TSElosophers meeting 8.4.2022. Participants: Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Otto Rosendahl and Mia Salo
Antti Hautamäki (2019) Näkökulmarelativismi [Perspective relativism](SoPhi).
In this book, which appears only in Finnish, Antti Hautamäki introduces the notion of “perspective relativism” (our translation of the Finnish term “näkökulmarelativismi”). It is presented as a middle-of-the-road approach to the philosophy of science, positioned by Hautamäki between the extreme forms of realism and relativism. The key ideas of his perspective relativism include:
• There is no perspective-independent way to look at the world.
• It is helpful to distinguish between the subject, the object, and the aspect – from which the last-mentioned captures the distinctive feature of perspective relativism
• Perspectives are subjective, but they can be objectified.
• The same objects can be looked at from different perspectives.
• There is no absolute, privileged, or universal perspective.
• Perspectives can be further developed, revised, and swapped.
• Perspectives can be compared through various criteria.
In the book, Hautamäki argues for the validity of perspective relativism in numerous ways, using several examples. He goes through the typical themes for this type of treatise like relationships of perspective relativism to rationality, truth claims, justification of knowledge claims, ontology, and philosophy of science at large. In all of these analyses, Hautamäki seeks to make a distance, on the one hand, to (scientific) realism and, on the other hand, to (extreme forms of) relativism. Central to his argumentation, allowing him to keep a distance from extreme forms of relativism, is his idea of “core rationality”: To be taken seriously, any argumentation has to fulfill certain minimum conditions, such as the principle of deduction (the logic of implication) and the principle of consistency (for instance, we cannot accept and deny the same thing looked at from a certain perspective).
TSElosophers generally supported the contents of the notion that Hautamäki was propagating in his book. We not only found it intuitively appealing and helpful, but many of us also perceived it in certain ways familiar. One of the TSElosophers found Hautamäki’s position similar to the idea of combining moderate realism with moderate social constructionism, which this member had adopted some 15 years ago as the platform for his scholarly work. We also found the book topical, especially from the viewpoint of the famous ‘science wars’ between realists and social constructionists. Hautamäki’s notion sits well with the general idea of Niiniluoto and Saarinen (1986) that in the heated debates between various ’isms’ we tend to overlook how many similarities there are across various approaches.
While we liked the general idea, we struggled with some of the distinctions through which Hautamäki tried to make room for his notion. In particular, we felt Hautamäki was exercising a losing battle in his numerous attempts to make the distance to realism, which he at times calls by that name, while at times calling it ‘scientific realism’. The problem is that it is, in fact, rather hard to draw the demarcation line between most of the ideas of scientific realism and Hautamäki’s perspective relativism. For instance, when we take into consideration the three-level ontology of Popper, the notion of theory-ladenness of observations, Kuhn’s paradigms and, overall, the formulations like those of Niiniluoto (1999) for scientific realism (which he calls “critical scientific realism”), it is nearly impossible to see any genuine differences any longer.
To be blunt, Hautamäki’s perspective relativism can be argued to be fundamentally similar to scientific realism, only peppered with certain accentuations nodding towards relativism. It is a pity Hautamäki is so confusing regarding these distinctions up to the point that he can be claimed to fabricate a strawman of (scientific) realism to develop his claims of uniqueness. It would have been far easier for the reader to digest had he chosen naïve realism (e.g. logical positivism) as his ‘enemy’ at the realism end: All of his distinctions would work against that position. However, perhaps he did not opt for that strategy since the schools of thought linked to naïve realism are these days viewed as dead as they go. Hence, making distinctions to them would not have been very effective.
We found Hautamäki’s notion of perspective relativism as a valid notion content-wise, which however is far less innovative than the author claims it to be. It is, after all, a notion under the umbrella of scientific realism, only stressing the constructionist (or relativist) aspects of that stream of thought. The book is worth reading especially if one wishes to go comprehensively through the philosophical position of one’s own in a self-critical manner. Bold, even wild claims are often helpful as ‘test-balls’ in such exercises.