Will Power

Did you hear about the madperson coming down from a hill top shouting “God is dead”? What is the connection between Superman (the ‘man’ of steel), Adolf Hitler, and a famous Parsi saint?

Read on this essay about an interesting bit of philosophy.


In the words of my philosophy professor, the following essay is not at the level of “Blues” and “Rock”, but at the level of “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa”. 

Things tend to get uneasy when people read Nietzche. So here is the Red-pill Blue-pill warning. 

But free will is an illusion, isn’t it?

One of the central ideas developed by the German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche, Perspectivism, is a philosophy which says that there can be various different conceptual schemes or perspectives towards anything, none of which is more correct that its rivals.

Essentially, this implies that there is no certain way, True or False, of looking at the outside world.

Nietzsche, with his critical texts on religion, morality, culture and philosophy substantially influenced all of these fields. His key philosophies include the Death of God, Perspectivism, Will to Power and the idea of the Ubermensch.

Nietzsche considered interpretation as the basic and essential condition for human existence.

He believed that interpretation was at play almost everywhere. Human beings realize reality through interpretation. In his book The Gay Science, he argues that human intellect is biased and manifests itself in the perspectives of the human.

Thus whatever knowledge we may gain through experience is biased by our very own perspective and interpretation.

Perspectivism can be rooted to the very personal style Nietzsche uses in his philosophy. His philosophy is different in this sense because while other philosophers portray their philosopher as detached and independent from them, existing in a world of their own, Nietzsche asserts something very different.

He firmly believes in the idea that it would be wrong to look at a philosophers work, disjoint of his personal life and influences. While the content of the philosophical work is important, what led someone to believe in such a set of ideas must also be considered. We can say that this very methodology followed by Nietzsche develops and results into what becomes his philosophy of Perspectivism.

Perspectivism thus rejects the objectivity of facts and the possibility of knowledge to exist by itself. It rejects the idea of a perspective-free and an interpretation-free objective reality. Perspectivism is a form of relativism because it rejects the idea of an objective reality of absolute truth. However, it is also different from relativism, in the sense that it is not necessary that the different perspectives hold the same amount of importance in all contexts.

Philosophers such as Plato, Descartes and Kant believed in the existence of an objective real world.

Plato divided the world into his ‘world of Ideas’ and the ‘material physical world’. He believed that the true essence of reality was the ‘world of Ideas’ only, since it represented a world which did not change and was permanent. He thus criticized artists for their attempt to capture the ever changing material world on to paper from different perspectives, trying to express the real world in their art. For him, it was a very inadequate representation of the world of Ideas – like a mere fleeting shadow of reality.

Descartes’ theory of knowledge relied on the idea of rationalism, which also assumed the existence of an objective world free from the perspective of the rational being who looked at it.

Similarly, even Kant believed in the idea of ‘a thing in itself’ which basically represented an objective reality.

Perspectivism is a concept which holds that all knowledge is always based on perspectives, that there are no immaculate perceptions, and that knowledge from no point of view is as incoherent a notion as seeing from no particular vantage point.

Perspectivism rejects the idea of this unchanging existence of objective reality. In fact, it goes a step ahead and also rejects the neutrality of philosophical concepts. Perspectivism argues that these concepts are actually artificial constructs to support a particular perspective of a particular philosopher.

Thus Nietzsche accuses philosophers before him of interpreting the world in terms of their perspective, disguising it through philosophical constructs. His book Beyond Good and Evil starts with a chapter which is named “On the Prejudices of Philosophers.” In this chapter, Nietzsche comments about the lack of integrity of traditional philosophers.

He says that these philosophers like to present their ideas, as it is a result of pure reason. To quote him talking about such philosophers – “They pose as having discovered and attained their real opinions through self-evolution of a cold, pure, divinely unperturbed dialectic: while what happens at bottom is that a prejudice, a notion, an inspiration, generally a desire of the heart sifted and made abstract, is defended by them with reasons sought after the event”.

Thus Perspectivism asserts that philosophical insights are not as universal as truths as they are brought out to be. This is so because no matter what, the perspective of the philosopher himself plays into account here. His ideas are not merely influenced by his bias, but are the very result of that very bias.

Nietzsche says that traditional philosophers and Christianity has acted as a blockade to the free flow of ideas and thoughts. They have acted as a hindrance to the belief that there can be multiple meanings of the world which can only be viewed when seen from different perspectives.

In “The Will to Power”, Nietzsche writes – “In so far 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.” While Perspectivism establishes that much of traditional philosophy is based on a false presumption, and is thus false, it does not attempt to provide us with any better theories in this regard. It does not implicate any method of inquiry in general.

An important paradox which emerges with respect to Perspectivism concerns the fact that perspectivism and the other philosophies of Nietzsche form a perspective in themself. Thus it cannot really be stated as the absolute truth. Furthermore, Nietzsche’s other philosophies such as those concerning eternal return and the ubermen seem to have been expressed as if they are universal truths. However, the very idea of such a truth is not possible within the framework of perspectivism.

Nietzsche foresees this contradiction in his work and thus portrays perspectivism not as an absolute true theory but “a way of life”. In fact, perspectivism can be thought of as a philosophy which teaches us how to live our lives in the absence of any absolute perspectives. We can understand this further by realizing that as Nietzsche said – “truth is the kind of error without which a certain being could not live”.

He thus assumes that even if there is no certain truth or absolute perspective, we as human beings need to act as if there were one. Thus the very notion of truth arises out of this idea, where, although there is no absolute truth, humans rely on certain facts considering them to be universal and objective for their satisfaction in their regular experiences of life. He writes – “The falseness of a judgement is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgement. The question is to what extent it is life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, and perhaps even species-breeding”.

Another way we can justify this explanation of the perspectivism and Nietzsche’s other philosophies being an ‘attitude towards life’ by saying that while there is no absolute truth, there may be different levels of truthfulness. Thus perspectives can be compared with each other and there may be some perspectives which are better than others. While perspectives cannot be evaluated based on any external reality, they may very well be arranged in a hierarchy based on their usage in a particular context.

Lastly, we focus on how Nietzsche looks at science through the glasses of perspectivism.

He argues that science, in terms of the laws of nature, is an interpretation of nature which came into being with the ideas of democracy and atheism. A Law of nature is an expression of the value of absolute equality. Just like the values of democracy, all are equal before the law and in terms of rights etc.

We can very well understand the workings of nature in terms of ‘the will to power’. However, our perspective has been from a democratic standpoint. Also, the perspective in terms of the laws of nature has been of great pragmatic importance as it has resulted into the technological advancements of the present date.

Perspectivism has had great impact on various philosophies which followed and was an integral element amongst those which left to the foundations of post-modernism. The essence of post-modernism lies in the rejection of belief in meta-narratives. This would not have been possible without Nietzsche’s idea of perspectives and how interpretation is a necessary step to be taken to internalize reality.

27. 06.2011

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