In my previous article, I discussed how the social justice movement incorporates a radical empiricism along with various hermeneutical methods as its means of obtaining knowledge (i.e. epistemology). A consequence of this position is that knowledge is reduced to the subject and his or her experiences such that any claim can ascend to the pedestal of truth. It is here that the philosophy of the social justice movement connects with the philosophy of the proto-existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche advanced a position called perspectivism. He believed that western philosophers had deceived themselves into believing that they had access to unbiased, objective truth. Nietzsche, however, argued that all knowledge must come via a subjective perspective: a particular way of understanding the world or point of view. All people are conceptually limited by their particular perspective, and the world cannot be understood outside of any perspective. Perspective motivates, guides, and satisfies one’s psychological quest for knowledge. As a result, all claims about reality are made through the lens of rose-colored glasses. There simply is no all-inclusive perspective that contains all other perspectives making reality available in itself. All one can do is play one perspective off of another like a devil’s advocate constantly criticizing and refining one’s position.
This philosophical concept fits well with an epistemological method of subjective empiricism and a hermeneutic of suspicion as described in a previous article. If everything is merely subjective appearance, then there can be no privileged perspective. One’s perspective is merely one’s subjective experience based on one’s time, culture, and circumstance. As a result, bias pervades every claim and action leading people to be suspicious of other people’s perspective and to dissect it in order to discover its hidden bias.
There are, however, several pertinent criticisms of this position. First, knowledge seems to be impossible if truth is unobtainable. If there is no all-inclusive perspective that makes reality available in itself, then no one, not even God, can know anything. Skepticism seems to be the only route. Second, morality seems to be relative to the individual. Moral relativism is the claim that moral truths are not objectively true but relative to individuals or societies. For example, the claim “sex outside of marriage is wrong” cannot be true since some people and cultures might disagree; however, the claim “I believe that sex outside of marriage is wrong” is true because I do believe this claim and can vouch for its veracity. As a result, one can only talk about what one ought to believe and do, not what anyone else ought to believe and do. This understanding of morality seems to be all that perspectivism can provide.
Third, perspectivism appears incoherent. If everything is merely subjective perspective that does not reflect reality as it actually is, then perspectivism itself is merely a subjective perspective that does not reflect reality as it actually is. Nietzsche, however, treats the concept of perspectivism as an objective reflection of reality, which it cannot be. Further, it would be impossible for me to know myself since such knowledge of myself comes via my perspective. I cannot know myself if I do not have access to the reality of myself. As a result, there must be some means of getting at reality in itself on at least some matters.
There is much debate over what Nietzsche ultimately intends regarding perspectivism; however, Nietzsche’s philosophy of perspective ultimately leads him to another philosophical position for which he is famous: the Will to Power. Nietzsche was heavily influenced by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who sought to continue the work of Immanuel Kant. He argued that all of reality, animate and inanimate, is founded upon the fundamental force of reality: Will, especially the “will to live.” In other words, all objects seek to exist, survive, and even improve their state of being. While amenable to this position, Nietzsche ultimately concluded that power was the more fundamental force since many organisms will risk their survival in order to gain power. All objects are seen as “power centers” actively resisting each other to expand their influence over their environment so as both to survive and to achieve their goals. Those power centers that are conscious have the ability of value creation: they can create their own meaning and purpose to life and living. As a result, Nietzsche believed that obtaining and exercising power is a good means to overcoming resistance and obtaining the kind of life one wants.
If there are no ultimate truth claims but only subjective perspectives, then life is merely about obtaining the power to enforce your perspective and resist anyone who seeks to squelch it. Convincing others to accept a particular perspective on rational grounds is futile. Truth is irrelevant; the ability to enforce is everything. For example, the Equality Act was recently passed by the House of Representatives. This bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the category of protected classes under federal law. Many are concerned that this bill will undermine freedoms of speech, press, and religion by forcing many Americans to accept perspectives with which they disagree.
Such a position is also problematic because it is an instance of the ad baculum fallacy. This fallacy is when a person uses force or coercion to cause people to accept or reject a particular argument. Unfortunately, force does not imply truth; otherwise, any position could be true or false simply by forcing others to accept or reject it. This conclusion, however, seems to be exactly what the philosophy of Nietzsche and the social justice movement imply. In fact, such force is inevitable if there is no objective truth or access to it. Further, such a position leads to constant disunity, aggression, and even violence. The ad baculum fallacy is also a favorite method of tyrannical governmental systems for controlling people, which does not speak highly of the social justice movement. Such a fact leads inevitably to questions about the social justice movement’s social and political philosophy which I will address in future articles.
Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Empiricism and Suspicion,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/06/25/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-empiricism-and-suspicion-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed July 13, 2019. For image, see http://www.quickmeme.com/He-Man, accessed July 23, 2019.
R. Lanier Anderson, “Friedrich Nietzsche,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/nietzsche/, accessed July 13, 2019; https://www.britannica.com/biography/Friedrich-Nietzsche#ref387249, accessed July 13, 2019. Anderson notes that Nietzsche was influenced by Kant’s notion of innate structures of the mind (i.e. categories of understanding). Whereas Kant believed that these structures were necessary to all human minds, the influence of naturalism led Nietzsche to conclude that they were merely a contingent development and not shared by all people. Hence the idea of a subjective individual perspective.
Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Empiricism and Suspicion.” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/06/25/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-empiricism-and-suspicion-graham-floyd-ph-d/,accessed July 16, 2019.
Omniscience (i.e. knowledge of everything) would be a privileged all-encompassing perspective. Since Nietzsche rejects such a possibility, either God is not omniscient or God does not exist since many believe that omniscience is an essential property for a divine being. Nietzsche appears to accept the latter position; therefore, one can argue that the social justice movement implies atheism.
Anderson; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_to_power, accessed July 13, 2019.
For more, see Graham Floyd, “’You Can’t Handle the Truth!’: Social Justice and the Emphasis on Power.” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2018/10/25/you-cant-handle-the-truth-social-justice-and-the-emphasis-on-power/, accessed July 16, 2019.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5/text, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.heritage.org/gender/heritage-explains/the-equality-act, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/03/14/7-reasons-why-the-equality-act-is-anything-but/, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/the-equality-act-is-a-time-bomb/, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/04/the-equality-act-is-about-coercion/, accessed July 16, 2019; https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/443589-the-equality-act-would-lead-to-the-death-of-womens-rights, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.christianpost.com/news/21-christian-leaders-say-the-equality-act-is-incompatible-with-gods-word.html, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.frc.org/equalityact2019, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/gay-conservatives-join-fight-to-kill-liberal-equality-act, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/may/19/the-equality-act-would-turn-america-upside-down/, accessed July 16, 2019; https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2019/05/06/feminists_conservatives_join_forces_to_oppose_equality_act_140261.html, accessed July 16, 2019.
For example, slave owners and segregationists had the power to enforce their perspective for more than two centuries. One would not want to say that their perspective is or was correct simply because they can or could enforce it nor that their perspective is false simply because other’s resisted and eventually overpowered them; otherwise, any position could be made false.