Given that there is no one right answer, then any answer will do. This is what Perry identifies as the multiplistic perspective. In many ways, it is simply another form of dualism: if there is no one truth or reality than there must be no truths and no realities! Certainly, the challenge of living in an Ironic cave suggests that the multiplistic perspective is justifiable. If there are multiple openings that are always shifting, if we can’t even see the shadows on the wall but must rely on interpretations and replays, and if these interpretations often contradict one another, then why should we ever trust anything that we experience in this cave. The world is composed of nothing but expedient story-telling and fake versions of the real world: those with the power are allowed to define what is real and important.
Perry proposes that this multiplistic stage is common among young adults who are first exposed to a world that is expanding in size and complexity – they are seeing the multiple images on the wall of their cave. This sense of betrayal is likely to remain if the young adult is provided with minimal support and finds very little that is to be trusted in the world. We certainly see an abundance of multiplicity in our current world – along with the dualistic perspective. Perry is optimistic, however, about the capacity and willingness of many adults to move beyond multiplicity, especially if they are fortune enough to live in a supportive and trusting environment.
Perry suggests that this transition is to a relativistic perspective. We now see that within a specific community there are certain accepted standards regarding truth and reality. We can appreciate the fact that other communities adhere to different standards than our own. While adhering to a relativistic perspective, we are likely to avoid making any value judgments regarding competing versions of the truth. We live in the cave and sit back to witness (perhaps even savor) the multiple images on the wall and multiple interpretations of these images.
Commitment in Relativism
Unfortunately, we can’t live forever in this suspended state of relativism. We must somehow engage—and even provide leadership—in this world of multiple and often contradictory perspectives. As mature and responsible adults we must make decisions and take actions. Perry identifies this fourth perspective as commitment-in-relativism. We recognize that there are alternative standards operating in various communities, but also recognize the need to pick a specific standard and base our life around this standard. We might change our standard over time and might be able to live in a different community and embrace their standard while living there but come back to our base of commitment.
Ken and Mary Gergen (2004, p. 93) offer a similar perspective in their exposition of social constructivism:
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If we abandon the view that some particular arrangement of words [social construction] is uniquely tailored to the world as it is [an objectivist frame], then we are freed . . . [C]onstructivism doesn’t mean giving up something called truth; rather we are simply invited to see truth claims of all kinds as born out of relationship in particular cultural and historical conditions.