Relativity vs. truth
By Colten Kamlade, Contributor
The English philosopher Roger Scruton once said “a writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.” When Scruton wrote this—more than 20 years ago—I doubt he could have guessed the eventual ubiquity of the philosophical position he was criticizing. Yet here we are, at a point in time when theories of relative truth permeate culture.
So, what is relativism? It is a philosophy that claims that there is no absolute truth. All of the things we believe to be true are nothing more than projections of our own cultural biases. The problem with this position is that it is self defeating. When you say that you believe in relativism, you are simultaneously admitting that it cannot be true. This is because relativism states both that there is no truth and that relativism is true.
To clarify, I am not arguing that our perspectives are not skewed by our cultural, economic, or social position. We all have biases and it can be difficult to take an objective view of the world. It is when we take this healthy dose of self-awareness and turn it into skepticism about all of reality that logical problems arise.
In one of my epistemology classes, we discussed a statement made by an anthropologist who was studying First Nations people. He claimed that the scientific evidence for the origins of North American indigenous groups contradicted traditional origin stories. Since he considered these two ways of knowing to be equally valid, he did not claim to believe one over the other. There must be a fact of the matter, however, about where First Nations people come from. It is incoherent to say that something both is and is not true.
I am not concerned with whether individuals choose to have faith in traditional stories or in the scientific method; I am concerned with whether they are choosing at all. I regularly share my views with people, and they often disagree. Instead of arguing, they simply shrug their shoulders and say “Well, that’s what you believe.” Admittedly, this could be apathy. I believe it goes deeper than that though. We have been taught that all views are equally valid, and so we accept every view, even if it is inconsistent with our own, as deserving a spot on the broad spectrum of truth. However, there is no spectrum of truth, there is only truth; there is only one way that the world really is. It may be difficult to uncover beneath all of our assumptions and prejudices, but it is the goal we must always pursue.