Over the centuries of human experience, there are few things that don’t change. Nations rise and fall, continents shift, culture changes and evolves. One thing, however, that never changes, no matter how long humans have existed on earth, is that they disagree with each other. Every human has his own worldview, the way he sees the world, and it contradicts everyone else’s. Many ideological conflicts, including most of the current controversial issues, can be traced back to one central disagreement: the definition of truth. More specifically, whether truth is absolute or relative, whether it changes or not; this is the issue that has haunted humanity for millennia.
Truth, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the real facts about something” (Merriam). The first and more traditional school of thought is that truth doesn’t change, and that it is absolute. Subscribers to this school believe that right and wrong do not change from person to person, and that the truth is the truth. The second school is made up of proponents of relative truth, who believe that truth differs from person to person. The conflict between these thoughts has existed for centuries, and it isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. In the modern context, “tolerance” has become a rampant ideal as a substitute for equality. The problem with tolerance is that it is being taken into the realm of truth. The main conflict lies in defining what exactly tolerance is. A believer in absolute truth will say that tolerance is respecting another’s views, while a relativist will tell you that all views are equal. Despite the recent popularity of relativism, various logical arguments exist that point towards the existence of absolute truth and morality being, well, true.
The first case against relativism can be found in the argument itself. If any sort of debate is established between the two variants of truth, then relative truth has already conceded the fact that it is possible, even necessary, to absolutely determine which brand of truth is the “true” one. This coincides with the argument often made in this discussion “there are no absolute truths,” which is an absolute statement, thereby nullifying itself. It happens over and over again; “When you follow the logic, relativist arguments will always contradict themselves” (Absolute). This is the most commonly known fallacy in relativism, but it itself does not simply end the argument, as the idea of relativism still persists.
A second problem arises when considering relativism in the context of morality – a context most often used today. The relativist view is that different kinds of morality exist, and that as long as each person follows their own morality, with the only rule being not to interfere with another’s morality, then everything is going morally well. In reality, this is moral stagnation. The main argument for moral relativism is that “ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person's individual choice” (Moral). By this very same token, however, it is a logical fallacy for two conflicting worldviews to be correct. To say that two different moral views are both right is impossible, as they could be (and often are) open contradictions. This is the very point that relativists make, but they do not acknowledge that this fact leads to the nonexistence of morality as a whole.
Imagine a primitive tribe in some unknown region of the world. According to this particular tribes’ culture, it is morally right for a human to murder another human in cold blood. Somewhere else, a man branded with a mental disorder finds within himself the moral urge to kill. We would say that killing is morally wrong, but if these people truly believe it is right, then who are we to deny that? No, we would have to stop them, because they are interfering with other people’s moralities. And the second you make an absolute statement that murder is wrong, you have just put one view over another, collapsing the entire basis for relativism.
If relativism is true, then that means right and wrong don’t truly exist, as they are only perceived in the minds of people. If that is true, then there is no reason for order in the world. Anarchy would be fine! Oppression, stealing, lying, murder, all of these things would be acceptable, just because that is how morality works. Again, this does not make sense in any worldview. Relativism cannot be true, because it would defy all sense of morality.
As a side note, have you ever wondered how morality exists? How do we even have a sense of right and wrong? If we didn’t, after all, anarchy would indeed reign. No, morality is ingrained into us as humans for some reason. We do have a moral compass, that small feeling one gets when contemplating a wrong action. This compass points to at least some standard of absolute truth, which again shows that morality does indeed exist. CS Lewis puts it best in his book Mere Christianity:
But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust… If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
Now, the argument can be made that relative truth and absolute truth both exist in different contexts. Perhaps it is absolutely right that murder is wrong, but being an alcoholic is more relative. This presents a new problem: finding the line. Where does one draw the line between an absolute wrong and a relative one? You could say it’s up to interpretation, but that’s just circling back to relativism. The line can’t be relative, and if it’s absolute, that just more strongly enforces the importance of absolute truth.
On the issue of tolerance, relativism holds up no better. Relativists make the mistake of incorrectly defining tolerance as accepting all beliefs as true, where tolerance is really just respect. It is right to respect others, but the relativist view “eschews any evaluation of other cultures’ norms in the name of tolerance” (Westacott). This is an insult to those cultures. Remember the murderous tribe mentioned earlier? If no one cares to help them learn what is right, then they will keep killing each other until there are none left. If no one stood up and said slavery was morally wrong, it would still persist to today. Tolerance also seems to conveniently leave out proponents of absolute truth. Any view is acceptable except for one that contradicts relativism, which is a contradiction in itself.
Truth doesn’t change, and neither does morality. By their very definitions, if they changed, they would cease to exist. Truth that isn’t true is opinion, and morals that aren’t absolute morals have no value. If we lived in a world where these two didn’t exist, there would be no point to anything we do. Nothing would make sense, and anyone could do anything they wanted. Relativism and tolerance, while good ideas, have been taken too far, and in their acceptance are now threatening to destroy any kind of society. They are an insult to culture and morals, and acceptance of anything is what leads to an anarchistic world.
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"Moral Relativism." Moral Relativism. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.
Westacott, Emrys. "Moral Relativism." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.