Absolute or Relative

Download 53.7 Kb.
Date conversion07.03.2016
Size53.7 Kb.

(Absolute or Relative)

The basis of this discussion is essentially the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction is a basic law of logic and is stated as follows; a statement and its negation cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. What this means is that either the earth is round or the earth is not round; the earth cannot be both round and not round at the same time and in the same sense.

But is this law really true? Furthermore, can we actually know what is really true, and is anything absolutely true? We must split this into two questions; first, is truth absolute, and secondly; can we as human beings know what is absolutely true.

Is Absolute truth Real

The negation of Absolutism (the belief that absolute truth exists), is relativism. Although I am not a relativitist and cannot vouch for all individuals who ascribe to different forms of relativism, I understand the general premise of relativism to be this; all truth is relative to the individual, there is no statement that is absolutely true to all people at all times. Therefore we have two opposing ideas, Absolutism and its negation (Relativism). The law of non contradiction presupposes that absolute truth exists so a relativist cannot use the law of non contradiction. This fact has startling effects, first of all, since basically all of human reason (and therefore argument) is based on the law of non contradiction, the relativist must throw out reasoning and argument based upon this law (he cannot legitimately argue that relativism is true using absolutism, as he would thus disprove his own argument). Furthermore, the relativist cannot posit even that relativism is true at all; all he can say is that it is true for him. For if all statements are relative, then even the statement that “all statements are relative” is relative and thus is not applicable to all people at all times.

Can We KNOW What is True?

Philosophers have been trying to answer this question for years, in fact, an entire field of philosophy, called epistemology, is devoted in large part to how we obtain knowledge.


However, in this case I would like to specifically investigate Christianity’s claims about knowing truth. First it should be noted that God commands the Christian to be truthful (Honest) many times in scripture, from the Ten Commandments onward, in fact, naves topical bible has about 100 verses listed as pertaining to truth and truthfulness, therefore it is reasonable to state that truth is important to God. Obviously if God expects people to serve Him in truth (Josh. 24:14), He must have given us some way to discern truth (Psa. 57:3). However, it is important to remember the limitations of human beings. We must not edify reason or science or any other human construct to be absolute, for as scripture says; “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure,” Jeremiah 17:9. Therefore we must remember that nothing we do is certain and we cannot know truth with certainty of our own accord. Luckily we have the source of truth willing to have a personal relationship with each one of us. Christ claims to be the embodiment of truth, (John 14:6 I am the way the truth and the life), and only through Him can we truly transcend our human nature and know truth with any certainty. For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught, Proverbs 3:26.

The Genetic Fallacy

Sometimes a person espousing relativism commits what is called the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is the attempt to discredit an idea by showing the origin of the idea. However, just because you can explain how an idea arose does not mean that the idea must be false, an idea must be examined on its own merits.

Other resources

Absolute Truth - Inflexible Reality

"Absolute truth" is defined as inflexible reality: fixed, invariable, unalterable facts. For example, it is a fixed, invariable, unalterable fact that there are absolutely no square circles and there are absolutely no round squares.

Absolute Truth vs. Relativism

While absolute truth is a logical necessity, there are some religious orientations who argue against the existence of absolute truth in some instances. For some humanists, the exclusion of God necessitates moral relativism (a form of relativism stating that moral truths do not exist) and sometimes relativism in a more general form. Humanist John Dewey (1859-1952), co-author and signer of the Humanist Manifesto 1 (1933), declared, "There is no God and there is no soul. Hence, there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room for fixed, natural law or moral absolutes

Absolute Truth - A Logical Necessity

You can't logically argue against the existence of absolute truth. To argue against something is to establish that a truth exists. Therefore, you cannot argue logically against absolute truth without an absolute truth is the basis of your argument. Consider a few of the classic arguments and declarations made by those who seek to argue against the existence of absolute truth in different instances…

"There are no absolutes." First of all, the relativist is declaring there are absolutely no absolutes. That is an absolute statement. The statement is logically contradictory. If the statement is true, there is, in fact, an absolute – that there are absolutely no absolutes.

"Truth is relative." Again, this is an absolute statement implying truth is absolutely relative. Besides positing an absolute, suppose the statement was true and "truth is relative." Everything including that statement would be relative. If a statement is relative, it is not always true. If "truth is relative" is not always true, then sometimes truth is not relative. This means there are absolutes, which means the above statement is false. When you follow the logic, relativistic arguments will always contradict themselves.

