is the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to
culture, society, or historical context and are not absolute. It is the belief
that different things are true, right, etc., for different people or at
different times. It can also be defined as a theory that knowledge is relative
to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing or a view that
ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them. Epistemology
is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. A form of
relativism in epistemology is perspectivalism,
the idea that all knowledge is "from a point of view" and therefore
Introduction to Perspectivalism
Two views on Perspectivalism
Commitment to Total Perspectivalism
view is a total commitment to perspectivalsim.
They are the ones who believe that the idea of objective truth is entirely
suspect and claim that all knowledge is embedded in a perspective. They will
say that there is no ultimate perspective and no "God's-eye" point of view. It implies that all knowledge is
locked into a particular person's or specific culture's way of seeing the world,
and this emphasis calls us to question whether genuine, objective knowledge of
God or anything else is possible at all.
Resist Commitment to Total Perspectivalism
other view is that we cannot commit to total perspectivalism. They focus on the
idea that "truth is ultimately true," at the same time will
acknowledge that cultural variability is real. Despite cultural variability,
they work with strategies to shift out false ideas, to identify culturally
variable ideas, and to hone in on ideas that are in some way objectively true
or which is true for all. Perspectives are recognized at different levels, but
they will resist commitment to total perspectivalism.
Personal view on Perspectivalism
total commitment to perspectivalism is
incompatible with true Christian theology.
The human perspective cannot know everything about God but they
gradually and partially contact what is true by using the epistemic capacities
and belief-forming abilities God created within. Perspectives do shape human knowing, but
there is a reason to reject strong perspectivalism. It is a largely postmodern
mentality that revels in a leveling of conflicting viewpoints, but we have to
overcome fragmentation and find unity in truth. People living in different
cultures will have different perspectives about different things, but a truth
about creator God is absolute, and we have to find ways to bring out this truth
among various viewpoints. I think it is possible since the same God created everything
and revealed himself to everyone.
Knowledge of God and Postmodernism Challenges
is a divine being who is removed and foreign from our own experiences. Our
desire to know if there is a God leads us to the question of who is God or if
it is possible to have the knowledge of God. There are many competing claims
about gods or God being made by different religions.
Bible is clear that the only reason we know God is because God spoke first and revealed himself to us. So we can know God, not
due to our own search or experiences but because God chose to reveal himself to
us. We cannot completely define God, but we can describe based on how God has
revealed himself to us. God is not an object to be studied because when we
study or analyze an object, we stand over and above the object, and we decide
what that object is and what it can and cannot be. In order words, we have authority over our study's
object, and it is not true with God. We cannot discover or analyze God, but God
speaks to us. God is a free subject, and neither creation nor self-revelation
is necessary for God to be God. So
everything we can say about God is, at the end, derivative, a reflection back
to the source of the self-revelation we try to describe.
and pluralism have taken root in the current culture, and many unbelievers come
from this worldview. They claim that the knowledge
is embedded in a person's views or a culture's views. So this knowledge is not
a reliable guide to the absolute truth. So they would argue that truth is
relative, and it can be different for different people. So the statement that 'truth
is relative' is absolute truth, and hence it will be a self-defeating statement
by proving that truth is not relative. On
the other hand, if the truth is absolute, then we can make the statement that "truth
is absolute" and it will be true and not self-defeating. Even postmodernism claims there is no truth
and only one truth, which is postmodernism. By stating that, they are accepting
that there is absolute truth, and it becomes undeniable. So if there is no absolute truth, then we
cannot be sure of anything, and we have to accept pluralist or agnostic view. Absolute truth will be narrow and will
exclude what is opposite to itself.
Absolute truth is not impacted by the seekers desire and sincerity as it
does not change false to true or
transform the false as the truth.
reject the idea of "objective truth."
It is important to understand the historical origins of postmodernism.
Throughout the West's history, philosophers and theologians affirmed the
objective character of ethics and religion and did not think that these truths
were relative to individuals or cultures. They thought that it was relevant and
applicable to all people universally. Plato thought that we could know ideal
truths by deductive reasoning, while Aristotle believed that we could understand
them by inductive reasoning. They both were realists and thought that every
human being has a goal towards which they should aim. During the Middle Ages
and Reformation, theologians and philosophers affirmed a belief in universal,
objective truth. During the Age of Enlightenment, rationalism, and empiricism
gained ground. Rationalism emphasized the adequacy of human reason to
comprehend and know the objective and rational truth, while empiricism
emphasized that we can only know what we can touch, taste, smell, see or
Hume developed empiricist thought and insisted that morals are just our
passions and reason is their slave to serve them. Immanuel Kant tried to answer
Hume's empiricism in order to defend rationalism, but he accepted the idea that
all knowledge comes by way of the five senses. Kant's view developed the idea
that science gives us knowledge and facts while other disciplines like religion
can only give us values or personal opinions. Later emphasis in philosophy was
shifted from experience to language – a shift that came to be known as "the
linguistic turn" – and it marked a turn towards postmodern thought.
