by Rob Lundberg
Relativism is the philosophical position that all points of view are equally valid and that all truth is relative to the individual. But, if we look further, we see that relativism is not a logical proposition. In fact it is hypocritical and self-refuting. The purpose of this essay is to take some of the most popular objections to absolute truth and show how they fail. In total we are going to look at nine statements that are the most common.
Let’s look at them one by one:
- All truth is relative. If all truth is relative, and the statement “All truth is relative” is assumed to be true, the statement is also relative. The question is whether or not the person making the statement wants to include their statement or exclude their statement.
They are making an absolute claim that all truth claims are relative. That makes their statement false by making the statement absolute. Therefore the statement “All truth is relative” is false.
- There are no absolute truths. The statement “There are no absolute truths” is an absolute statement which is assumed by the one making the statement to be true. Therefore, it is an absolute truth claim, and “There are no absolute truths” is a statement that self-refuting and false.
Another way of looking at this is that if there are no absolute truths, then you cannot believe anything absolutely at all, including the statement “there are no absolute truths.” Therefore, nothing could be really true for you – including relativism. Therefore the statement “There are no absolute truths” is a false statement that self implodes for the one making the claim.
- What is true for you is not true for me. This is a popular retort from the one embracing relativism. It comes usually when Christians try to share chapter and verse in hopes of pointing people to Christ. But this is easy to refute. Let’s tackle this one from several different angles.
The first angle is, what if true for me is that relativism is false. This would make the truth claim for me that relativism is false. So if you say no, then what is true for me is not true and relativism is false. And if you say yes, then relativism is still false.
Secondly, ff you say that it is true only for me that relativism is false, then I am believing something other than relativism; namely, that relativism is false. If that is true, then how can relativism be true?
Thirdly, with this true for you but not for me business, am I believing a premise that is true or false or neither? If it is true for me that relativism is false, then relativism (within me) holds the position that relativism is false. This is self-contradictory. If it is false for me that relativism is false, then relativism isn’t true because what is true for me is not said to be true for me. If you say it is neither true nor false, then relativism isn’t true since it states that all views are equally valid; and by not being at least true, relativism is shown to be wrong.
Fourthly, if I believe that relativism is false, and if it is true only for me that it is false, then you must admit that it is absolutely true that I am believing that relativism false. And if you admit that it is absolutely true that I am believing relativism is false, then relativism is defeated since you admit there is something absolutely true. Also if I am believing in something other than relativism that is true, then there is something other than relativism that is true – even if it is only for me. If there is something other than relativism that is true, then relativism is false.
So with a little critical analysis of this statement we can see that the statement “What is true for you is not true for me” is self refuting.
- No one can know anything for sure. This is another one of those self-imploding statements and a very quick one to put to rest. If that is true, that “no one can know anything for sure” then we must believe that statement to be true. If we do believe that statement to be true, then we do know that the statement is false and therefore self-defeating.
- That is your reality, not mine. This is a challenge to the question of what reality the real reality. One response you could us when someone says “that’s your reality, not mine” is “Is my reality really real?” Because if my reality is different than yours, how can my reality contradict your reality? If yours and mine are equally real, how can two opposite realities that exclude each other really exist at the same time? Is my reality really real?
- We all perceive what we want. You have heard someone tell you this, “perception is reality.” So when we look at the statement, “we all perceive what we want” we have to ask, How do you know that statement is true?
Because if we all perceive what we want, then what are you wanting to perceive? If you say you want to perceive truth, how do you know if you are not deceived? Simply desiring truth is no proof you have it.
- You may not use logic to refute relativism. As a way of repetition, people make statements that they really believe are true. So if someone tells you that you cannot use logic to refute relativism just ask this question, Why not? And then follow up with asking “Can you give me a logical reason why logic cannot be used?” And then watch what happens. Here’s why.
If one uses relativism to refute logic, then on what basis is relativism (that nothing is absolutely true) able to refute logic which is based upon truth. And then, if one wants to use relativism to refute logic, then relativism has lost its relative status since it is used to absolutely refute the truth of something else.
- We are only perceiving different aspects of the same reality. Again this is another objection coming from the one who believes that perception is reality. This one here raises a few questions as a response:
First, if our perceptions are contradictory, can either perception be trusted? Is truth self-contradictory? If it were, then it wouldn’t be true because it would be self-refuting. If something is self-refuting, then it isn’t true.
Second, if it is true that we are perceiving different aspects of the same reality, then am I believing something that is false, since I believe that your reality is not true? How then could they be the same reality? If you are saying that it is merely my perception that is not true, then relativism is refuted. And if I am believing something that is false, then relativism is not true since it holds that all views are equally valid.
Lastly, if my reality is that your reality is false, then both cannot be true. If both are not true, then one of us (or both) is in error. If one or both of us is in error, then relativism is not true.
- Relativism itself is excluded from the critique that it is absolute and self-refuting. This is one of those appeal to authority objections. What it is saying is that the ideology of relativism is immune from any criticism that it is absolute and self-refuting. After all this IS 2021! This is bovinely illogical. Here is why.
On what basis do you simply exclude relativism from the critique of logic? Is this an arbitrary act? If so, does it justify your position? If it is not arbitrary, what criteria did you use to exclude it?
To exclude itself from the start is an admission of the logical and rational problems that are inherent in its system of thought.
I hope and pray this will give you confidence in responding to our Orwellian culture that is spinning sidewards. Please share this with others and if you have any questions, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rob is a blogger, professor, writer, and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to articulate what and why they believe to a confused culture in a “brave new world.”