Ortega's Doctrine of the Point of View

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Reply Fri 11 Dec, 2009 11:24 pm
El tema de nuestro tiempo ("The Theme of Our Time"), published in 1923, Unfortunately, the title of the English translation of the book was given as The Modern Theme, even though the "theme of our time" as discussed in the book was the critique and overcoming of so-called Modern Philosophy as it had been formulated from Descartes through Husserl.

This passage focuses on what Ortega calls the Doctrine of the Point of View. In the footnote to this passage, he refers to this concept as 'perspectivity' and he claims that he had been teaching it since 1913 and he adds the remark that this doctrine has been confirmed by the work of Einstein!

In this passage, I have emphasized those terms that are related to this doctrine, such as "view-points,"view(s)," "perspective(s),"point of view," "standpoint(s), and "perspectivist(-ity)," as well as certain key sentences that condense this doctrine. [Footnote and italics are Ortega's.]

[CENTER]The Doctrine of the Point of View[/CENTER]

Two men may look, from different view-points, at the same landscape. Yet they do not see the same thing. Their different situations make the landscape assume two distinct types of organic structure in their eyes. The part which, in the one case, occupies the foreground, and is thrown into high relief in all its details, is, in the other case, the background, and remains obscure and vague in its appearance. Further, inasmuch as things which are put one behind the other are either wholly or partially concealed, each of the two spectators will perceive portions of the landscape which elude the attention of the other. Would there be any sense in either declaring the other's view of the landscape false? Evidently not; the one is as real as the other. But it would be just as senseless if, when our spectators found that their views of the landscape did not agree, they concluded that both views were illusory. Such a conclusion would involve belief in the existence of a third landscape, an authentic one, not subject to the same conditions as the other two. Well, an archetypal landscape of this kind does not and cannot exist. Cosmic reality is such that it can only be seen in a single definite perspective. Perspective is one of the component parts of reality. Far from being a disturbance of its fabric, it is its organising element. A reality which remained the same from whatever point of view it was observed would be a ridiculous conception.

The case of corporeal vision applies equally to all our other faculties. All knowledge is knowledge from a definite point of view. Spinoza's species aeternitatis, or ubiquitous and absolute point of view, has no existence on its own account: it is a fictitious and abstract point of view. We have no doubt of its utility as an instrument for the fulfilment of certain requirements of knowledge, but it is essential to remember that reality cannot be perceived from such a standpoint. The abstract point of view deals only in abstractions.

This way of thinking leads to a radical reform in philosophy, and also, which is more important, to a reform in our sensuous reaction to the cosmos.

The individuality of every real subjective entity was the insurmountable obstacle encountered by recent intellectual tradition in its attempt to make knowledge justify its claim to be able to enter into possession of truth. Two different subjective entities, it was supposed, would acquire the knowledge of two divergent types of truth. We can now see that the divergence between the worlds of two subjective entities does not involve the falsity of one of them. On the contrary, precisely because what each one sees is a reality, not a fiction, its aspect must be distinct from what the other perceives. The divergence is not a contradiction, but a complement. If the universe had presented an identical appearance to the eyes of a Greek of Socrates' time and to those of a Yankee we should have to suppose that true reality, independent of subjective entities, does not reside in the universe. For the fact that it looked the same to two men placed at such diverse standpoints as those of Athens in the fifth century B.C. and New York in the twentieth A.D. would indicate that there was no question of any objective reality at all, but rather of a mere image which happened to occur, with identical features, in the minds of the two persons concerned.

Every life is a point of view directed upon the universe. Strictly speaking, what one life sees no other can. Every individual, whether person, nation or epoch, is an organ, for which there can be no substitute, constructed for the apprehension of truth. This is how the latter, which is in itself of a nature alien from historical variation, acquires a vital dimension. Without the development, the perpetual change and the inexhaustible series of adventures which constitute life, the universe, or absolutely valid truth, would remain unknown.

