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Contemporary Philosophy

Education without Truth in Postmodern Perspectivism

Alexandra Deligiorgi
University of Thessaloniki

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ABSTRACT: Poststructuralist relativism, following the Nietzschean critique of Western rationalism, denounces the quest for truth as a quest to legitimize various claims on the level of universal human value, by covering up the indirect coercion of their discourse or imagery. Using perspectivism as an argument against philosophical grounding of various patterns and schemes, post-modern thinkers, under the influence of Poststructuralist relativism, try to depart from the cognitivist tradition by transforming philosophical thought to an edifying discipline (Rorty) or learning (Lyotard) liberated from a theory of knowledge, and giving into a discourse of literary or prosy character. I argue that post-modern perspectivism and the individualistic or collectivistic logic which nurtures its scope can be transcended through construction of hyperperspectivistic prisms based on alogic of interrelation animated by the interdisciplinarian spirit prevailing in the field of modern science. This latter serves as the leading thread for the foundation of a new canonicity which, without losing its historical and cultural character, can make claims to truth and validity of general acceptance. The hyperspectivistic canonicity deriving from such an interrelational logic is in a position to animate a new educational model capable of overcoming both idealistic and romantic versions of Bildung.

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During the last third of 20th century, the so-called postmodern world has been technically modernized in an unprecedented way. An unconstrained capitalist economy imposing constantly changing technologies determine, among other systems of social control, various forms of the educational system, each one of them promoting knowledge as a commodity. The ferment that swept, some years ago, not only the Third World but also the industrial societies for revolutionnary change of social and political institutions has given its place to a forceful modernization of established authority, political power and modes of accummulation.

The belief that we live in a rapidly changing world is well spread. In fact, we live in a frenetically modernized but not changing world, given that the deification of the modern against the traditional forms of education, organization and communication levels the need to create a vision of a future society. The creation of such a vision presupposes the critical approach of the legitimacy of the established authority, of political power or wealth; issues which are no longer broadly discussed. The early and forceful advocates of libertarian or socialist values seem to be forgotten or definitely marginalised. (1) The philosophical tradition developed by philosophers like Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel or Marx is confronted as a whole of illusionnary meta-narratives mystifying humanity as the hero of freedom who, guided by the light of reason alone, struggled for the change of the established social order by trying to redefine the meaning and goal of human existence, and thus failed dramatically in its project. (2)

Under such conditions, a radical rupture with the Greek-Western tradition of thought is judged as a realistic movement against fantasies of the past and has been attempted by postmoderrn thinkers like Lyotad or Rorty who try to disconnect the triple value of truth-freedom-justice which orientated the classical philosophical tradition and the pattern of education animated by it. The chain with which reflective reason linked justice with truth and freedom is broken and the nexus formed by these three values is dissolved. Reflective and critical reason giving ground to moral, political, juridicial or aesthetical judgments whereupon educational models had to be built, in the past, has been attacked as the main foresight. This polemic is favoured by an arbitrary identification of reflective reason to instrumental reason which favours a violent rationalisation of social practices in order to achieve a more efficient organisation of maintained social order.

The question whether Education is and should continue to be bound to reason and internalization of norms that are in need of justification, has already been given a negative answer by Rorty and Lyotard.

Claiming that any attempt to ground political, aesthetical, juridicial or educational schemes or propositions on premisses deriving form Theory of knowledge constitute a late revival of Platonism (3) or a reinscription of philosophical modernist narratives, (4) the two thinkers both suggest that whenever we insist on relating justice, beauty or education to cognitivist tradition which gives to the quest for truth a primordial role, we become victims of an old fashionned philosophical thought radically cut from the conditions prevailing whithin postmodern social reality, given that this latter favours a nature-like development and organisation withdrawn from reflection. (5)

This turn has been facilitated by the lack of technical kwoledge for mastering contigencies and of theoretical strategies for penetrating the multiplicity of apparent , nominalistically produced contingencies, and has given rise to the conception of consciousness and freedom as mere contingency (6) too. It has also been facilitated by the Nitzschean perspectival theory of the affects taken as basis of the post-structuralist programmatic nihilism in the context of which, neither validity claims nor claims to truth derive from will to truth but from will to power. But whereas Nietzsche, on the basis of the critique of the modern world and of the established rationalism justifying its institutional and normative context , in an attempt to create new paths leading to another world truer than the given one, breaks free from the Universalism of Enlightenment and its programme, post-structuralism and neopragmatism as well, denounce the quest for truth as a quest to legitimize various philosophicasl claims to truth on the level of universal human value by covering the indirect coercion of their discourse or imagery.

