What is True to You is Not True to Me

The statement in the title above has been completely misrepresented, misinterpreted, over-used and used to attack a lot in the past four years. My philosophy professor at Tyndale, my favourite professor at Tyndale, simply dismissed the whole concept of relative truth by looking at the statement “what is true to you isn’t true to me” by responding “well is that true?” and then all of sudden in my frosh-eager-to-stump-my-atheist-friend-mindset I was amazed at the brilliance and bought into it. I guess I didn’t realize how in depth philosophers must have searched out the idea of relative truth and to simple throw four words at it wouldn’t really do it justice.

When I got into a discussion with a few of my close friends the other day, I was asked if I believe in absolute truth. I don’t. I think the terminology of absolute truth is redundant and used to do nothing but manipulate. If something is true, it doesn’t need to be absolutely true, it simply is just true. So if you asked me if I believe in truth, I do. I believe in truth. I believe that there is truth in the idea that there are some things that are real, genuine and authentic. I believe that there is truth in that truth means actuality or existence. I believe that there are indisputable facts and propositions. But to simply tack on the word absolute before it is to say a lot more than do I believe in truth that is perfect, because truth in itself, by definition is perfect.

Though I believe in truth I do not believe that anyone has absolute truth, meaning that I don’t believe that anyone can full possess or grasp perfect and pure truth completely. I think that we all have bits and pieces and we are all trying to understand them better and we are growing into a better relationship with truth. For anyone to say I have the absolute truth on a matter is na├»ve and uneducated. To have the absolute truth is to be God.

The idea of “what is true to me isn’t true to you” comes from our inability to admit that we are wrong. It has validity if you mean that what “I believe to be truth isn’t what you believe to be truth” (which I think is what most people mean). What people believe though is how people live, truth or not, that is why the argument is so prevalent and that’s why when we try to wrap our minds around it, its difficult. Usually when the argument is brought up and the question is asked “do you believe in absolute truth” it means that they are trying to prove that they are right about something. We need to keep in mind that most “relativists” (using the term loosely) don’t believe that there is no truth that is true for everyone; they simply are very sympathetic to what people believe to be true.

Truth separated from relationship or circumstance is not very valuable. I guarantee that those that have had abortions would not simply hold the absolute truth that abortion is wrong, for some reason abortion is so much deeper than simply it’s right or wrong. I can hold up a sign that says homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle, but when my kid comes out of the closet I’m going to have a lot harder time holding onto that belief.

What people believe to be true is relative. It is what people believe to be true that governs people’s lives and their actions, not what is real truth. Real truth is very scarce and anyone that starts sitting back, pointing out what is an absolute truth and what isn’t needs to be careful because absolute truth only exists in a person, not in a set of propositions.

11 Comments

  • You might want to take a look at Simon Blackburn’s book, Truth: A Guide. The way in which you characterize ‘absolute’ here is probably in terms only fundamentalists would accept, whereas those from an idealist, Hegelian/neo-Aristotelean tradition have a much more complicated, robust sense of absolute, that can’t be dismissed as a mere adjective of manipulation. I recommend the book because it’s not overly long, and Blackburn’s prose is accessible to getting at many of the historic debates surround the term (and the adjective absolute). But I usually reject absolute because it often comes from the mouth of Christians who don’t really know what they’re talking about, not because it is inherenlty flawed concept from a deep theological/philosophical standpoint.

  • Nathan, was doing some reading today and thought you might want to look up: Philip Kenneson, “There’s no such thing as Objective Truth, and it’s a good thing, too”, in Christian Apologetics in a Postmodern World.

  • If the death of Jesus on the Cross did not absolutely happen, then your faith is in vain. So let me ask you, do you believe in an absolute truth?

    Whether someone can fully grasp absolute truth is very different then absolute truth not existing. You seem to make these two ideas the same thing.

  • I don’t make them the same thing, that is what the last paragraph said.

    “What people believe to be true is relative. It is what people believe to be true that governs peoples lives and their actions, not what is real truth. Real truth is very scarce and anyone that starts sitting back, pointing out what is an absolute truth and what isnt needs to be careful because absolute truth only exists in a person, not in a set of propositions.”

    Yes I believe the death of Jesus happened, but I just think its redundant to put the word absolute in front of it, what’s the point of using the adjective? Does it make it more true?

  • Nathan,
    we agree to some degree. yes the absolute truth is rooted in a person, but how do we get to know this person? Do people just have their own interpretation of who this person is or has he revealed himself or herself in some way that is absolute?

  • That is coming.
    Right now I’m more just trying to define where truth comes from and how people relate to that, I’m going to get into how we go about knowing that.

  • Wouldn’t you say that these two questions are connected. Where truth comes from has to do with your understanding of what truth is. Even the fact that you mention truth is a person will reflect how you understand truth.

    Truth cannot be relative. That would not make it truth but opinion. Truth by it’s nature is absolute and exclusive.

  • I don’t think truth is relative, but people’s opinion on what truth is is relative and it is those opinions what govern people’s lives. Do you agree with that? Basically that is the point I was trying to make through this whole post.

    Yes they are related questions but I still think they are different questions.

  • Truth – The Ford Focus (2001, green) is the best automobile for its price and quality ever made. (With the exception of the Topaz).

    Absolute truth – Just go to Wikipedia and make it so. If enough people agree with you, then it has to be absolute!!!!

  • nathan.. you said something to the effect that no one person has “absolute truth”.. which i think everyone can agree… but you also said that people have pieces of the truth… so does that not mean that there is an absolute truth? the pieces must fit together to form a truth that is absolute… otherwise the pieces of truth are debatable whether they are pieces of truth at all….
    near as i can figure.. you beleive in absolute truth, but you just dont want to call it that…
    but again.. i didnt pay as much attention in philosophy as i should have and my arguments are likely to be fallible…

  • Well, I don’t think that truth equals a sum of all its parts, or vice versa, a sum of all its parts equals truth. It’s those fallacies that I learned in critical reasoning. Forget what they are called, but we can’t just make the leap either way.

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