The persistent error that has hitherto been made is the supposition that reality possesses in itself, independently of the point of view from which it is observed, a physiognomy of its own. Such a theory clearly implies that no view of reality relative to any one particular standpoint would coincide with its absolute aspect, and consequently all such views would be false. But reality happens to be, like a landscape, possessed of an infinite number of perspectives, all equally veracious and authentic. The sole false perspective is that which claims to be the only one there is. In other words, that which is false is utopia, non-localised truth, which "cannot be seen from any particular place." The utopian (and such is essentially the character of the rationalist) goes further astray than anyone, since he is the spectator who loses confidence in his own point of view and deserts his post.[1]

Up to the present time philosophy has remained consistently utopian. Consequently, each successive system claimed to be valid for all ages and all types of mankind. Isolated beyond vital, historical and "perspectivist" dimension, it indulged from time to time in various unconvincing gestures of definition. On the other hand, the doctrine of the point of view requires a system to contain a properly articulated declaration of the vital perspective responsible for it, thus permitting its own articulation to be linked up with those of other systems, whether future or exotic. Pure reason must now give place to a vital type of reason in which its pure form may become localised and acquire mobility and power of self-transformation.

[1] From the year 1913 onwards I have been expounding, in my university lectures, this doctrine of "perspectivity," which is briefly and arbitrarily formulated in El Espectador, I (1916). For the impressive confirmation of this theory in the work of Einstein see page 135.

[From: "La doctrina del punto de vista," Chapter 10 of El tema de nuestro tiempo, Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1923; Translated from the Spanish by James Cleugh as The Modern Theme, London: C. W. Daniel Company, 1931, pp.89-92.]
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 02:30 am
@longknowledge,
longknowledge;110444 wrote:

[CENTER]The Doctrine of the Point of View[/CENTER]

Two men may look, from different view-points, at the same landscape. Yet they do not see the same thing.



How does it follow from the fact that something looks different from different points of view, that the very same thing is not being seen? Why should it be expected that one and the same thing should look the same from different points of view, so that the conclusion is drawn that if something doesn't look the same from different points of view, it is not the same thing.

That argument seems to be obviously fallacious. Why shouldn't the same thing look different from different points of view? So that if the looks are different, the same thing is still being seen.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 06:22 am
@longknowledge,
Precisely because there is no such thing as the vista independent of the various perspectives on it which different persons have.

"The sole false perspective is that which claims to be the only one there is."

I would guess this is your ostensible 'actually objective landscape' the same for all observers. The point of the whole passage is that there is no such thing. We project that in order to maintain our sense of conventional reality.

Bravo, Ortega.

Actually this viewpoint is foreshadowed by Origen. Also Berdyaev has a similar perspective. I will try and find a reference.

---------- Post added 12-12-2009 at 11:29 PM ----------

Reality is not what you see out the window. Reality is you looking out the window. These are not the same.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 08:02 am
@longknowledge,
longknowledge;110444 wrote:
Would there be any sense in either declaring the other's view of the landscape false? Evidently not; the one is as real as the other. But it would be just as senseless if, when our spectators found that their views of the landscape did not agree, they concluded that both views were illusory. Such a conclusion would involve belief in the existence of a third landscape, an authentic one, not subject to the same conditions as the other two. Well, an archetypal landscape of this kind does not and cannot exist. Cosmic reality is such that it can only be seen in a single definite perspective. Perspective is one of the component parts of reality. Far from being a disturbance of its fabric, it is its organising element. A reality which remained the same from whatever point of view it was observed would be a ridiculous conception.


This seems to use 'landscape' and 'view of landscape' interchangeably which undoubtedly leads to problems. Most importantly here, insisting that there is no one objective, absolute perspective is not the same as saying there is no observer-independent object containing all of the necessary attributes that give rise to all perspectives, each of which has a different incomplete set of information about the object.

As for the Einstein endorsement, it's worth mentioning that there are some properties that are invariant.

Bones
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 08:55 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;110496 wrote:
Precisely because there is no such thing as the vista independent of the various perspectives on it which different persons have.

"The sole false perspective is that which claims to be the only one there is."

I would guess this is your ostensible 'actually objective landscape' the same for all observers. The point of the whole passage is that there is no such thing. We project that in order to maintain our sense of conventional reality.



---------- Post added 12-12-2009 at 11:29 PM ----------

.


