Nietzsche's Perspectivism: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Benjamin Olson
This lesson will explain the concept of perspectivism and how it fits into Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy. Nietzsche's understanding of truth, morality, and cultural values will be explained and considered.

Nietzsche and His Ideas

Friedrich Nietzsche is certainly one of the most famous, talked about, and frequently misunderstood philosophers in the Western tradition. Even people who have never read his books, may recognize his face, with his big bushy mustache and pompadour hairstyle. Most have heard rumors and fragments about his ideas, some of which are true and some of which are misleading. One assumption that is often made, and is true, is Nietzsche's hostility towards religion, particularly Christianity.

Like a lot of other very brilliant and original thinkers, Nietzsche's ideas are easily misconstrued. Nietzsche is, perhaps, the most important and influential philosopher of the 19th century, primarily because of his attack on the concept of essential truth. Truth, according to Nietzsche, is a matter of perspective, not fundamental reality. This understanding of truth and morality has come to be known as perspectivism. It was this concept that more or less shaped his opinion of religion.

Nietzsche 1882
Friedrich Nietzsche in 1882

Truth and Morality

The concept of perspectivism and his controversial understanding of truth is most visible in his later works like Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, and the incomplete collection of notes published after his death called The Will to Power. Nietzsche saw the quest for truth that was not subject to situation, culture, perception, and will as being misguided.

Let me explain in way of example. If I believe that the San Francisco Giants are the best baseball team on planet Earth, that is a belief based on my own perspective, not on some fundamental truth. Being good with words and a zealous Giants fan, I might be able to persuade you that my perspective is true, but I am basically manipulating your perspective to coincide with my own. Nietzsche argues that the numerous attempts by philosophers to distinguish essential, universal truths do not amount to much more than me trying to convince you that the San Francisco Giants are the best baseball team in the world.

Morality, truth claims, and ethical dictates are always motivated by something. Individuals and groups accept certain ideas as true because they have some compelling reason to do so, such as community pressures, anxieties, or desires. Nietzsche's highly sophisticated and often bombastic arguments regarding truth were a major challenge to Western philosophy's quest for essential truth and continue to be so today.

Christianity and Slave Morality

In his writings, Nietzsche sees morality as tyrannical. Keep in mind that Nietzsche does not mean that everything is meaningless, or that we should go around murdering each other for no reason. Nietzsche is arguing that morality has always tried to impose an arbitrary idea of how things should be for everyone and what should matter to everyone.

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