Following this vogue, Rorty and Lyotard use perspectivism as an argument against cognitivist grounding of patterns and schemes regulating social practices, and trying to cut off Theory of Knowledge and its rationale from philosophical reflection, they orientate this latter to a metaphilosophical edifying discipline (Rorty) or to an equally meta-philosophical learning (savoir) (Lyotard), in accordance to the meta-philosophical era opend up by the postmodern version of neo-liberalism..

Both the Rortyan edifying philosophy and the Lyotardian learning give into a discourse of a literary or prosy character very little clarified in their ground and function .

More explicitly, according to Rorty, the schemes and patterns regulating social relations do not derive from reason and its canonicity but rather from self-images created by the community on the basis of solidarity of its members. (7) In opposition to reason and its norms, solidarity does not need any justification or legitimation given that the social bond expressed by it is prior to any act of legitimizing claims to truth attempted by reason. (8)

Contingent and improvised as are the perspectivistic schemes and patterns invented by members of community, although they are not capable to ground a canonicity of universal consistency and value, they are still in position to regulate social relations and practices at least within community , thanks to the edifying training given to its members as a part of the metaphilosophical culture in which they have to be integrated, in postmodern era.

The disagreement among community members given rise by the perpsectival character of schemes and patterns created according to specific aims or interests, is not confronted or discussed in the Rortyan problematic of solidarity .

Lyotard fils this gap by his own problematic of linguist games. The multiplicity of linguist games renders universal consent of community members impossible; given that there is no meta-language capable of subordinating their plurality to a set of universal principles to ground upon, political, juridicial, aesthetical or educational decisions or practices. (9)

For Lyotard, since the social bond imply exchanges between non autonomous and unequal subjects, no universal stipulation covering up the heterogeneity of linguistic games can suggest truth, justice, beauty or other values of general acceptance. All it suggets is pieces of these values each one shared by different groups whose players play their own lingustic games warranting their own way of judging and evaluating. Under these terms, the players' consent is not founded by a normative idea-product of an historico-critical synthetic judgment presupposed in their moves; it is rather formed by players' ability to use imagination for experimenting with the existing rules of the linguistic games in order to make them more sufficient or to change them, changing their rules as well. (10)

Lyotard's proposed strategy, here, is the elaboration of multiple heterogeneous patterns and schemes harmonised with the multiple new forms of subjectivity created by multiple linguist games, through learning.

While the modernist meta-narratives attempt to legalize the truth of propositions arising from the currently held (positivist or dialectical) modes of scientific approach, Lyotardian learning (mathesis) undertakes the task of corroborating the trurth of propositions derived from a radically new mode of approach capable of bringing all possible forms of indeterminism into light.

Unlike the deterministic logic of Positivist thought and in opposition to holistic and dynamic character of dialectical thought, the indeterministic logic of such postmodern rationalism is that of paralogy. Paralogy is the logic of the impossible yielded by the libidic economy of human relations related to chaotic phenomena. (11)

Under these terms, Lyotard shifts the founding of truth from the realm of reason, its historico-critical judgments and its reflective evaluations to the realm of the desire for the impossible (12) seated in the nucleus of the unconscious whence springs the sense of sublime. Sublime in unfounded and without an object, so that the desire for it which nurtures various aesthetic schemes defining all possible forms of judging and evaluating, cannot lead to claims to truth of general acceptance. In terms of the desire for the impossible, learning is not in the position to overcome linguistic heterogeneity that gives rise to perspectivism; (13) all it can do is to warrant and corroborate the truth of postmodern scientific thought which sheds, as already said, light upon chaotic phenomena and their paralogy, without being in a position to legitimize such knowledge.

