspondence to things outside any perspective, perspectivism thus generally seeks to determine truth by comparing and evaluating perspectives among themselves.[1] Perspectivism may be regarded as an early form of epistemological pluralism,[2] though in some accounts includes treatment of value theory,[3] moral psychology,[4] and realist metaphysics.[5]

Early forms of perspectivism have been identified in the philosophies of Protagoras, Michel de Montaigne, and Gottfried Leibniz. However, its first major statement is considered to be Friedrich Nietzsche's development of the concept in the 19th century,[2][4] having built off Gustav Teichmüller's use of the term some years prior.[6] For Nietzsche, perspectivism takes the form of a realist antimetaphysics[7] while rejecting both the correspondence theory of truth and the notion that the truth-value of a belief always constitutes its ultimate worth-value.[3] The perspectival conception of objectivity used by Nietzsche sees the deficiencies of each perspective as remediable by an asymptotic study of the differences between them. This stands in contrast to Platonic notions in which objective truth is seen to reside in a wholly non-perspectival domain.[4] Despite this, perspectivism is often misinterpreted[3] as a form of relativism or as a rejection of objectivity entirely.[8] Though it is often mistaken to imply that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitively true, perspectivism can instead be interpreted as holding certain interpretations (such as that of perspectivism itself) to be definitively true.[3]

During the 21st century, perspectivism has led a number of developments within analytic philosophy[9] and philosophy of science,[10] particularly under the early influence of Ronald Giere, Jay Rosenberg, Ernest Sosa, and others.[11] This contemporary form of perspectivism, also known as scientific perspectivism, is more narrowly focused than prior forms—centering on the perspectival limitations of scientific models, theories, observations, and focused interest, while remaining more compatible for example with Kantian philosophy and correspondence theories of truth.[11][12] Furthermore, scientific perspecitivism has come to address a number of scientific fields such as physics, biology, cognitive neuroscience, and medicine, as well as interdisciplinarity and philosophy of time.[11] Studies of perspectivism have also been introduced into contemporary anthropology, initially through the influence of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and his research into indigenous cultures of South America.[13]

The basic principle that things are perceived differently from different perspectives (or that perspective determines one's limited and unprivileged access to knowledge) has sometimes been accounted as a rudimentary, uncontentious form of perspectivism.[14] The basic practice of comparing contradictory perspectives to one another may also be considered one such form of perspectivism (See also: Intersubjectivity),[15] as may the entire philosophical problem of how true knowledge is to penetrate one's perspectival limitations.[16]

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