thought rejected the idea of objective truth since it believed that there is a
real-world, but we cannot know it without talking about it. We are on the
inside of language, and there is no way to get out of it to know the real world
truly or objectively. They also reject that there is a universal truth that holds true for all people at all times. There are many languages, and each word's
meaning depends on the social settings and grammatical rules of a particular
culture. So there is no way to know reality in its true form, and it depends on how we talk in our respective
communities. So from a postmodernist view, since there is no way to know truth
objectively, there is no such thing as objective truth.
who endorse a classically Protestant understanding of "right reason"
would say that although objective truth can be known, it cannot be known
objectively. Protestants focus on the fact of human depravity and take the Fall
and original sin seriously. They insist that the regenerate alone have the
moral ability to see the revealed truth,
which is glorious. In regeneration, Holy Spirit works through the word and
brings a transformation that helps a person view things differently from how it
was seen before. He sees everything in light of the Scripture, and they look
through the eyes of faith through Scripture. They alone have the ability to see
the revealed truth, and it is objectively
glorious. Personal experience and devotion play a role in this, and hence it
cannot be without bias. If objective reality is the immediate object of
perception, then it can be known objectively. But objective truth is not an
object of perception and hence cannot be known objectively.
significant issue with postmodern thinking is that the authority to derive
meaning lies in each individual's hands.
The authority is from within a person and not from outside. This has an
impact on how people view religious authority also. Christianity can no longer
demand nor expect any privileged status to make its truth claims in such a
climate. So Christian faith does not have any special claim in the open but has
to stand by competing beliefs. So
Christian apologetics has to become more relational and dialogue based in a
postmodern society. Christian exclusiveness has often created a problem of our
inability to dialogue with people outside our faith in a meaningful way. Without engaging in meaningful conversation,
it is not possible to engage a postmodern mind. There was a time when the tool
most used by Christians for reaching out to the lost world was just evangelistic preaching. The times have changed,
and non-believers will no longer give their attention or, most of the time, do
not show interest in attending an evangelistic meeting. In such circumstances,
it is important to rely on different tools like a personal relationship, continuous witnessing, being patient with
the person, etc. The Holy Spirit's help is still very much needed, but how the
postmodern mind works make it essential to continue the dialogue. In some cases, it could be the combination of many people
impacting a person in different ways, ultimately leading a person to Christ. So
it is crucial to continue and not give up when we do not see an immediate response.
is also crucial that we have a clear understanding of truth and make sure that the person we witness knows about the knowledgeable truth. Unless the foundation of absolute truth is not solid, we may not be able to drive the person to believe in one true God.
Once a person acknowledges the existence of one true God, we can claim
Jesus Christ being the son of God who came to save humanity. If we try to talk
about Jesus to the postmodern mind that views everything in a relative view
without dealing with the concept of truth and God first, it will be difficult
to understand why Jesus is unique.
discuss faith, we can also apply reason and logic in matters of religion. If we
apply reason and logic, then pluralism is ruled out because it is illogical and
contradictory to believe that diametrically opposing truth claims can both be
right. Now all religions and belief
systems cannot be true at the same time since they contradict each other. We
know that truth cannot be self-contradictory. Many religions are claiming to be
the ultimate truth, including Christianity. Christians make the exclusive claim
that the God revealed in the Bible is the
only true God. Muslims claim that Islam is the only true religion.
When we apply the test of logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and existential relevancy,
Christianity provides the right answers and stands out among other religions.
has made it difficult to change a postmodern mind to acknowledge an absolute
truth. Perspectivalism is popular in the
culture today, but a Christian cannot give a commitment
to total perspectivalism. We cannot ignore the influence and the reality of perspectives,
but that does not negate the fact about absolute truth. For the Christian, the ultimate expression of
truth is found in the Bible, in Jesus who said, "I am the way, the truth,
and the life..." (John 14:6). Of
course, most philosophers and skeptics will dismiss His claim, but he is the
mainstay of hope, security, and guidance for the Christian.
Clark, David K., and John S. Feinberg. To Know and Love God: Method for Theology.
Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2003.
Burge, Gary M. Theology
Questions Everyone Asks: Christian Faith
in Plain Language. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2014.