But, I did not say that there was a "vista" or a "sole perspective" independent of the various perspectives persons have. It might be that two people have the same perspective, but maybe not. Anyway, that is not my claim. My claim is that what the various perspectives are perspectives of, is the same object. In Ortega's example, it is the same landscape with different perspectives. Or rather, what I am claiming is that the fact that there are differing perspectives is not a good argument for the conclusion that the object is not the same. Of course, I believe (and so do you) that the landscape is one and the same for all perspectives, but my claim is that from the premise that the perspectives are different it cannot be concluded that what is being seen is different. In fact, we would expect different perspectives to yield different looks to the observer, and suspect trickery it it didn't.

---------- Post added 12-12-2009 at 10:00 AM ----------

Bones-O!;110506 wrote:
This seems to use 'landscape' and 'view of landscape' interchangeably which undoubtedly leads to problems. Most importantly here, insisting that there is no one objective, absolute perspective is not the same as saying there is no observer-independent object containing all of the necessary attributes that give rise to all perspectives, each of which has a different incomplete set of information about the object.

As for the Einstein endorsement, it's worth mentioning that there are some properties that are invariant.

Bones


It would be like arguing that there was no elephant that the blind men were investigating, because each of the men had a different "take" on what the elephant is (in the famous story about the blind men and the elephant). The argument is simply fallacious. And no amount of "viva orteging" will fix that.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 09:59 am
@longknowledge,
But of course, the "elephant" is ALSO a matter of perspective. Viva Ortega!
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 10:17 am
@jgweed,
jgweed;110530 wrote:
But of course, the "elephant" is ALSO a matter of perspective. Viva Ortega!


You mean those blind men were investigating nothing? What a shabby thing to do to them!* You give no reason to think that the elephant (why the quotes?) is a matter of perspective. You are just assuming that. The point is that Ortega's argument gives no reason to think that the landscape (or as you might say, "landscape") doesn't exist, but is just another perspective. He is arguing for that, but his argument is clearly fallacious.

*And, incidentally, would destroy the point of the story which is that the same thing (the elephant) presents different perspectives, which each mam thinks is the correct perspective.
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 03:15 pm
@longknowledge,
What is the difference between a landscape, an elephant and a family?

The answer is: None. Both the landscape and the elephant are hypotheses! Only the appearances are real.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 03:24 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;110515 wrote:
My claim is that what the various perspectives are perspectives of, is the same object.


Common sense would say that, and it would be a safe assumption to act on. However, in the context, the object itself is neither 'the same' nor 'different'. I think this is exactly the same argument as the 'ding an sich' of Kant (corect me if I am wrong).

kennethamy;110515 wrote:
It would be like arguing that there was no elephant that the blind men were investigating, because each of the men had a different "take" on what the elephant is (in the famous story about the blind men and the elephant). The argument is simply fallacious.


The point of that illustration, which is actually a Buddhist Scripture, is not that there is no elephant, but that each actor in the scene, being blind, comes to a conclusion on partial knowledge of the situation:

Quote:
Those blind people who had been shown the tusk of the elephant replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a plowshare.' Those blind people who had been shown the trunk replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a plow pole.' Those blind people who had been shown the body replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a storeroom.' Those blind people who had been shown the foot replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a post.' Those blind people who had been shown the hindquarters replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a mortar.' Those blind people who had been shown the tail replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a pestle.' Those blind people who had been shown the tuft at the end of the tail replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a broom.'


It ends with a fist-fight between the blind, which also illustrates the point rather nicely, and the Buddha declaring:

Quote:
Some recluses and brahmans, so called,
Are deeply attached to their own views;
People who only see one side of things
Engage in quarrels and disputes.


Of course, nobody here would do that.:bigsmile:
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 03:50 pm
@Bones-O,
Bones-O!;110506 wrote:
This seems to use 'landscape' and 'view of landscape' interchangeably which undoubtedly leads to problems. Most importantly here, insisting that there is no one objective, absolute perspective is not the same as saying there is no observer-independent object containing all of the necessary attributes that give rise to all perspectives, each of which has a different incomplete set of information about the object.


A view of the landscape is a landscape. The landscape is an expanse of scenery hat can be seen in a single view. The idea is really just saying that everything exists in a relationship to everything else. And based on different perspectives and perceptions a landscape is created from that vantage point. All Ortega is really saying is that there is no objective absolute perspective because there will always be something missing from this perspective.

With this idea, it can be taken to relationships between abstract thoughts and an individual as forming a landscape as well.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 04:40 pm
@longknowledge,
longknowledge;110642 wrote:
What is the difference between a landscape, an elephant and a family?