"Who knows what the truth is, right?" In the same sentence the speaker declares that no one knows what the truth is, then he turns around and asks those who are listening to affirm the truth of his statement.

"No one knows what the truth is." The speaker obviously believes his statement is true.

There are philosophers who actually spend countless hours toiling over thick volumes written on the "meaninglessness" of everything. We can assume they think the text is meaningful! Then there are those philosophy teachers who teach their students, "No one's opinion is superior to anyone else's. There is no hierarchy of truth or values. Anyone's viewpoint is just as valid as anyone else's viewpoint. We all have our own truth." Then they turn around and grade the papers!

Absolute Truth – Morality

Morality is a facet of absolute truth. Thus, relativists often declare, "It's wrong for you to impose your morals on me." By declaring something is wrong, the relativist is contradicting himself by imposing his morals upon you.

You might hear, "There is no right, there is no wrong!" You must ask, is that statement right or wrong?

If you catch a relativist in the act of doing something they know is absolutely wrong, and you try to point it out to them, they may respond in anger, "Truth is relative! There's no right and there's no wrong! We should be able to do whatever we want!" If that is a true statement and there is no right and there is no wrong, and everyone should be able to do whatever they want, then why have they become angry? What basis do they have for their anger? You can't be appalled by an injustice, or anything else for that matter, unless an absolute has somehow been violated.

Relativists often argue, "Everybody can believe whatever they want!" It makes us wonder, why are they arguing? We find it amusing that relativists are the ones who want to argue about relativism.

If you attempt to tell a relativist the difference between right and wrong, you will no doubt hear, "None of that is true! We make our own reality!" If that's true, and we all create our own reality, then our statement of moral accountability is merely a figment of the relativist's imagination. If a relativist has a problem with a statement of absolute morality, the relativist should take the issue up with himself.

Absolute Truth - The Conclusion

We all know there is absolute truth. It seems the more we argue against it, the more we prove its existence. Reality is absolute whether you feel like being cogent or not. Philosophically, relativism is contradictory. Practically, relativism is anarchy. The world is filled with absolute truth.

A relativist maintains that everyone should be able to believe and do whatever he wants. Of course, this view is emotionally satisfying, until that person comes home to find his house has been robbed, or someone seeks to hurt him, or someone cuts in front of him in line. No relativist will come home to find his house robbed and say, "Oh, how wonderful that the burglar was able to fulfill his view of reality by robbing my house. Who am I to impose my view of right and wrong on this wonderful burglar?" Quite the contrary, the relativist will feel violated just like anyone else. And then, of course, it's OK for him to be a relativist, as long as the "system" acts in an absolutist way by protecting his "unalienable rights."


An absolute truth, sometimes called a universal truth, is an unalterable and permanent fact. The concept of absolute truths - what they are and whether they exist - has been debated among many different groups of people. Philosophers have waded in the muck of defining absolute truth for millennia. For example, Plato believed that absolute truth existed, but that truth on earth was merely a shadow of great forms of absolute truth existing in the universe. Alternatively, many believe in relative truths, where facts may vary depending on the circumstances

it’s difficult to disprove the concept of absolute truth, since saying that there are no absolute truths - that it is absolutely true that no absolute truth exists - is itself an absolute truth. One can say, “From what I know, I believe there are no absolute truths.” Still, this is murky territory.

There are a few things that we all agree are absolutely true, but they depend upon an agreement in definition. Take, for example, the case where a person has a cat in his house. Obviously, no one would agree, as an absolute truth, that this cat, “was the nicest cat in the world.” However, most people would agree, given evidence that at that specific point in time, that there was a cat in the house. Some might quibble over the fact that people might define “cat” differently; that is, some might not describe a lion in a house as "a cat in a house."

People often look to science to determine whether something constitutes an absolute truth, but science tends to avoid absolutism. Even when scientists reasonably believe an explanation, it is often couched as theory or proofs. However, as we advance in science, we often find ourselves disproving proofs. Yet a great deal of proof on a subject makes it more likely, but does not make it absolute truth.