Without drawing a distinction between instrumental and reflective reason and without elucidating the transition of human mind from the irrational of the desire for the impossible to rationalized will to truth (confronted by dialectical thought in strictly historico-critical terms) the Lyotardian spirit is cut off from the modernist scientific and philosophical thought; this latter was put forward by epistemologists and theoreticians of the so-called "nouvel esprit scientifique" like Bachelard, earlier, or Castoriadis, more recently, who have both undertaken the task, in the epistemological-ontological field, to elucidate the controversial relation between conscious-unconscious, intelligible-unintelligible, or effable-ineffable.

In summing up, both Rortyan edifying philosophy (14) and Lyotardian mathesis — perspectivistic in their pragmatist (Rorty) or non pragmatist (Lyotard) scope — seem to be incompatible with reflective reason only because their perpsectivism is used as a step toward justification and legitimation of ad hoc and circumstantially formed schemes and patterns regulating all possible social practices. Such contingent and circumstantial schemes defined within the framework of extracognitive procedures, function blindly, given that they take no notice of the fundamental convention that binds human condition with the quest for truth as the theoretical basis of evaluating judgments guiding decisions and practices.

Theorising, capable in its historico-critical character, to judge and evaluate these schemes on the basis of an hyperperspectivist scope seems to be excluded, here, as a totalitarian or terroristic manipulation of pluralistic prisms favouring attitudes of moral, aesthetic, religious or political tolerance. (15)

However, a more thorough examination of their grounding would reveal that both Lyotardian and Rortyan perpsectivism remain trapped in an individualistic logic which founded an abstract and schematic notion of community.

Individualistic logic, dominant two centuries ago, was overcome when Kant enhanced Aristotelian categories with the category of community (or interdependence). This latter integrated in hegelian philosophy, allowed Hegel to overcome the individualistic prism and determine the relation between civil society and the state, in a non reductive way; that is to say, in terms of an holistic logic capable to elucidate ensembles of relations , i.e. structures. By criticizing the mysticisism of Hegelian logic, Marx did not regress to the 18th century individualism, but tried to render the dialectical type of hegelian logic a methodological instrument capable to analyze the capitalist society and the antithetical relations that articulate its structure, in historico-critical terms.

The marxian logic, identitarian and ensembilistic in its character , is the product of the transcendence of the individualistic logic, and it leads also to perspectivism. (16) The question is whether is possible or not to transcend the individualistic and collectivistic prisms governing these two types of logic. And also, whether it is necessary to overcome their perspectivism.

We could understand better the need to overcome perspectivism , if we reflect on antinomies devastating postmodern problematics like these developed by Rorty and Lyotard. The strengthening of solidarity and conscesnsus ( Rorty) and the respect for disagreement (Lyotard) which are both promulgated as projects for promoting better schemes and patterns of regulation within neo-liberal democracy, exclude or subverse each other; for the former is based on homogeneity which eliminates differences, whereas the latter is based on heterogeneity eliminating similarities.

It is true that perspectivism does not favour the construction of broader prisms under which the antinomies created by two different or opposed prisms would be ressolved or would preserve a creative tension favouring meaningfull acts to grow. However, the need for analysis within the framework of a specific system of reference does not exclude the posssibiility of critical or reflective thought to coordinate singular and specific systems of references which promulgrate each one of them its own perspective, or to put them under an hierarchical order.

Under these terms, while perspectivism is taken as un unsurmountable limit of thought, it is not. For this limit is defined by our efforts to transcend it in order to avoid to become self enclosed within a single prism.

It is through these efforts that we succeed in going beyond perspectivism's inherent relativity and reestimate the truth of the propositions held within its framework, by taking into account the whole of the multiple prisms from which these propositions derive. By doing that, we will have a most thorough and radical understanding of the contradictions or possible convergences they give in; we will have, thus, the possiblity to reconsider the specific needs, aspirations, or ideologies which give them rise, in all their possible interdependences. Our aim , here, is not to legitimate the partial truth of each one of these perspectives , but to grasp the truth given rise by their interconnection and reflect on it. In such a strategy,legitimation is not any more dependent on the power of argumentation woven by each one of the individuals or groups or collectivities in order to impose their will or their belief (i.e. their single prism) to the others. Now legitimation is inherent in the approach of understanding and reflecting on their partialities and subjectivities contradicting or converging one another. Such a radical understanding leading to reflection and evaluation of multiple and various perspectives is the only way out of truth or justice of the powerful or of the privileged economically, politically or culturally.