The answer is: None. Both the landscape and the elephant are hypotheses! Only the appearances are real.


Even if that is true, that has absolutely nothing to do with Ortega's argument which, I suppose, tries to prove exactly that? But it doesn't. I don't want to talk about the truth of Ortega's conclusion. I am talking about his argument for that conclusion which is fallacious. So, if you think that the elephant isn't real, you have to get yourself a different argument for that. Unless you have a way of fixing his argument.

Those who try to philosophize without knowing logic, are like those who try to row a boat without oars.

---------- Post added 12-12-2009 at 05:51 PM ----------

jeeprs;110644 wrote:



The point of that illustration, which is actually a Buddhist Scripture, is not that there is no elephant, but that each actor in the scene, being blind, comes to a conclusion on partial knowledge of the situation:



t.:bigsmile:

Right. If there were no elephant, as longknowledge apparently believes, what would be the point of the story? No one would have partial knowledge of the situation (the elephant) since there would be no elephant to have partial knowledge of. The elephant isn't an hypothesis. It is an animal. There is, perhaps, the hypothesis that there is an elephant. That's different from saying the elephant is an hypothesis. What sense would that make? Ortega is just another Idealist, as most continental philosophers are nowadays, and presents the same tired, and invalid arguments for his views.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 05:08 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;110679 wrote:

Those who try to philosophize without knowing logic, are like those who try to row a boat without oars.


I would count this as philosophy, and yet it is an analogy, not an argument. Can you make an argument for it? Or is this just rhetoric in the name of your Ideal?

---------- Post added 12-12-2009 at 06:10 PM ----------

I think it's perfectly good philosophy to emphasize perspective in relation to perception.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 05:29 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;110685 wrote:
I would count this as philosophy, and yet it is an analogy, not an argument. Can you make an argument for it? Or is this just rhetoric in the name of your Ideal?

---------- Post added 12-12-2009 at 06:10 PM ----------

I think it's perfectly good philosophy to emphasize perspective in relation to perception.


First of all, analogies can be arguments.
Second, Ortega is arguing that because the look of the object (whatever it is) changes with perspective, there is no real object. That is a fallacious argument. Why should there be to real object because its look changes? Ortega is assuming that the object should not look different from different perspectives. But that assumption is just false. We expect an object to look different from different perspectives. In fact, unless it did, we would suspect trickery. Thus Ortega's argument is unsound because he assumes a false premise to reach his conclusion.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 05:32 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;110679 wrote:

Those who try to philosophize without knowing logic, are like those who try to row a boat without oars.


I meant can you argue this? Of course this isn't the thread for that.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 05:33 pm
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;110661 wrote:
A view of the landscape is a landscape. The landscape is an expanse of scenery hat can be seen in a single view. The idea is really just saying that everything exists in a relationship to everything else. And based on different perspectives and perceptions a landscape is created from that vantage point. All Ortega is really saying is that there is no objective absolute perspective because there will always be something missing from this perspective.

With this idea, it can be taken to relationships between abstract thoughts and an individual as forming a landscape as well.


Fair point, denotatively a landscape is from a single perspective. But:

a) that's not the same as saying everything exists with respect to something else, since, as you point out, a landscape is defined to exist with respect to something else, and

b) the OP then makes no sense. Consider:

"Further, inasmuch as things which are put one behind the other are either wholly or partially concealed, each of the two spectators will perceive portions of the landscape which elude the attention of the other."

If by landscape we mean the purview of a single observer, then by no means can one observer perceive a portion of his landscape, hence I infered that by 'landscape' was meant the entirety of the geography being (partially) perceived.

But anyhoo, the argument still holds, only now there is a syntactical vacuum waiting for a word for something that is being referred to in the OP. What the word used is shouldn't really matter so long as we can all agree on it.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 04:12 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;110679 wrote:
If there were no elephant, as longknowledge apparently believes, what would be the point of the story? No one would have partial knowledge of the situation (the elephant) since there would be no elephant to have partial knowledge of. The elephant isn't an hypothesis. It is an animal. There is, perhaps, the hypothesis that there is an elephant. That's different from saying the elephant is an hypothesis. What sense would that make? Ortega is just another Idealist, as most continental philosophers are nowadays, and presents the same tired, and invalid arguments for his views.



