Standpoint Epistemology

What is “standpoint epistemology?”

Epistemology can be defined as follows

the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity

From etymonline.com (the history of the word), we get

epistemology (n.)

“theory of knowledge,” 1856, coined by Scottish philosopher James F. Ferrier (1808-1864) from Greek episteme “knowledge, acquaintance with (something), skill, experience,” from Ionic Greek epistasthai “know how to do, understand,” literally “overstand,” from epi “over, near” (see epi-) + histasthai “to stand,” from PIE root *sta- “to stand, make or be firm.” The scientific (as opposed to philosophical) study of the roots and paths of knowledge is epistemics (1969). Related: Epistemologicalepistemologically.

I have also previously addressed this term as part of the “-ologies & Key Terms” series on this site.

It can also be referred to as “standpoint theory.”

Even so . . .

What is meant when you hear the term “standpoint epistemology?”

In the earlier referenced article on epistemology, I mention five main approaches to knowledge and one of those was relativism.

Standpoint epistemology (SE) is a relativistic approach to epistemology. Through standpoint epistemology, you view the world relative to your viewpoint, your own worldview lens and that is what decides what is true.

Another way to put this is that standpoint epistemology in its relativism claims that each person or group of persons, because of their differing standpoint (point of origin of their view), have a different sense of knowing what is true. Therefore, what is true perhaps for an Egyptian in regards to one thing or another is not necessarily true for a Haitian man or a Haitian woman or a Chinese Citizen or a given minority of a particular nation versus those considered “privileged” in that nation.

As applied to the Scriptures, you view and thereby interpret the Scriptures from where you stand in the present. There is no trying to understand it in its grammatical context. There is no understanding it in its historical context–outside of reinterpreting it on power dynamics.

What’s the problem with this way of viewing things?

It is dangerous at best.

Not only does SE act according to relativism, it also paints every person/group as falling into a oppressed/advantaged backdrop. This puts everyone not only on a relative knowledge grounds–and thereby truth grounds–but SE ends up pitting them against each other as everyone is labelled into one oppressed/advantaged group or another.

It also means everyone does what is right in their own eyes. That statement alone should cause us to pause. Why? Read Deuteronomy 12:8-9; Proverbs 13:7; 12:15; 26:12.

Truth becomes subjective; there is no objective truth. There is no–outside of ourselves or our group–standard of knowing what is truth.

This is chaos and deserving of God’s judgment. In the Old Testament, we consistently find God’s judgment every time after “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” We are therefore headed for such times if we turn to such as standpoint epistemology.

What’s more, such a method of dealing with the Scriptures means people twist them, leading themselves astray and others they share their thinking with.

As a result, SE does not truly help move the real differences between people to a more positive ground but results in lines drawn and thereby tribalism. As followers of Christ, there is only one perspective, one way of knowing that we are to aim for and that’s Christ’s. This cuts across every human division–whether real or imagined.

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