The Problem With Relativism

We live in a world that says there is no such thing as absolute truth and morality, or at least that there is no way to know for sure what is right and true. The problem with such a worldview is that it provides no answers at all to life’s questions. The whole purpose of a worldview is to define how you understand the world. But if your worldview provides no answers, it is incoherent and thus not in touch with reality. If your worldview is not in touch with reality, it cannot be correct. If your worldview is not correct then you can be sure you have not understood this world or your existence.

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5 Responses to The Problem With Relativism

  1. hazillow says:

    Hi there. I’m Hazillow from Wikipedia. Thought I’d comment on this post, if you don’t mind.

    Relativism is indeed a bad thing, but I don’t believe it is because of the reasons you stated. The concept of relativism is very illogical. If one holds a complete relativism, then that person states, absolutely, that relativism exists. But absolutes are incompatible with absolute relativism. Therefore, the relativist has to say, “there are some absolutes but most things are relative.” It isn’t actually relativism, then.

    We do not need the idea of God to escape this, however. I am most certainly not a moral relativist and I am explicitly atheist. The only thing that can be objectively said about humans’ in regards to values is that they value happiness. All seek it and all avoid its opposite – suffering. Even acts that seem to cause great suffering to the individual are often done to alleviate suffering (suicide, for example) or happiness (caring for children). So, what a sentient being values is most certainly happiness – that is the only objective GOOD for an individual.

    When an individual is happy he does things that enrich society. He discovers mathematics, philosophy, art, and science. These things in turn make other individuals happy. Without mathematics or modern medicine, humanity would be in a dismal state.

    Therefore, it seems paramount to me that in order to create the most good (individual happiness), individuals must do things that result in the happiness of others, making the entire society happy and increasing their happiness in turn.

    How that society would function, I don’t know. Projects like Wikipedia are a good start – disseminating knowledge for free and contributing to it also. I know that without Wikipedia, I would not be familiar with many concepts that I consider paramount to what constitutes “me.”

    Anyway, hope everything is well.

    Joe

  2. Thanks for your comment. I agree completely that relativism is illogical. This post was a small snippet of my thought on the issue. I have written on it extensively on this blog, and you can click on the Relativism category on the right side of this page if you’d like to read more.

    There is a major problem with your philosophy. You claim to believe in absolutes, but you do not have a source. Being a wikipedian you know that every fact must have a verifiable source. Where does your absolute that the end of man is happiness come from? Any truth must have a source.

  3. hazillow says:

    If you accept that things must be verifiable, you cannot explain natural phenomena (human behavior, origins of life, etc.) by supernatural origins (God, the devil, what have you).

    My absolute is a tautology; it is true by definition. Consider the word “good.” Exactly what does it mean? “What one should do” is a pretty common response, but it does not go far enough. How do know what one “should” do? The idea is you look at what “is” and you form a picture of how it “is” if you pick a different set circumstances. The result would nearly always be that people are happier.

    Therefore, what is “good” is what “makes people happy.” Note that this isn’t a license to do whatever one wishes – an action that makes one person happy could have disastrous consequences (i.e. cause suffering) to a large number of people.

    My source is the human experience; yours comes from something external to not only man, but what is knowable.

    Any truth must indeed have a source, as long as it is reliable. Your source comes from the most unreliable of all: something outside of what we know and cannot be proved to even exist.

  4. You have a few faulty presuppositions and logical processes in the response you just gave. The first is that you cannot explain the natural by the supernatural; the second is that God is someone who is unknowable. The first stems from naturalism, the second from existentialism.

    Thirdly, you have not proven that what you define as good (happiness) is a tautology. It’s actually not a tautology at all because in your own words it is only “nearly always” true, not always. Absolute truth is true by definition, because what is true must be absolute or else it cannot be called truth at all.

    The fourth fault in your approach stems from the second: It is an existential approach based on reason and experience but without any absolute ground. You reason you way to a response but still have not qualified it. You still have not explained why happiness is “what one should do,” nor even how “what one should do” is the definition of good. The fact that what makes one person happy may have disastrous effects on another shows that you are still stuck with moral relativism even though you claim (rightly) that morality is absolute. Human experience varies from person to person. You are still trying to grasp at what is the source of the absolute.

    Fifthly, and stemming from the first, you presuppose that God is unreliable because he cannot be measured by your naturalistic and existential expectations. God is all-knowing, man is not. It makes sense that he could know things and reveal things in ways that we cannot explain. He is not finite. The absolute is the most reliable of all things. Scientific “knowledge” is constantly changing. God does not. Science is merely grasping at that which he created, while presupposing he couldn’t have and does not exist based on the presupposition that matter is all there is. Also shown in science is just because we don’t know something now doesn’t mean we won’t understand it tomorrow. Thus you cannot say “something outside of what we know” cannot provide an explanation.

  5. hazillow says:

    Actually, it is you who have faulty presuppositions.

    You could ever know something that by definition is outside of natural and observable phenomena. This shouldn’t be that much of an issue considering you rely on observable phenomena to do not only normal, everyday tasks but everything within your life.

    You can go ahead and label my rationale as “illogical” but it is pretty unconvincing if the only reason you give for labelling it as such is “LOL it is naturalist” and “LOL it is existential.”

    I miswrote when I said that happiness as a virtue is “nearly always” true – it always is true. Even mentally disturbed people act in a rational way given what they believe about the universe (i.e. there are aliens under my bed, so I’m going to sleep on the couch, etc.)

    That is, given your belief in a Santa Claus like-being that answers wishes, it is entirely rational for you to talk to yourself before you go to bed hoping to get some sort of reward for it – His favor or whatever your prayer (wish) was.

    I am starting to think you are misunderstanding my point on purpose – what is good is, according to the dictionary: “that which is valuable or useful.” What we value, of course, is happiness – this is self-evident in every action we take. I don’t know why you are having a hard time accepting that, other than to validate your belief in silly concepts like God. If you want to get into the is/ought problem (“We can’t know what we SHOULD do just because we know what IS”) then fine – but you don’t believe the is/ought problem exists, either.

    And actually, the very fact that I believe actions have disastrous affects on humans clearly means that I believe in some sort of moral absolute – that suffering is bad.

    And your last paragraph is absolutely breathtaking.”We cannot measure God because He is outside of science” is all I got out of it (you talked a lot about stuff that isn’t really relevant, but I don’t blame you considering your entire belief structure is based on things that aren’t relevant). Basically, you’ve gave an excuse for why we don’t know God exists, but not a reason for His existence. All this special pleading is fine if you are making an emotional, subjective case for a thirteen-year-old but doesn’t really help if you are talking to someone that has all his faculties.

    If tomorrow science uncovers evidence for God’s existence that is verifiable I will believe in God. Until then, why should I? Going to give me Pascal’s argument? Go ahead and try.

    Apparently you hold my beliefs to a rigorous, scientific standard but yours are out of the question since, you know, what you believe carries the definition “outside of human experience.” It is a great position since it can never be proven wrong, but not an especially helpful one.

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