Everything is Relative

People love to argue. Often, to resolve conflicting opinions, people will “agree to disagree,” saying something like, “it’s all relative.” The idea behind this common statement is that everyone believes in their own version of the truth, which may or may not happen to prove true for other people. Saying that “it’s all relative” also implies that every version of the truth is equally valid. Unfortunately, important discussions are often abandoned to the familiar tune of universal relativism.

Let’s look at an example. Pat believes that there was a conspiracy involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. Tom, on the other hand, does not believe that there was a conspiracy. Of course, neither Pat nor Tom are willing to change their opinion about the event. Eventually, long before any resolution is achieved, Pat and Tom grow tired of arguing and decide to call it quits. “You have your opinion and I have mine,” Pat declares. “Yes, it’s all relative, anyway,” Tom concurs. The problem with this, of course, is that both conclusions cannot simultaneously hold true.

In fact, the statement “it’s all relative” is itself an absolute statement. Absolute statements declare ideas with complete certainty and without possibility for variation or exception. For example, the statement “Pat is female and not male” is an absolute statement because it leaves no possibility for Pat to be male, or anything else for that matter. Likewise, when somebody says that everything is relative, they eliminate the possibility that anything is absolute, including the statement itself.

Thus, in a world where everything is relative, absolute statements such as “everything is relative” cannot exist. Such a statement is logically contradictory, fundamentally false and literally meaningless. It is possible that almost everything is relative, but certainly not everything. If everything is indeed relative, then the idea itself must be included as relative as well. As soon as the idea becomes relative, it no longer holds true under all circumstances. Universal relativity is a logical impossibility.

Surely, a number of you have reasoned along these lines before. Even so, as I begin to present articles here at mindfeed.org*, I feel it is important to cover these basic principles before really digging into the heavy stuff. For some, the first series of articles will be a review of familiar ideas. For others, these discussions serve as an introduction to concepts that will be drawn upon quite frequently here at mindfeed.org. In either case, articles such as this make great cornerstone content, to which many references inevitably will be made.

As we close this discussion, let us reflect briefly upon the implications of this fundamental truth. If everything is not relative, then something must be absolute. Without opening a Pandora’s box of further discussion, suffice it to say that the presence of something that is absolute provides a perspective from which to explore philosophical ideas. Even better, the existence of an absolute truth is a great reason to resolve important conflicts, rather than dismissing them by “agreeing to disagree.” Rather than dismissing disagreement on the false notion of relativism, let us revive the fine art of discussion, sharing ideas and pursuing common ground.

* Note: this article was originally posted at the since-removed mindfeed.org.