The Different Types of Truth (and Why You Need to Know the Difference)

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

If truth didn’t exist, could you say so without contradicting yourself? This may appear like a silly question, but its implications extend to the core of human interaction here on earth. Without truth standing alone and outside of our opinions, there can be no ground for agreement or improvement.

With truth there are consequences. Everything that you do, where truth is concerned, is attached to consequences. What we call “good” is a favorable consequence, and what is considered bad is an unfavorable consequence. Relativists assert that all truth is personal and that no truth resides outside of the individual’s awareness. If relativism were the order of life, how unfortunate would this be to any unconscious people under the care of others? They could never be mended because their caretakers would cease to exist outside of their awareness.

Absolutists contend that truth exists whether we acknowledge it or not — that truth is self-sufficient. Absolutism is not self-contradictory by nature, as relativism is, and can therefore be constant. Considering that one of mankind’s primary needs is security, this is a fortunate truth.

But not everything has consequences, and not everything falls under the domain of absolute truth. These things are subjective, aka personal truth, and have to do with preferences. But the difference between absolute truth and personal truth is big. A truth of the human person is that we have to eat to live; if I told you that, it would not be a lie. What a particular human chooses to eat to stay alive is a matter of personal truth. If Fred preferred to eat a pound of corn a day, among various meats and vegetables, it would be untrue for him to say that you would need to eat a pound of corn to be happy and healthy.

If I told you that a person has to do his favorite things regularly to thrive, that would be a truth of the human person. When we become bogged down and forget to do what we love, it affects our mental well-being. If I told you that you had to rock climb to be happy, that would be untrue even though it is my personal truth. Whether you like blue or green or red better than yellow has no affect on your character, nor the world at large. Whether you live and love with responsibility and discipline has every impact on your character, your community, and the world. In relativism, there is no responsibility to anything outside of your self. With absolutism, you are responsible for every interaction you take part in, and are accountable for your actions.

Socrates on relativism

Since being a good man is all about accountability, it benefits men who want to make a difference to look at truth as an absolute. Let’s see what some of the greatest thinkers of all time have to say on the subject. The following is an imagined dialogue between Socrates and the Sophist Protagoras:

Protagoras: Truth is relative. It is only a matter of opinion.

Socrates: You mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?

Protagoras: Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me. Truth is subjective.

Socrates: Do you really mean that? That my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion?

Protagoras: Indeed I do.

Socrates: My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you, Mr. Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is my opinion, then you must grant that it is true according to your philosophy.

Protagoras: You are quite correct, Socrates.

This dialogue patently reveals the fallacy of relativism. If all truth is relative, then what one says or does has no meaning outside of oneself. Unfortunate for relativists is that our world is populated by other people who need clarity and certainty in order to conduct themselves honorably and to establishment agreement and progress.

Have you ever had an argument where the other person falls back on, “That’s just my personal truth”? All understanding between neighbors, communities, and nations is limited by relativism. If a person pulls out the “personal truth” card, there is no learning or meaningful connection that can take place, because nothing said or done matters outside of the person saying or doing it.

For instance, if someone indisputably owed you $5,000 dollars in business, truth would necessitate the repayment of the debt. Truth is the land of right and wrong where your decisions have consequences and affect the future. Truth is also the land of the living. If your business partner had no obligation to external truth, he or she would supply you with a bullshit relativist excuse. “I don’t feel like paying you that money, and it doesn’t have anything to do with right or wrong, it’s just my personal truth.” That is the essence of relativism: There is no truth outside of the individual and therefore no accountability or responsibility. Relativism is a nightmare.

In absolutism, one has to change oneself self to accommodate truth and to live responsibly. In relativism, no truth outside of the self is acknowledged, and every conceivable action is justified based on personal preference. There is no amount of wrongdoing that subjectivists cannot rationalize because they do not believe in right or wrong. Their world is painted in shades of grey, and “truth” is constantly shifted as is convenient. Relativists often accuse absolutist standards of right and wrong as being black and white, and unrealistic. In the foggy land of relativism, nothing is certain.

If one’s desires do not meet a generally accepted standard for conduct, relativists can simply change the concept of truth to accommodate their desires. In a world where external truth does not exist, there is absolutely no need for personal sacrifice or responsibility. But here is where the illusion of subjectivism ends, because without sacrifice and responsibility, there can be no human civilization.

Follow the next installment of this article to hear modern philosopher (and bodybuilding champion) Mike Mentzer’s take on relativism and absolutism. 

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