Relativism II

This is the main board for discussing philosophy - formal, informal and in between.

Moderator: Only_Humean

Forum rules
Forum Philosophy

Relativism II

Postby Magnus Anderson » Fri May 19, 2017 11:01 pm

Relativism is the position that what is true (and by extension what is false) is relative to the individual. This is natural if you consider the obvious fact that truth is a product of judgment in the sense that what is true and what is false is determined by the individual. "Man is the measure of all things" as Protagoras said.

Relativism is NOT the position that every opinion is equal to every other opinion. That would be egalitarianism. Note that relativism does not forbid egalitarianism. It merely does not require it.

Relativism is also NOT the position that what is true and what is false is an arbitrary decision (i.e. whatever you want.) That would be subjectivism. Note that relativism does not forbid subjectivism. It merely does not require it.

A common argument against relativism goes something like this:

Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry wrote:If all truth is relative, then the statement "All truth is relative" would be absolutely true. If it is absolutely true, then not all things are relative and the statement that "All truth is relative" is false.


This is a non-sequitur because nowhere is it implied that the statement "All truth is relative" is absolutely true. In fact, it is explicitly stated that ALL truth is relative which means that this statement too is only relatively true. There is, in other words, nothing but perfect logical consistency.

When I say “All truth is relative” I am saying “From my point of view, all truth is relative.” I am NOT saying “From the absolute point of view, all truth is relative.”

No position of omniscience is ever implied. In fact, it is explicitly denied.

Nonetheless, this argument is persistently used by those who advocate absolutism. We want to figure out why. What makes these people make this kind of mistake?

I would say egocentrism. The inability to differentiate between the self and the other. They are quite simply unable to see themselves as separate from the rest of the world. Instead, they see everything as “one”.

They are unable to own their opinions. Apparently, that's because that would mean they might be wrong i.e. that at some point in the future they would have to change their opinion. For some reason, they find this very disturbing, so they set out to find, or to convince themselves that they found, an opinion that is absolutely true, which is to say, true for all eternity. An opinion, in other words, that will never have to be changed in the future. Sounds like dogmatism to me. One has to wonder why is it so difficult for these people to be flexible with their opinions. One can argue that they are in fact flexible, it's just that they have no need to -- see no reason to -- change their opinions. But it can also be argued -- particularly because they are speaking in terms of absolutes, infinities and unconditionals -- that they are emotionally inflexible. In other words, that they cannot change their opinions, even though they know they should, because of the emotional reactions that step would provoke. In plain terms, because they lack the courage to be honest with themselves.

Here's another quote from the same author:

CA&RM wrote:3. What is true for you is not true for me.

3.1. If what is true for me is that relativism is false, then is it true that relativism is false?
3.1.1. If you say no, then what is true for me is not true and relativism is false.
3.1.2. If you say yes, then relativism is false.

The statement “what is true for you is not true for me” means nothing other than “what I think is true is not necessarily what you think is true”. Here, the author misinterprets it to mean “what is absolutely true for you is not necessarily absolutely true for me” or more simply “absolute truth is what you think is truth”.

Relativism, I repeat, explicitly denies absolute points of view. That's what relativism is: a denial of absolutes. It does not tell you what absolutes are or where you can find them. It tells you there are NONE.

The author asks us: if what is true for person X is that relativism is false, does that mean that relativism is false? My answer would be very simple: what it means is that person X thinks that relativism is false. Nothing more than that. Here, however, the author is asking whether that means that relativism is absolutely false. He is asking “is it true that relativism is false?” He's intentionally leaving out the word “absolutely” so that he can confuse absolute truth with relative truth. The answer to that question is one big NO. It is yes to relative falsity (person X thinks it is false) but no to absolute falsity (false independently from what anyone thinks.)

The author then takes my no to the idea that relativism is absolutely false, misinterprets it to mean that relativism is absolutely true -- because if it's not absolutely false then it must be absolutely true, right? -- and then proceeds, in 3.1.1, to erroneously conclude that person X is wrong in thinking that relativism is false.

From the same source but from a different page:

CA&RM wrote:[If] all things are relative, then there cannot be anything that is absolutely true between individuals. In other words, if all people deny absolute truth and establish relative truth only from their experiences, then everything is relative to the individual. How then can there be a common ground from which to judge right and wrong or truth? It would seem that there cannot.


This passage does nothing but express dissatisfaction with the possibility that there might be no common ground between people. Relativism does imply that such a situation is possible, but it does not, as the author suggests, imply that the opposite situation, or any situation in between, is impossible. The degree to which there is a common ground between people is the degree to which they are similar. Similar people make similar judgments. Conversely, different people make different judgments. It's not a matter of desire (for common ground) but a matter of reality (of whether there is any common ground or not.)
I got a philosophy degree, I'm not upset that I can't find work as a philosopher. It was my decision, and I knew that it wasn't a money making degree, so I get money elsewhere.
-- Mr. Reasonable
User avatar
Magnus Anderson
Posts: 3715
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 7:26 pm

Return to Philosophy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot]