Relativism in terms of absolute truth?

Oooh! A demarcation problem rears its head :wink:

[quote=jeffreedy789]one problem arises when someone who says ‘it appears that there are no absolutes’ tries to dialog with someone who sees that there are, in fact, absolutes. the one to whom it ‘appears’ that there are none suddenly becomes adamant, and superior in his adamancy, that there ARE in fact no absolutes.

peter kreeft addresses the issue marvelously, in case you haven’t read it, in his book ‘a refutation of moral relativism’. definitely a must read if you are interested in the subject.

another problem is that those who follow a relativistic mindset are not simply saying ‘it seems to me that there are no absolutes’. if that were so, it would simply be a matter of a personal opinion that doesn’t match reality.

they are, however, saying ‘there is no such thing as an absolute’. which is, in fact, an absolute statement. and therefore… a witch! sorry, monty python tangent. therefore: a self contradictory statement.

the ideas of ‘tolerance’ (as promoted by contemporary american society) and sola scriptura are similarly self defeating and self contradicting.

interesting that kreeft points out in his lectures that ‘self defeating’ is what we find to be true of one particular aspect of the universe:

evil.

(in case i made that last bit unnecessarily opaque, what i mean to say is that kreeft teaches that evil is always self defeating.)
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Thanks for the reply, Jeff. You are correct to say that most folks who hold to moral or truth relativism argue and behave as if there are absolutes. Accordingly, their “tolerance” is self-defeating as is their “doctrine” of relativism.

However, I’m thinking more theoretically here. Not, does the relativist person work, but can the theory work?

I recognize that if a person holds to moral relativism he would also seem to have to hold to a consistent, thorough-going agnosticism. His response would always be, “Well, I don’t really know, but here is how I look at it…or, this is what I do…etc.”

Here, I don’t think the “self-defeating” argument works. But I’m not sure.

[quote=RobedWithLight]I would rather say that it is this relativist who is in fact stating an absolute proposition he himself pretends to deny, though he may not be aware of it, which is to say that he “accidentally” got caught in the dead-end of self-contradiction.

Gerry :slight_smile:
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You may well be right here. Still, at this point I’m unsure. And before I’m sure, I don’t want to assent to the proposition that relativism is necessarily self-defeating.

In my mind though, I see something parallel to the cause and effect argument for the existence of God. You know, one can’t have an infinite series of causes and effects and thus must necessarily end at (or begin) an uncaused-cause.

In the same way, even if the relativist says, “It appears to me that…whatever” he would still be caught in a positive statement at some point, otherwise he would have to string a series of “It appears that…” statements ad infinitum in order keep his system afloat. But this is impossible. In order for it to “appear that…whatever,” (an effect) one has to at some point place an “It is that…” (a cause or kind of uncaused cause) otherwise the statement would have no initial being/existence.

At this point though, I’m not sure that this isn’t just linguistic muddle…?

[quote=cabaret]how would one establish one without the potential for infinite regress?

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I don’t follow your meaning. Could you expand your thought?

i would see establishing an absolute as being an avenue OUT of infinte regress. the uncaused cause. the prime mover.

felix - i see what you’re saying. and the answer to your question, i think, is that a person cannot, even in their own mind, ever say ‘there is no such thing as an absolute’, because that is self contradicting. a person CAN say, to himself and to others ‘i wonder if there are no absolutes’ or ‘it seems to me that there might be no absolutes’.

however, this is just an exercise in futility. it’s the same as a conversation i had with the husband of a good friend of mine once. my brother and i were discussing ultimate meanings (my brother is a jesuit), and this husband walked up and said ‘what if there isn’t any meaning?’

well, certainly that’s a viewpoint. but if it’s true, it makes the entire conversation, EVERYTHING, in fact, without meaning, and so ends the thinking and the conversation.

but it’s not anything to go on. it’s not a premise. it’s just a doubt. it’s ‘esse es percipi’, as berkeley would put it. it’s hume’s great game. what if it isn’t even there?? ok, fine. we can pretend it isn’t, and talk about what it would be like if it weren’t.

but in order to do any serious thinking that builds on a premise, we must have ‘givens’ in which we believe. we must have absolutes. we have to have the ‘cogito’ before we can have any 'ergo sum’s.

so that, i think, is how it’s self defeating, and self contradicting. not that you can’t HOLD that view, just that you can’t APPLY it to anything. it’s in the application, i think, that it defeats itself.

[quote=cabaret]Absolute truth may be an interesting concept but, while there might be absolute truths, how would one establish one without the potential for infinite regress?

Fortunately, of course, science doesn’t interest itself with ideas like ‘absolute truth’.

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I hope you can elaborate further on what you meant by “infinite regress”.

Gerry :slight_smile:

'Fortunately, of course, science doesn’t interest itself with ideas like ‘absolute truth’.'
that’s debatable. there are certainly scientists who don’t interest themselves with it. descartes did. i know many scientists today who do, admittedly. i would contend, though, that science itself is based on two very large ‘absolute’ presuppositions:

  1. there is something. the world, the universe, exists.
  2. we can learn things about it by studying it.

these are absolute statements. without them, there is no need for science. science itself builds on the absolutes that there is something, that we’re learning things about it, that we can build on one another’s knowledge.

if you submit these ideas to relativism, you end up with a system that cannot support itself.

Mathematics has absolute truths, like 2 + 2 = 4. It cannot be made 5, no matter what ingenious manipulations we make.

Perhaps that is the nature of science itself, to be limited to what is empirically verifiable and testable. If science finds the Absolute truth itself, it would be the end of the search, the end of Science, and it would be absorbed into metaphysics.

Do you ever wonder why scientists kept on searching for the ultimate building blocks of matter, or for the ultimate origin of the universe, or the Grand Unified Theory? Perhaps deep inside, scientists themselves are metaphysicians at heart, though they may deny it. They unwittingly are searching for absolutes, but is limited by the tools they have on hand, to what is immediate.

Gerry :slight_smile:

If nothing else, agnosticism or relativism is linguistically impossible. As such, it not only demands outward silence, but inward silence (ot thoughts) as well.

When I began this thread, I wasn’t sure if the original argument (ie that agnosticism/relativism is self-contradictory) was effective. Now I am.

[quote=FelixBlue]If nothing else, agnosticism or relativism is linguistically impossible. As such, it not only demands outward silence, but inward silence (ot thoughts) as well.

When I began this thread, I wasn’t sure if the original argument (ie that agnosticism/relativism is self-contradictory) was effective. Now I am.
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Dear FelixBlue,

I am also sure the argument against relativism is self-contradictory, but I’m not sure how you are fitting “agnosticism” into the same equation. By agnosticism, I am assuming you are talking about a condition in which a person is not sure whether there is an intelligent God. Is that what you meant? If so, how does that fit in?

There can be no doubt whatsoever that there is an absolute truth even though I may not know it, but why can I not be completely unconvinced whether or not there is an intelligent being behind that truth?

Alan

hey felix - thanks for starting the thread. it’s been fun and interesting to ‘hash it out’ with you guys.

you say you’re now sure that the argument is sound. may i ask ‘why the change?’? upon what basis do you now know that it’s self-contradicting?

[quote=FelixBlue]If nothing else, agnosticism or relativism is linguistically impossible. As such, it not only demands outward silence, but inward silence (ot thoughts) as well.

When I began this thread, I wasn’t sure if the original argument (ie that agnosticism/relativism is self-contradictory) was effective. Now I am.
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This is the beauty of a forum such as this. We all learn something no matter how small.

Gerry :slight_smile:

[quote=AlanFromWichita]Dear FelixBlue,

I am also sure the argument against relativism is self-contradictory, but I’m not sure how you are fitting “agnosticism” into the same equation. By agnosticism, I am assuming you are talking about a condition in which a person is not sure whether there is an intelligent God. Is that what you meant? If so, how does that fit in?

There can be no doubt whatsoever that there is an absolute truth even though I may not know it, but why can I not be completely unconvinced whether or not there is an intelligent being behind that truth?

Alan
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Alan,

I’m using agnosticism in its most general sense, as in a denial that one can possess any certain knowledge of anything (which is what the word literally means). As such, relativism is founded upon agnosticism.

As for your second statement, I’m not sure. It seems that one may be consistent and claim that ther is objective truth/reality without knowing the origin, etc., of that reality.

Tim

[quote=jeffreedy789]hey felix - thanks for starting the thread. it’s been fun and interesting to ‘hash it out’ with you guys.

you say you’re now sure that the argument is sound. may i ask ‘why the change?’? upon what basis do you now know that it’s self-contradicting?
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It has been fun. And I hope ya’ll don’t mind, because I’m going through a process of “rethinking” all of my basic assumptions, so more will be on the way…

“Why the change”?

First I should say that I came to see that relativism (whether epistemological or moral) is fundamentally related to or identical with agnosticism.

That said, recall that my original contention had to do with fairness or honesty in argumentation. It seemed unfair to force an intentionally “uncertain” statement ("agnosticism/relativism appears to be accurate) to be a “certain” statement (“agnosticism/relativism is accurate”).

Now, though, I realize through linguistic analysis that even the statement, “It appears that…” is necessarily a statement of certainty in that what is really being said is, “It is that it appears that…”. One cannot escape the initial “It is that…” This does not mean that the relativist is all of the sudden certain about relativism; it only means that the relativist is certain about the fact that “it is that it appears” to the relativist to be such and such. This certainty is a contradiction to a professed thorough-going uncertainty.

Upon further analysis, many things follow from this one statement, “It is that it appears that…” whatever. Go through each word of the sentence and ask yourself what it logically implies. I have found being, objective reality, causality, the idea of meaning, correspondence (between truth ideas and objective reality), and the idea of gradation of knowledge. I’m sure there’s more.

Anyhow, that’s why I have come to believe the initial argument…

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