Absolute Truth

(I’m a fantasy writer and I wrote the following for my fantasy blog, but never got around to posting it there. So, I’m going to post it here as it deals with a philosophical question)

Today I’m going to drift into the philosophical (western analytical philosophy to be precise). Back in the day, when I was a philosophy major discussions about truth were all the rage (or is it rave?). Back then, I often heard claims like “There is no absolute truth.” Today, I just want to put that little baby to rest.

 

First, let’s distinguish: does the statement mean: 1) There is no absolute truth? Or 2) There is no absolute Truth? Truth in the first statement is a property of everyday propositions like: “It is sunny outside my window right now.” True or false? That depends on conditions outside my window. Truth in 2) refers (note the capital “T”) to an all-encompassing meaning-of-life like Truth: the TRUTH that will solve all our problems or provide direction to one’s life. Those who believe in an absolute Truth usually attribute such to God, or Love, or even something that cannot be fully grasped by human consciousness (both God and Love may actually be examples of such). Let’s go further and add the notion of morality. Most discussions of absolute vs. relative truth circle around morality. So, 1) becomes 1a) There is no absolute moral truth. And 2) becomes 2a) There is no absolute moral Truth.

 

To me, it seems clear that 1a) is patently false and 2a) is open to discussion. Let’s start with 1a. The easiest way to prove a statement is false is to provide counterexamples. How about: It is absolutely immoral to skin another person alive for your own amusement. True or false? Seriously, do you want to argue about that? How about: raping someone is absolutely immoral. True or false? Again. Who wants to argue about that? I think the point relativists want to make (if I can presume to speak for them) is that not all moral truths are absolute. Some are murky, others are even relative to a particular belief system. For example, the claim “It is immoral to steal” gets very murky if one steals to feed oneself or one’s family. I would count that as a fuzzy truth. Meanwhile, “It is one’s moral duty to attend Christmas mass” is only true for Christians. Hence, it is a relative truth.

 

Now, for 2a. Clearly, there are adherents to each side of this. One thing is obvious: if there is an absolute moral Truth, it is not easily understood. If it’s God, I think all theologians agree that the human mind cannot fully grasp His (or Her, or perhaps more appropriately, Its) nature. Likewise, Love or whatever else one feels inclined to posit, because if it were easily grasped, this would not be a very difficult question and the amount of disagreement on the matter demonstrates otherwise.

 

I could probably go on for weeks beating this horse with a club, but I doubt it would have much impact. Most people have made up their mind about this question and won’t change it because of something they read on my blog.

 

Anyway, does anyone want to share any thoughts on the matter?

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2 thoughts on “Absolute Truth

  1. “..I often heard claims like “There is no absolute truth.”….”

    Which ironically is a claim of absolute (ie objective) truth. This makes the statement self-detonating. See also “language has no meaning” or “Everything I say is a lie”….

    “…the claim “It is immoral to steal” gets very murky if one steals to feed oneself or one’s family…..”

    Not really. Most people would give a starving family a loaf of bread to stop them from dying. Hey, most people would buy them dinner. Therefore it is safe to assume that the only reason why the thief needs to steal the food to keep his starving family alive is because there is nobody around to ask permission. If there was then permission would almost certainly be given.

    So permission to take the food is ASSUMED given the dire nature of the circumstances (people are starving). This is perfectly moral behaviour. It’s OK to ‘steal’ a ladder to rescue an old lady trapped in a house fire. It’s OK to ‘assault’ somebody in order to push them out of the way of drunk driver who has mounted the pavement (and so on).

    “…“It is one’s moral duty to attend Christmas mass” is only true for Christians….”

    I don’t think this is really a moral issue at all – it is just pretending to be one. The IDEA of morality is being used to try and persuade people to attend Christmas mass. The statement implies not attending Christmas mass is immoral but does not provide any reason or argument as to why this is the case. The claim exploits the fact that most people desire to be moral and most people fear the social ostracism which comes with being judged immoral.

    It’s basically issuing a threat (blackmail). The threat is guilt and social condemnation. But there is no actual crime – no moral argument is actually being made.

    It is no different to saying “If you don’t attend Christmas mass a kitten will die” without actually explaining what kitten, who’s kitten and why it will die. Or it is like saying “It is one’s moral duty to go shopping at the mall on Thursday”. Again no moral argument is actually being made. Instead people’s desire to be moral (and avoid being immoral) is simply being exploited to make people shop at the mall (or attend Christmas mass).

    Morality is more than just a claim. It is a justification for action (or inaction). Therefore it is one of the most popular methods used to try and make people do what you want. But a moral CLAIM (it’s your moral duty to eat at my restaurant) is not the same as a moral ARGUMENT (theft is immoral because we own ourselves and the effects of our actions AKA our property).

    “..if there is an absolute moral Truth, it is not easily understood. …”

    How about: moral behaviour is behaviour which is universally preferable. Simples 🙂

    Classifying certain behaviours as moral/ immoral is a claim. If that claim can be applied universally then it is valid…. if not then we have a problem.

    Here is a moral claim: Rape is moral. Can this claim be applied universally? Can rape be universally preferable behaviour? No it cannot. By definition rape cannot be preferred by the victim because if it is then it is no longer rape. Therefore the claim that rape is moral is invalid.

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