Not so long ago (a couple years now) I held beliefs similar to many other modern, Western people. I believed myself to be inherently good, I believed objective truth is impossible, and I believed my ultimate goal in life was to be comfy and happy.
If you’re honest with yourself, how many of those beliefs do you also hold?
In a short span of time, I had my beliefs forcibly ripped from me, crumpled up and thrown away. I no longer hold any of those beliefs to be true.
However, going through the whole story would take a book and a half, so I just want to talk about the middle belief: objective truth is impossible. While I don’t think I can convince you of the possibility of objective truth in one article, I do think I can help you to reevaluate your current belief that “everything is relative”, or at the very least, that right and wrong are relative. They’re not, and that’s because relativism in the way that most modern people hold it is false.
Logically, relativism, saying “there is no objective truth”, is self-defeating. If relativism is not true, then a statement like “good and evil is relative for everyone” is not true. You probably buy that, right? Here’s a little syllogism to make it clear:
Saying good and evil is relative to an individual is always relativism.
Relativism is false.
Therefore, it is false to say that good and evil is relative to an individual.
Makes sense, right? If it’s a given that relativism is false, it follows that relativist beliefs are false. The hard part is showing that relativism is actually false!
Consider this: I make the claim to you that every truth is relative to the truth-holder. What’s true for you is not necessarily true for me. This is the heart of what relativism is — my truth is not your truth, and that’s the truth. While we could maybe hold the same truth by coincidence, relativism states that there’s no reason for us to ever hold the same truths because no truths are universal. The only problem: making the system work requires us all to believe the definition that there are no universal truths. Relativism, by merit of existing as a definition, makes the thing it is defining impossible.
Let’s look at it through some simple symbolic logic:
We know it’s true that claiming a universal truth means claiming an objective truth. In other words, saying something is true for everyone makes it objective. So let’s assume A stands for “a universal truth”, and B stands for “an objective truth”. That looks like this:
1.) A → B
— — —
So we said “If A then B, and we have A, so B”. If we have a universal truth, then we have an objective truth, and we do have a universal truth, so we do have an objective truth.
We know the above logic is sound, meaning it is both logically correct and all of the premises are true. Now let’s run it again, but assume relativism, which states that “there is no objective truth”, or ~B (not B). Relativism is supposed to apply to all people, so it is a universal claim, meaning we can assume A as a premise still. How does this play out?
1.) A → B
— — —
C1.) ~A (MTT)
C2.) B (RAA)
Our premises were that if we have a universal claim, then we have an objective claim, we have a universal claim, and also objective claims are not possible. By modus tolens, a rule of propositional logic, we can conclude ~A from A → B and ~B. It basically means if you don’t the right side, you can conclude you don’t have the left side, so in this case, we don’t have a universal claim. But we know we do have a universal claim! So then, by reductio ad absurdum, another logical rule, we can conclude that one of our premises is false because we reached a contradiction. We know that A → B is true though, so the only option left is that ~B is false. In other words, it cannot be true that there is no objective truth, and that is based only on the logical ramifications of making the statement in the first place.
So, all together, I doubt I have helped make any conclusions about what is right, what is wrong, and where to draw the line between good and evil. But, I do hope it’s clearer now where a large part of our post-modern thought falls apart.