Many religions contain absolute truths. For example, a Christian might say, “ I know Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. By following his teachings, I will live in heaven when I die.” To the Christian this may be an absolute truth. Imposing this statement on others is where this absolute truth, to the Christian, becomes debated. While many may agree that the Christian believes absolutely that Jesus is his Lord, they are unlikely to agree that Jesus is everyone's Lord is an absolute truth. When a person’s absolute truth is extended to all others, it can be viewed as a philosophical statement of exclusion. Those who do not endorse the absolute truth of another are either pitied or attacked.

However, proper functioning societies and communities often rely on certain agreed-upon truths. For example, the US holds rape and murder as crimes and uses language to define rape and murder. Failure for a society to define such terms, and agree upon their definition could result in chaos.

Thus while absolute truths may be hard to come by, and difficult to agree upon, some amount of truths are generally required for a properly functioning society. Whether these truths are absolute or universal is a matter that has been and will likely continue to be debated.


In philosophy, universalism is a doctrine or school claiming universal facts can be discovered and is therefore understood as being in opposition to relativism.

In logic, or the consideration of valid arguments, a proposition is said to have universality if it can be conceived as being true in all possible contexts without creating a contradiction. Some philosophers have referred to such propositions as universalizable. Truth is considered to be universal if it is valid in all times and places. In this case, it is seen as eternal or as absolute. The relativist conception denies the existence of some or all universal truths, particularly ethical ones (through moral relativism). Mathematics is a field in which those truths discovered, in relation to the field of mathematics, are typically considerered of universal scope. Usage of the word truth has various domains of application, relativism does not necessarily apply to all of them. This is not to say that universality is limited to mathematics for there exists a large number of people who apply the standard to philosophy, theology and beyond.


Absolute Truth…Another Definition

This article calibrates very high in regard to the definition of Absolute Truth. Steven Robiner is the author of the quotation, and in all likelihood, of the entire article. If he isn’t already a student of Dr. Hawkins, he echos the doctors’ teachings eloquently… Myswizard

“What is absolutely true is always correct, everywhere, all the time, under any condition. An entity’s ability to discern these things is irrelevant to that state of truth.” - Steven Robiner

Absolute truth can be interpreted in different ways based on its usage, just like truth. One of the arguments for the existence of absolute truth is that relativism is considered to be self refuting. For example, it is argued that if one asserts all truth is relative one is making an absolute truth statement. Thus, relativism is seen as self refuting. Except that a relativist could state “To a relativist, all things are relative, but to an absolutist, they may not be”.

Absolute truth is often defined in two ways: state-truth and action-verity form.

As a state (truth)
Absolutism contends that in a particular domain of thought, all statements in that domain are either absolutely true or absolutely false: none is true for some cultures or eras while false for other cultures or eras. These statements are called absolute truths. A common reaction by those who newly criticize absolutism is the absolute truth statement: Absolute truths do not exist.

The statement, ‘Absolute truths do not exist.’, reveals the characteristic of absolute truth. Absolute truth does not apply to reality, existence, belief, or to human intelligence. In the logic of dichotomy of true-not true, application is without respect to what is absolutely true. Certainly, absolute truth does not define material existence, but supports material existence, position, and state of being. Absolute truth is as applicable to ‘not true’ as it is to ‘true’. The double negative reveals this monistic status of absolute truth. The non-existence of absolute truth would, if true, be as true as the existence of absolute truth in an absolute sense. To postulate the non-existence of truth; however, is to violate the most fundamental capacity of mind. It is as though a snake could swallow itself by starting at the tail. Therein lies the value of absolute truth for thought. Violation of truth value in an absolute sense, validates the truth value of existence versus non-existence. Some say, “If I see it I believe it.” Others say, “I believe it if I know it.” If the sense of knowing is little better than the sense of sight, little can be made of the analogy. The acuity of the sense of absolute truth may not be good enough for most to clearly distinguish the difference between what is true and truth itself.

One could ask, ‘Is it true that truth exists?’ One can also ask, ‘Is it true that truth does not exist?’ The first can be affirmed by mind, while the latter cannot be affirmed without a gross distortion of sense. If truth does not exist, it would certainly be true that truth does not exist. That is the quality of absolute truth. If the negation were true, one could not ask the question and expect a true answer. Absolute truth is the essence of thought and distinguishes the capacity of the sapient being.

