- Perspectivism and Relativism beyond the Postmodern Condition
“Perspectivism, or scientific relativism, is never relative to a subject: it constitutes not a relativity of truth but, on the contrary, a truth of the relative.”(Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 1994)
“Granted that ‘true’ is an absolute term, its conditions of application will always be relative.”(R. Rorty, Introduction to Truth and Progress, 1998)
The first question I asked myself when reading this paper was: What is the problem it seeks to address? Its author writes about epistemological issues out of a concern with a growing attraction among analysts and therapists to some version of perspectivism and an allied constructivism. This is both a theoretical problem, wrestling with problems of empirical evidence and confirmation (or corroboration) in relation to an acknowledgment of the constructivist character of our ideas and concepts, and a practical one concerned with the effects (analytic, existential, political) of the “decisions” taken with regard to these matters. I imagine, and would very much hope, that the author’s attempt to enable his fellow analysts and therapists to get out of the intellectual muddle and impasse of postmodern theorizing will be immensely appreciated by readers of this journal. I greatly empathize with the particular reading of perspectivism that the author wishes to evince, namely and notably, seeking to overcome the perceived opposition or antinomy between the pursuit of truth and its traditional concern with “objectivity” and an appreciation of the constructivist and perspectival character of knowledge. As the author himself states it, a correct interpretation of perspectivism can “legitimately be regarded as an orientation that allows for the possibility and value of truth and knowledge.” The orientations of perspectivism strike me as having a particular relevance for the arts and practices—I resist adding “pseudosciences”—of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
I do think the author is not as consistent as is required on this issue, however, and we need to be a little more clear and precise about the ambit and character of perspectivism, not conflating it with the merely personal and subjective. I conceive it along the lines of Nietzsche’s “mature” perspectivism, as Lehrer calls it, and as such it has to be articulated rigorously and precisely as the theoretical and constructivist antipodes of all forms of parochial subjectivism and relativism. [End Page 167] (The idea that knowledge is relative to a subject is one of the great conceits of our time; as the quote from Deleuze and Guattari that precedes my commentary indicates, there is not a relativity of truth but rather a truth of the “relative,” amounting to two completely different statements.)
I hope, then, that the nuanced character of the author’s engagement with the problem of perspectivism will contribute, in the context of its specific milieu and assemblage, to the necessary revaluation of postmodern values. The comments I wish to make here are restricted to the genealogical construction of certain philosophical components of the paper. In particular, I wish to express a concern over the lack of an appreciation of the history of philosophy in the paper and among practitioners of ideas and concepts who are working with philosophy in disciplines and practices outside philosophy. The paper closely identifies issues of perspectivism, relativism, skepticism, and constructivism with “postmodernism” (certain trends and trajectories of recent times). But this is to misrepresent the history of philosophy and its construction of problems—it is the articulation of specific problems that gives rise to issues of skepticism and relativism. For example, we can find a sophisticated version of perspectivism in Leibniz’s philosophy of monads (1714); many of the questions raised by the author of this paper are prefigured in their recognizably modern form in the writings of Hume, notably his Treatise of Human Nature (1739) and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). It is simply to follow fashion to treat Nietzsche as some easily identifiable postmodern “turning point,” which then gives rise to a preoccupation with constructivism and skepticism that is held to be peculiar to postmodernism. (Hume’s skeptical empiricism is built on constructivist principles and is unintelligible without an appreciation of, and reckoning, with them.)
Lehrer makes some valid and genuinely...