Actually I find Ortega's argument refreshing and veridical. Ortega is not saying that there is no landscape. What is being argued is that the landscape exists within a certain perspectives. Therefore, he says 'two observers don't see the same thing'. Both views are different, but both are valid - you can't say one view is 'false'. One view may omit this tree, the other that rock. And the point is, there is no view in which every aspect of the landscape can be perceived from all points. There is no 'God's-eye view'. That is what is being denied - not whether the landscape is real or not, but whether it can be said to to be real independently of the specific perspective from which it must be viewed. "An archetypal landscape of this kind does not and cannot exist".

If you and I were to go a look at this piece of land, the fact that we each see it our own way is usually not important. But then, it might be. I might be a property developer who knows that an airport is being built nearby. You might be a farmer who is wanting to sell without knowing that. So 'this land' will have, in addition to the perspectival differences that Ortega considers, a completely different value to each perceiver.

Consider the elephant. If a mob of humans were to look at it, they would all see 'an elephant'. But a hunter might see game. An Indian see Ganesh. An ivory merchant, tusks. A zookeeper, much shovelling. Of course, if the observer was another animal, then it would be different again. A tick-bird would see lunch. And so on. So point of view is essential to both landscape and elephant.

Of course, in common sense both the elephant and the paddock are real. The paddock is a certain size, the elephant a certain weight. I don't think the argument is that they are phantasmagorical or non-existent. What I think it does undermine is the idea that objectivity is somehow absolute.

And I think that is what is bugging you.

This insight has been basic to Buddhism since the outset - hence the parable. The 'Madhyamika' or Middle Way school used it to demonstrate that every school of constructive metaphysics was self-contradictory.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 04:25 am
@longknowledge,
longknowledge;110444 wrote:


The persistent error that has hitherto been made is the supposition that reality possesses in itself, independently of the point of view from which it is observed, a physiognomy of its own. Such a theory clearly implies that no view of reality relative to any one particular standpoint would coincide with its absolute aspect, and consequently all such views would be false. But reality happens to be, like a landscape, possessed of an infinite number of perspectives, all equally veracious and authentic. The sole false perspective is that which claims to be the only one there is. In other words, that which is false is utopia, non-localised truth, which "cannot be seen from any particular place." The utopian (and such is essentially the character of the rationalist) goes further astray than anyone, since he is the spectator who loses confidence in his own point of view and deserts his post.[1]
]

I generally agree with this. But I don't think you can call the utopian view false, as it too is a perspective. Also to call it false would require a correspondence theory of truth, which this paragraph seems to doubt the possibility of. One can certainly argue that the Utopian view is an inferior view. This would move into the territory of value judgments. I don't think this view is idealism, but rather the denial of absolute knowledge. It's as if we all get to see is just a piece of "reality." Of course conversation assures us that there is much overlap, as I believe you imply, in practical everyday experience. Thanks for posting.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 04:32 am
@longknowledge,
What Ortega's argument is denying is idealism in the sense of a posited 'ideal object of perception'. But surely this is a further consequence of Kant's critique.

I suppose the downside is a headlong fall into out and out relativism. I would be interested to see how he counters that.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 04:39 am
@longknowledge,
You know what I always tell 'em: whether I'm a relativist or not is relative to what one means by relativism.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 08:08 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;110661 wrote:
A view of the landscape is a landscape. The landscape is an expanse of scenery hat can be seen in a single view. .


That a view of a landscape is a landscape is false on the face of it. There are (presumably) as many views of landscapes as there are people who are doing the viewing. But, (presumably) there is but a single landscape that each person is viewing. Therefore, it is impossible for a view of a landscape to be a landscape. Unless you think that there are as many landscapes as there are views of landscapes, and therefore, as many landscapes as there are people who are viewing. Is that what you believe? You seem to be having a problem with the verb, "to see". When I see X, I am seeing X. I am not seeing my seeing of X. The object of the term "see" is not my experience of seeing, it is what I am seeing. A dog, or a landscape, or whatever it is. It is the same problem Ortega seems to have with "view". Ortega seems to believe that when he views something, what he views is his view of that something, not that something. But that is false. Views are not what we see. Views are how we see what we see. For, as you, yourself, say, "the landscape is an expanse of scenery hat can be seen in a single view".
 
 

 
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