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Passions in Poetry

Relativism

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fractal007
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since 06-01-2000
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0 posted 04-02-2001 05:25 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

I've just started reading basic books on philosophy.  I read about relativism, the argument that there is no absolute truth, and that it can't stand because it is self contradictory.  

My question, for the sake of getting the gears going again and for my own curiosity, is this:

Is there any way in which relativism can stand without contradicting itself?

"If history is to change, let it change. If the world is to be destroyed, so be it. If my fate is to die, I must simply laugh"

-- Magus

Brad
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since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


1 posted 04-02-2001 10:40 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Fractal,
I really don't understand what you are trying to get at with these threads. Is relativism a legitimately absolute foundation to begin philosophical endeavours?

The question speaks for itself.

In the earlier thread, I argued that all absolute bases for phlisophical inquiriy are impossible for human beings to prove (or I tried to anyway) truth value (as opposed to pragmatic truth value) without using some form of assumption that is outside what is considered normal human functioning (some of these might be -- transcendence, ESP,  magic, religious revelation or whatever). Jamie's point still misses that he can never truly know himself or the certainty of his actions without a belief in, say, the assumption that we can know ourselves -- and this can't be proven in any absolute sense without some other form of reasoning or whatever.  Actually, I don't even know why he wants that particular statement to be regarded as absolute. What does it really get him?

You can assert it, you can't prove it. The same goes for relativism. You can assert it, but you can't prove it.

Hmmmm, can you assert a relativist position and act on it? You can, of course, assert any of a number of  absolutist positions and act on it (as Jamie's posts make clear). You can of course assert any number of pluralist positions and act on it. But can you act on a relativist position?

I guess it depends on what you mean by relativism?

If you mean that we all have different value systems and all are equally valid, I would have to say no. This means you can't do anything, you can't make choices, which is an act in itself, therefore a choice, and therefore a contradiction.

Unless you mean Liberalism in disguise. This is what most people mean when they say things like "you can believe anything you want". They never REALLY mean that, they can't.  Liberalism is not a relativist philosophy, it is a pluralist one.

You always seem so intrigued by these arguments and I'd really like to know where this motivation comes from?

Brad
Stephanos
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2 posted 04-03-2001 12:45 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

I have to say that I agree with Brad on this point-  that all absolute bases for philosophical inquiry are pretty much impossible for humans to prove without referring to something assumed as an absolute basis for proof... which is begging the question some may say.  However, saying that nothing can be absolutely true is a bit more deceitful in my opinion than 'begging the question'.  Instead of using the thing to be proven in order to prove, it uses the very thing to be disproven in order to prove.

Example-- If the question is asked "Is there an absolute truth"?  I might say "yes there is a God who determines and defines absolute laws, so there is indeed absolute truth."  There is admittedly a presupposition here, but the point presupposed is coherent or in harmony with the conclusion... even if not a legitimate method of proof for those bent on scrutiny.  But consider this... to say "there is no absolute truth", is to make a statement which claims an absolute knowledge of at least this one thing.  This is not just begging the question, but begging the enemy.  If someone debates with me that there is no absolute truth, they are borrowing (at least for the moment and sometimes without their awareness of it) my view that there are absolutes.  My view must be true for theirs to even be worthy of consideration, much less proven.  

So bottom line... yes presuppositions are involved in absolute bases for philosophical inquiries.  But are presuppositions so bad all the time?  They are not only not bad, but they are positively good if they so happen to be right.  We all presuppose much in practical living, and sometimes it's very appropriate.  Granted, sometimes it's not.  But to me asserting an honest presupposition for a belief is much safer than believing something that is undeniably and hoplessly contradictory and self destroying of it's own credibility.  And this is exactly the category that I believe 'relativism' falls under.

The answer to your question "is there any way in which relativism can stand without contradicting itself" is an emphatic "no".  I see no leniency in the arena of rational thinking and logic (which yes, I believe to rest upon absolutes) to accomodate such a view.  If you find some, let me know.

Stephen.
Stephanos
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3 posted 04-03-2001 12:53 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Just a thought... is this one going to rack up 30+ posts like those other threads?

Yikes!
fractal007
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4 posted 04-03-2001 04:14 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

Brad:

I just like a logic puzzle, especially a philosophical one.  I'm not really trying to "get at" something with them, just start discussion.

I agree with you on the several different value systems.  Although I am unsure as to whether or not the assertion that there is no "absolute morality" can or can't hold water.  I think that is called "moral relativism."  Doesn't this imply that you can do whatever you want?  I mean, it seems to be the opposite of the assertion that every moral value system is valid, in this case saying "there are no valid moral systems in the first place because there is no absolute morality from which such systems would stem."  Of course, morality is also in human nature.  It's also in the nature of many other animals.  

I agree with you on the impossibility to prove that there is no absolute truth.  But could one not simply reply "you cannot prove that there is?"