As an action (verity)
In action form, absolute truth most closely represents verity. This form can be likened to the action usage of metaphysical truth, but not its state usage (which represent metaphysical truths in state form). Absolute truth in action form is considered by many to be metaphysical only, and therefore the same as the action usage of metaphysical truth. Some believe the outcome of absolute truth (verity) can be metaphysical truths, physical truths or both, but by definition not any form of a lie.

A particularly confusing absolute truth in state form (but good for example) is:

Absolute truth cannot be a lie.

Some interpret this to mean:

The outcome of absolute truth cannot be a lie.

But that refers specifically to the action form of absolute truth. Others interpret it as:

Absolute truth statements cannot be lies.

But that refers specifically to the state form of absolute truth. The original statement can be interpreted as either the state or action form. In the state form the statement is not true, but in the action form it is true. Either way the statement is an absolute truth in state form.


The Absolute Nature of Truth -- Relative Truth
by Dr. Norman Geisler

(excerpted from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)


Like an old apple, relativism may look good on the surface but it is rotten at the core. Among its problems:

Absolutely Relative?

Most relativists really believe relativism is true for everybody, not just for them. But that is the one thing they cannot hold if they are really relativists. For a relative truth is just true for me but not necessarily for anyone else. So, the relativist who thinks relativism is true for everyone is an absolutist. Such a person believes in at least one absolute truth. The dilemma is this: a consistent relativist cannot say "It is an absolute truth for everyone that this truth is only relatively true." Nor can the person say, "It is only relatively true that relativism is true." If it is only relatively true, then relativism may be false for some or all others. Why then should I accept it as true? Either the claim that truth is relative is an absolute claim, which would falsify the relativist position, or it is an assertion that can never really be made, because every time you make it you have to add another "relatively." This begins an infinite regress that will never pay off in a real statement.

The only way the relativist can avoid the painful dilemma of relativism is to admit that there are at least some absolute truths. As noted, most relativists believe that relativism is absolutely true and that everyone should be a relativist. Therein lies the self-destructive nature of relativism. The relativist stands on the pinnacle of an absolute truth and wants to relativize everything else.

A World of Contradictions

If relativism were true, then the world would be full of contradictory conditions. For if something is true for me but false for you, then opposite conditions exist. For if I say "There is milk in the refrigerator" and you say "there is not any milk in the refrigerator"—and we both are right, then there must be and not be milk in the refrigerator at the same time and in the same sense. But that is impossible. So, if truth were relative, then an impossible would be actual.

In the religious realm it would mean that Billy Graham is telling the truth when he says, "God exists," and Madalyn Murray O’Hare is also right when she claims, "God does not exist." But these two statements cannot both be true. If one is true, then the other is false. And since they exhaust the only possibilities, one of them must be true.

No Wrongs and No Rights

If truth is relative, then no one is ever wrong—even when they are. As long as something is true to me, then I’m right even when I’m wrong. The drawback is that I could never learn anything either, because learning is moving from a false belief to a true one—that is, from an absolutely false belief to an absolutely true one. The truth is that absolutes are inescapable.

Answering Objections

Relativists have leveled several objections to the view of truth as absolute. The following are the most important:

No Absolute Knowledge

It is objected that truth cannot be absolute since we do not have an absolute knowledge of truths. Even most absolutists admit that most things are known only in terms of degrees of probability. How, then, can all truth be absolute?

We can be absolutely sure of some things. I am absolutely sure that I exist. In fact, my existence is undeniable. For I would have to exist in order to make the statement, "I do not exist." I am also absolutely sure that I cannot exist and not exist at the same time. And that there are no square circles. And that 3+2=5.

There are many more things of which I am not absolutely certain. But even here the relativist is misguided in rejecting absolute truth simply because we lack absolute evidence that some things are true. The truth can be absolute no matter what our grounds for believing it. For example, if it is true that Sidney, Australia, is on the Pacific Ocean, then it is absolutely true no matter what my evidence or lack of evidence may be. An absolute truth is absolutely true in itself, no matter what evidence there is. Evidence, or the lack thereof, does not change a fact. And truth is what corresponds to the facts. The truth doesn’t change just because we learn something more about it.