In this sense, perspectivism which functions as an alibi against the will to power, cannot be an unsurmountable barrier against the will for truth and the cognitive and evaluative approaches implied by its quest. Just as surrealists undertook the task to transcend the limits of realism through their artistic creations, so philosophers too are in a position to transcend perspectivism (yielded by the need for specific systems of reference constructed in the fields of scientific specialisation or the need for particular prisms guided by particular interests or aspirations) and open the way to an hyperpespectivism.

Had Rorty and Lyotard — each within his own perpsective — avoided to raise liberal democracy to an absolute measure for their analyses and evaluations, they would have found the way to transcend the narrowlly deterministic prism of either analytical or of dialectical thought and achieve a further development of its canonicity whereupon evaluation and legitimation of schemes and patterns to ground.

If in our turn, we try to do so, then we should transfer into the heart of analysis of patterns governing various social practices, methodological categories that have been proved to be key-concepts for modern scientific and philosophical approaches; such as the category of interdisciplinarity and the category of interrelation, correspondingly. Examining under the prism of interdisciplinarirty or of interrelation, the prisms of individuality and collectivity, we transform them into interrelated prisms that allow us to go beyond the analysis of civil society in its relation to the state or beyond the analysis of economic system in its relation to political structures or beyond the analysis of educational system in its relation to economical and political strtuctures ; we will be , thus, in a position to analyse the whole of relations developed in ethnic societies which determine political or other practices taking place within their framework, and also those taking place between their respective national states on an international level. This renders possible to reconsider determinations developed by Western countries' neoliberal policies and practices; it renders possible as well to reconsider the interdependences between the West and the third World and thus enhance the study of international law with problematics that could possibly rejuvenate its current stipulations.

The prism offered by categories committed to the interdisciplinarity or interrelation principle, without loosing its historical and relativistic character, is, in fact, the only one to allow us to go beyond the perspectivism unveiled by Nietzsche in his criticizing Western rationalism or by Marx in his criticizing western capitalism.

The question to be answered then is up to what point perspectivism is indeed in a position to cancel our attempts to go beyond the multiplicity and subjectivity of particular prisms or or to go beyond the multiplicity of specific systems of reference elaborated in the framework of science.

Within the framework of technological science that limits itself into calculating and predicting, perspectivism does not only undermine such endeavours; it rather cancels them. Nevertheless, in the framework of a science which does not exclude from its scope the critical and reflective function, perspectivism, even if it makes the transcendence endeavours more difficult, is not in the position to cancel them. Even if it were in a position to do so, we should resist.

Buckbone of such endeavours for transcending perspectivism and to be led to an hyperperspectivism, are, as said, the categories of interdisciplinarity and interrelation, correspondingly. Because they allow us, as implied earlier, to overcome the limitations posed by specialised systems of references and so to be led to an hierarchy or coordination of the particular perspectives they entail. The suggestion that what is true, just or beneficial for A (community or individual ) may well not be for B , is correct and underlies the relativity inherent in all particular prisms of analysis or evaluation. But it is an equally correct suggestion to say that what is unjust or harmful for A or for B may be a just arrangement of the relation between them engaging both parts in a democratic way. The democratic way in which this third arrangemet engage them is the outcome of a critical (and auto-criticised ) reason rather than that of political measures or tactics.

Such pondering judgments concerning truth and justice, and their channeling through education, arise from multi-sided prisms; these latter in their crystal-like forms, express in the most approppriate way the networks of mutual recognitions achieved when individuals or collectivities try to take into account all possible interconnections of their one-sided perspectives through which they search, judge and act. Education, here, is charged with an essential role , by favouring processes of democratization which, in their turn, help in its own strenghtening and corroboration as an institution of capital importance.

In this sense, the idea of interdisciplinarity or of interrelation can function as a theoretical measure against the coercion exercised by one-sided prisms, as well as by one-sided approaches, given that in both cases, one-sidedness facilitates cynical or nihilistic relativisation of values of truth, justice or freedom and leads to their gradual weakening and elimination. Both interdisciplinarity and interrelation are interwoven together with hyperperspectivism; this latter as a telos offers them an epistemological ground of legitimation, being itself the outcome of the attempt of historico-critical, reflective and evaluative reason to overcome perspectivistic approaches.

