Thursday, February 02, 2012

[the view from there]

From Miroslav Volf's book Exclusion and Embrace:

In The View from Nowhere, Thomas Nagel suggests that in order to know the world adequately we must “step outside of ourselves” and ask “what the world must be like from no point of view” (Nagel 1986, 62)…. Nagel concludes: “One must arrange somehow to see the world from nowhere and from here, and to live accordingly” (86). This seeing “from nowhere” and “from here” he calls “double vision.”

I suggest that we keep the double vision, but that, at least when it comes to knowing the social world, we replace “the view from nowhere” with “the view from there.” …

Seeing “from here comes naturally…. But what does it take to see “from there,” from the perspective of others? First, we step outside ourselves…. We examine what we consider to be the plain verities about others, willing to entertain the idea that these “verities” may be but so many ugly prejudices, bitter fruits of our imaginary fears or our sinister desires to dominate or exclude. We also observe our own images of ourselves, willing to detect layers of self-deceit that tell us exalted stories about ourselves and our history. To step outside means to distance ourselves for a moment from what is inside, ready for a surprise.  

Second, we cross a social boundary and move into the world of the other to inhabit it temporarily (MacIntyre 1993, 78). We open our ears to hear how others perceive themselves as well as how they perceive us. We use imagination to see why their perspective about themselves, about us, and about our common history, can be so plausible to them whereas it is implausible, profoundly strange, or even offensive to us….
Third, we take the other into our own world. We compare and contrast the view “from there” and the view “from here.” Not that we will necessarily reject the view “from here” and embrace the view “from there”; nor even that we will find some compromise between the two. These are two possible outcomes but other outcomes are possible too…. The only thing we must do as we take others into our world is to let their perspective stand next to ours and reflect on whether one or the other is right, or whether both are partly right and partly wrong.

Fourth, we repeat the process. Before the movement away from the self to the other and back starts, we inevitably possess explicit or implicit judgments about the rightness or wrongness of the view “from here” and the view “from there”; it would be both impossible and undesirable to suppress these judgments…. We can never presume that we have freed ourselves completely from distortions of others and deceptions about ourselves, that we possess “the truth.” Every understanding that we reach is forged from a limited perspective: it is a view “from here” about how things look “from here” and “from there.”
Volf, pp. 250-253 (selections)

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