Stephanos:

I like your line of arguments.  Just to clarify for everybody, I am not a relativist.  Relativism seems to me to be a bit of a lax form of thinking, almost like giving up on worrying about the ultimate questions, because hey, any answers we get will probably not be true.  But still, I love presenting cases opposite from my own beliefs, for the sake of open mindedness and knowledge.  

Could the relativist still respond to the argument you've just presented by saying that it's impossible for you to prove those arguments?



"If history is to change, let it change. If the world is to be destroyed, so be it. If my fate is to die, I must simply laugh"

-- Magus

[This message has been edited by fractal007 (edited 04-03-2001).]

Stephanos
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5 posted 04-03-2001 11:51 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Frac,

responding to your last question...

"Could the relativist still respond to the argument you've just presented by saying that it's impossible for you to prove those arguments?"

     It has been my experience in the areas of philosophy and belief that people can indeed respond in this way.  The fact of the matter is they can and do respond any way they wish.  The question to me is which way of thinking  (from two or more mutually exclusive views) is valid.  

In a sense, anyone can say rightly that it is impossible to prove "absolute truth" exists.  I am, by claiming an absolute truth, making a statement concerning metaphysical/ philosophical reality which cannot be proven or disproven in the same manner as a simple physical experiment of science.  And people who hold to relativism can indeed say that I am bringing into the whole argument a presupposition... which is not proven, but of course presupposed or assumed to be true.  I will readily admit this is the case.  As a Christian Theist I am basing my assertion that there is an absolute truth on my world view which was not arrived at by empirical proofs.  I didn't conduct a scientific experiment to determine if God exists or not, or even if absolute truth exists or not.  It was a matter of personal revelation to me (as will attest many others who believe the same).  However it does not follow that my conclusions are illogical or unscientific just because they weren't initially arrived at by these means.  After the fact of my discovery, I just so happened to find that this revelation is also more in harmony with sound reason and logic than the alternatives.  

But people are free to disagree with me in the arenas of metaphysical thought and logic, and even in the areas of science since results are interpreted differently.  However, since I believe in an ultimate truth, I have never felt that these 'playing fields' were where the score would finally be settled, even though I may have to scrimmage in these areas (either with my own thoughts/ conclusions, or with those of others).  If I believe the basis of an absolute truth rests upon an absolute being, or an absolute mind (God), then I also feel that it is primarily his responsibility to 'prove' his own things.  Notice I said primarily because I think we do have our part, else I wouldn't even be discussing such things.  In the realm of philosophical debate, all I can ever do is show to the best of my ability that my thoughts have their logical support (not indisputable proofs).  But I can also show to the best of my ability that the alternative (in this case ‘relativism’) is without logical support.  So bottom line, I cannot prove an absolute truth indisputably through debating.  But I can show with the limited powers of logical argument that one stance is much more plausible than the other.  

Going back to my feeling that the ultimate conclusion of such an argument does not lie in the realm of logic...  I do recognize that some people come to believe in an ultimate truth, and an ultimate author of truth through the avenues of logical thought, philosophy, metaphysics, and the like.  But really these are just byways that lead them to the highway of personal revelation, or faith.  Different people come different ways to this conclusion.  C.S. Lewis for example, a staunch and well versed atheist, came to see the logical and philosophical contradictions of non-Christian, and non-Theist world views.  The turbulence of his mind caused from these issues led him uncomfortably closer to a decision to believe in God, which still required faith.  When his back was finally against the wall and he was spiritually in a corner, and God revealed himself, he had to believe.  Who can argue against God that he doesn’t exist when he himself has begun to argue back?  So while debate and philosophy and ‘proofs’ all play their part,  the crux of the matter is not really in those things.

It’s like a man who might happen to believe that there are no such things as civil laws in the United States (for whatever reason).  Friends, relatives, and passers-by may vehemently argue with him to the contrary.  If he wants to he can disbelieve, and disbelieve... But when his breaking of civil law incites a law officer in a black and white car to burst upon the scene and proceed to arrest him, his arguments are overcome.  This doesn’t mean that his friends were not being earnest enough, or that their information wasn’t valid enough, it just means that they could not provide the indisputable evidence like the policeman could.  There is a point I think in all such arguments against and for truth, against and for God, against and for moral law, etc...that the answers will be made indisputable.  I just don’t think I or anyone else can do that.

But there again, logically speaking... relativism is dead in the water.  And while I cannot empirically prove an absolute truth, I can logically show that it is plausible and that the alternative is without credence.  Relativism’s position on the other hand can neither rationally commend itself, nor discredit a belief in absolute truth.  All it can do is deny an absolute truth, and assert its own position without much basis.  In fact if it had any “basis” at all, the absolute position would be affirmed.  The root word “base” suggests that which is steadfast, unmoving, or a fixed point of reference... absolute.

Stephen.
SSL (sorry so long!)  


 
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