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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Relativism is a Faith Based Belief Which is Paradoxically Both Relativistic and Absolutist

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes”—Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi

Let us begin by answering why we refer to relativism as a faith. We refer to relativism as a faith because it is a faith based belief. Has relativism been proved to be the correct philosophy-world-view? No. However, relativists instantly fall into contradiction by claiming that relativism is an absolute.

Personally, I have never met anyone who is a relativist. That is to say that I have met some people who claimed to be relativist but all of them, without exception, will state that all things are relative and then they spend the rest of the day looking around the world saying that’s right, that’s wrong, that’s good, that’s evil, that’s true, that’s false and you are most certainly wrong if you do not believe in relativism.

Pseudo-relativists appear to claim relativism for the following reasons:
1) When it is convenient.
2) When they want to tell you that they think that you are wrong but don’t have the intestinal fortitude to come out and say it.
3) When they don’t want to put too much though into something.
4) When they don’t want to be confused by the facts.
5) When they don’t want their beliefs questioned by reason.

True relativism would keep a person from making any absolute statements. Therefore, they could not, and would not, compare their belief to another’s and then deem another’s beliefs to be in any way wrong simply because they disagree. Pseudo-relativists actually believe in watered-down relativism, which means that they tell themselves, and others, that all things are relative but that you are wrong if you disagree with them. I have not met one single person who actually lives according to relativism.

Upon meeting a self-proclaimed relativist they will state that all things are relative. The first thing I would ask then is that they define, “All,” define, “things,” define, “are,” and define, “relative,” since technically relativists would be the first to claim that they define something one way but another person would define it another way (of course, there is some truth to this). Then I would ask how they know that all things are relative. Then I would point out that they are claiming that it is absolute truth that all things are relative. But while they claim to reject absolutes they most certainly believe that relativism is absolute truth, thereby refuting their own philosophy-world-view.

In other words, orthodox-relativism is itself a relative philosophy-world-view. Yet, practically speaking, those who claim to follow relativism are, in reality, absolutists.
The above stated facts are not lost on pseudo-relativists, at least not when these things are pointed out to them. At this point they move to phase two of the relativistic faith, which is when we find out what relativist really mean. We find out that pseudo-relativists are actually very strong believers in an odd form of pseudo-absolutism. What they really believe in is subjective, or personal, absolutism. For example, I had a discussion with a pseudo-relativist and brought up the following example: if what is wrong for you may not be wrong for me then I will burn your car. You would obviously not notify the authorities since, though you might not like the fact that I burnt your car, and you thought that it was wrong for me to do that, I though that it was not a wrong thing to do and so you must accept this bit of relativisms. But, they responded, that would be an illegal thing for me to do. I would counter that morals-ethics are relative and the only reason that it is illegal for me to burn your car is because people who believe in absolutes have violated relativism and have imposed this particular law upon us.

Thus, pseudo-relativists have very strongly held absolute beliefs and they know that you have them also. They then compare theirs to yours and judge your to be wrong if you disagree with theirs. They then state that you have yours and they have theirs and what is wrong for one may not be wrong for another and what is right for one may not be right for another. But ultimately you are absolutely wrong if you disagree with them.

Think about it: if orthodox-relativism were really true then a true relativist would have to accept the statement all things are not relative. They would be unable to refute the very statement which, at once, their philosophy-world-view allows for and is defeated by. They may not like this but they cannot tell you that they are wrong for believing it (at least not according to the dictates of orthodox-relativism).

Now a word for those not indoctrinated into pop-culture. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” is a statement that was made in the movie Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith. The statement was made by the good guy Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi to the bad guy Anakin Skywalker as they fought each other on a planet named Mustafar. Anakin was thus becoming a Sith as he crossed over into the dark side and became Darth Vader. In Star Wars lore, the Sith are an ancient cult that uses the dark side of the force.

Much has been read into this comment including a comment on contemporary earthly politics, as related by The Village Voice:
“‘If you are not with me, then you’re my enemy,’ warns the newly minted Darth Vader to his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (the still respectable Ewan McGregor). ‘Only a Sith deals in absolutes,’ Kenobi counters. Attendees at the New York preview screening responded with cheers, taking the exchange as a blatant Bush bash.”[i]

The real issue, whether a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away or in our earthly here and now, is that Kenobi’s statement is self refuting. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” is an absolute statement. Kenobi is speaking as a Sith, a fact that appears to have been lost on the script writers and the uproarious New York audience.

It simply cannot be true that all things are relative for if in fact all things are relative then this would be an absolute truth. If it is an absolute truth then it would not be relative. Thus, if it is not relative but it is an absolute truth, absolute truth is established and relativism is defeated.

[i] Ed Halter, “May the Force Be Over,” The Village Voice, May 11th, 2005 6:13 PM

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