This question is motivated by a comment discussion from my previous question. From this article that was linked in a comment:

“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)

Thus, perspectivism is called scientific relativism, but denies a relativity of truth, whereas relativism states that the conditions of application of the absolute term "truth" will always be relative.

Is perspectivism therefore a restricted type of relativism? Protagoras for example typically appears as a relativist, but Wikipedia lists his thought as an early form of perspectivism too.

  • You have to consider historical factors too... otherwise all -isms are quite useless. Protagoras was a relativist for sure, but there were nor science (in modern sense) in Protagoras' times: so to say that he was a "scientific relativism" is non-sense. Feb 22 at 15:43
  • Perspectivism has been "identified by Nietzsche; we can find analogies with N's views in early philosophers, but this means that we simply equate perspectivism and relativism, while N is speaking mainly about values. Feb 22 at 15:44
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    If you speak instead about Deleuze-Guattari... they are post-Nietzsche, post-Marx, post-Freud. In addition they "draw on and criticize the philosophies and theories of: Spinoza, Kant, Charles Fourier, C.S. Peirce, Jung, Melanie Klein, Jaspers, Lewis Mumford, Karl August Wittfogel, Wilhelm Reich, Georges Bataille, Louis Hjelmslev, Lacan, Gregory Bateson, Pierre Klossowski, Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Monod, Althusser, Victor Turner, Jean Oury, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Frantz Fanon, R. D. Laing, David Cooper, and Pierre Clastres." Feb 22 at 15:47
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    It is like saying that a grapefruit is a sort of orange... Yes, at a sufficient "high" level of abstraction it is. Feb 22 at 15:49

2 Answers 2


Is perspectivism a subtype of relativism?


Relativism in its naive form is that truth is merely relative, so perspectivism, which asserts that truth is relative to the perspective of the agent is one type of relativity of truth. Another type of relativity is social constructivism, which in a naive formulation asserts that truth is relative to the society of agents who collaborate to determine truth. Radical forms of relativism would deny that truth exists or that there is a means of determining truth. There are post-modernist extremists who argue this, but it's not a very popular philosophy even among post-modernist philosophers. In the analytic tradition, one dominant view is scientific realism, which believes that there is an external, observer-independent structured reality and that matters of truth reduce to empirical evidence based on observation. Philosophers of science in the 60's and 70's, however began taking stock of underdetermination of theory, theory ladenness, and social factors of scientific practice and essentially accepted that there is an essentially perspectivist basis for science and views on science. This is why WP's article on perspectivism asserts:

During the 21st century, perspectivism has led a number of developments within analytic philosophy and philosophy of science, particularly under the early influence of Ronald Giere, Jay Rosenberg, Ernest Sosa, and others. 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.

Scientific realism is far more popular (according to PhilPapers) than instrumentalism, which is anti-realist in nature, but both positions presume that at the end of the day, despite the relativity of truth from the perspectives of various agents, theories, epistemologies, or societies, ultimately a consensus about objective, positivist reality is realizable in empirical methods. Daniel Dennett famously characterizes this as heterophenomenology which is a form of intersubjectivity. The quotation above mentions Kant, and implicit in that is the recognition that the phenomenological (subjective)/noumenological (objective) distinction is still fundamentally observed by contemporary philosophers.

  • Nice answer, thank you for taking the time to write and expanding even more the subject that I was asking for better perspective and context.
    – user64708
    Feb 22 at 16:50
  • @irecorsan You're welcome! It's really an excellent question.
    – J D
    Feb 22 at 17:10
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    This answer also helped. You're right, I was seeing both too black and white.
    – user64708
    Feb 23 at 16:39

From the OED...

Relativism is the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.

Perspectivism is the theory that knowledge of a subject is inevitably partial and limited by the individual perspective from which it is viewed.

They are, therefore, different. Perspectivism is about having different partial views of a common truth etc, while relativism says there is nothing absolute.

What they have in common is that truth depends on the observer.

  • I think that perspectivism does not imply a common truth either (see the accepted answer), and that is why it is a restricted subtype of relativism. In fact, it cannot be inferred from the definition you quote. Don't you agree?
    – user64708
    Feb 22 at 17:14
  • Perspectivism relies on perspectives for agreement. That agreement does not imply an objective truth. That's what I concluded after some thought on the answers.
    – user64708
    Feb 22 at 18:49
  • @irecorsan But again, we are trying to pin down definitions for both, but there are certainly variations. What if somebody believes that knowledge is partial, but morality is culturally determined? That would be a blended attitude.
    – Frank
    Feb 22 at 23:09
  • @irecorsan You are onto something with agreement. There was a recent thread where it was proposed that objective agreement is a non-starter and that all that could be reasonably achieved was inter-subjective agreement. Maybe those 2 "-isms" here are obstacle to inter-subjective agreement?
    – Frank
    Feb 22 at 23:11
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    I agree that perspectivism doesn't assume that the various perspectives are focussed on a common absolute truth, but it doesn't rule out the possibility. By contrast, relativism does, and that is an important difference between them. Feb 23 at 6:24

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