Thus, the hyperpespectivism to which we are led by a critical relativistic spirit, whereas it remains historically and culturally determined, is nevertheless the leading thread in the search for truth and in the planification of educational programs of Bildung, by making possible the formulation of princiles and rules of general acceptance; that is to say, of principles and rules that can be valid beyond the limits posed by individuals' or communities' particular perspectives.

However, this is done not apriorily and in a platonic way, given that these principles and rules are able to bind all their members and to guide them in their interrelating and interacting, only because they derive from interconnection of the particular perspectives binding each one of them.

If we could be able to look at the order, on a map, of singular linguist games through the multi-sided prism of hyperperspectivism, we would then see that group boundaries within which these games unfold, rather than being closed and inaccessible, ( as Lyotard insists on the argument of their differences) are open and accessible. They are so, for the particular linguist idioms obey the generative grammatical rules that bind all languages. Is there a linguistic game — however peculiar it may be — which does not have a grammar and syntax in which it is expressed? Or is there a society which ignores crime, irrespectively of the way in which it conceives it? The same holds for individual or collective criteria for the true, just, bneneficial or beautiful. Even if they differ from individual to individual, collectivity to collectivity, or from society to society, the fact that they correspond to men's need to stipulate rules in order to judge, remains common to all. This general condition of judging according to rules rationally (i.e. critically and reflectively) elaborated — even if it unfolds with different meaning in each particular linguistic game — remains a characteristic feature of all possiby taking place — actually or potentially — within the given historical and social framework of modern world.

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(1) See N.Chomsky, Language and Freedom, in J.Peck (ed.) The Chomsky Reader, Serpent;s Tail, 1995, pp.139-155.

(2) See, J.-Fr.Lyotard, La condition postmoderne, Les editions de minuit, Paris, 1979, pp.54-62.

(3) R.Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, Cambridge Univ.Press, 1991, pp.21-22. See also,R.Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism,Univ.of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp. 160-166.

(4) J.-Fr.Lyotard, La condition postmoderne, op.cit.

(5) J.Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, Beacon Press, Boston 1975, p.131.

(6) Op.cit. pp.119-120.

(7) R.Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, op.cit., p.28 and p. 32.

(8) Op.cit., p.22. See also R.Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton University Press, I980,p.170 where understanding philosophy is defined as unedrstanding the social justification of belief.

(9) J.-Fr.Lyotard, La condition postmoderne, op.cit., pp.7-8.

(10) J.-Fr.Lyotasrd, Just gaming, Manchester Univ. Press, 1985, p.62

(11) J.-Fr.Lyotard, Economie libidinale, les editions de minuit, Paris 1974; see also J.-Fr.Lyotard, La condirtion postmoderne, op.cit. See also, J.-Fr.Lyotard The Sublime and the Avant-Garde, in Lyotard Reader, Basil Blackwell, 1989; See also J.-Fr.Lyotard, Sensus communis, in A.Benjamin)ed.) Judging Lyoatrd, Routledge 1992. See also, J-Fr.Lyotard, Lecons sur l' analytique du sublime, Galilee, Par;isi 1991.

(12) J.-Fr.Lyotard, L' inhumain, Causeries sur le temps, Galil;ee, Paris 1988, p.147.

(13) J.-Fr. Lyotard, Lecons sur l' Analytique du sublinme, Galilee, paris 1991; see also Sensus Communis, op.cit. p.25; see also A.Baron, Lyotard and the Problem of Justice, in Judging Lyotard, op.cit., p.31.

(14) R.Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton Univ. Press, pp.357-372.

(15) J.Margolis, The Truth about Relativism, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1991, p.15.

(16) For Nietzsche who follows the individualistic logic, ratio is governed by taste, whereas for Marx who follows a collectivistic (ensemblistic rather than holistic) logic, ratio is governed by market. But for both Nietzsche and Marx, the way out of this perpsectivism is given by critical thought exercised under a prism of negation; negation of exploitation or of authoritarianism. In doionmg that, both Marx and Nietzsche, each one in his own way, tried to fil the gap separating tha classical tradition from the western thought, by recognising in knowledge its emancipating power.

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