In-between Truths

Another objection is that many things are comparative—like relative sizes such as shorter and taller. As such they cannot be absolute truths, since they change depending on the object to which they relate. For example, some people are good compared to Hitler but evil as compared to Mother Teresa. Contrary to the claim of relativists, in-between things do not disprove absolutism. For the facts that "John is short in relation to an NBA (National Basketball Association) player," and "John is tall compared to a jockey" are absolutely true for all times and all people. John is in-between in size, and it depends on which one to whom he is compared whether he is shorter or taller. Nonetheless, it is absolutely true that John (being five feet ten inches) is short compared to most basketball players and tall compared to the majority of jockeys. The same thing is true of other in-between things, such as, warmer or colder, and better or worse.

No New Truth (or Progress)

If truth never changes, then there can’t be any new truth. This would mean that no progress is possible. But we do come to know new truths. That is what scientific discovery is all about. In response to this, "new truth" can be understood in two ways. It might mean "new to us," like a new discovery in science. But that is only a matter of us discovering an "old" truth. After all, the law of gravity was there long before Isaac Newton. Many truths have always been there, but we are just finding out about them. The other way we might understand "new truth" is that something new has come into existence that makes it possible to make a new statement about it that is only then true for the first time. That’s no problem either. When January 1, 2020, arrives, a new truth will be born. Until that day it will not be true to say, "This is January 1, 2020." But when that happens it will be true for all people and places forever more. So "old" truths don’t change and neither do "new" truths when they come to pass. Once it is true, it is always true—for everyone.

Truth and Growth in Knowledge

It is also objected that knowledge of truth is not absolute, since we grow in truth. What is true today may be false tomorrow. The progress of science is proof that truth is constantly changing. This objection fails to note that it is not the truth that is changing but our understanding of it. When science truly progresses, it does not move from an old truth to a new truth, but from error to truth. When Copernicus argued that the earth moves around the sun and not the reverse, truth did not change. What changed was the scientific understanding about what moves around what.

Narrow Absolutes

Of course truth is narrow. There is only one answer for what is 4+4. It is not 1. It is not 2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10 or any other number. It is 8 and only 8. That’s narrow, but it is correct.

Non-Christians often claim that Christians are narrow-minded, because they claim that Christianity is true and all non-Christian systems are false. However, the same is true of non-Christians who claim that what they view as truth is true, and all opposing beliefs are false. That is equally narrow. The fact of the matter is that if C (Christianity) is true, then it follows that all non-C is false. Likewise, if H (say, Humanism) is true, then all non-H is false. Both views are equally narrow. That’s the way truth is. Each truth claim excludes contradictory truth claims. Christianity is no more narrow than is any other set of beliefs, whether atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, or pantheism.

Dogmatic Absolutes

The claim that those who believe in absolute truth are dogmatic misses the point. If all truth is absolute—true for all people, times, and places—everyone who claims anything is true is "dogmatic." Even the relativist who claims relativism is true is dogmatic. For the person who claims that relativism is absolutely true is particularly dogmatic. This person claims to own the only absolute truth that can be uttered, namely, that everything else is relative.

Something important is overlooked in this charge of dogmatism. There is a big difference between the pejorative charge that belief in absolute truth is dogmatic and the manner in which someone may hold to this belief. No doubt the manner with which many absolutists have held to and conveyed their beliefs has been less than humble. However, no agnostic would consider it a telling argument against agnosticism that some agnostics communicate their beliefs in a dogmatic manner.

Nonetheless, there is an important distinction to keep in mind. Truth is absolute, but our grasp of it is not. Just because there is absolute truth does not mean that our understanding of it is absolute. This fact in itself should cause the absolutists to temper convictions with humility. For while truth is absolute, our understanding of absolute truth is not absolute. As finite creatures, we grow in our understanding of truth.


Truth may be tested in many ways but it should be understood in only one way. There is one reality, to which statements or ideas must conform in order to be regarded as true. There may be many different ways to defend different truth claims, but there is really only one proper way to define truth, namely, as correspondence. The confusion between the nature of truth and the verification of truth is at the heart of the rejection of a correspondence view of truth.

Likewise, there is a difference between what truth is and what truth does. Truth is correspondence, but truth has certain consequences. Truth itself should not be confused with its results or with its application. The failure to make this distinction leads to wrong views of the nature of truth. Truth is that which corresponds to reality or to the state of affairs it purports to describe. And falsehood is what does not correspond.


(Excerpted from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Book House, 1999)

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page