Many times in my English classes here in São Paulo, a student will make a comment that seems to me to strike right at the heart of a fundamental misunderstanding. The comment will go something like, “But who’s to say what’s right and wrong? What’s bad for you might be good for me. Everyone has their truth, after all.”
This is the essence of relativism, isn’t it? Right and wrong? Well, that depends on your point of view …
These types of comments sound scholarly and learned. After all, we must learn to appreciate all points of view in our increasingly globalized world. In Canada, where I’m from, we’ve taken this on as a national initiative, making a great effort to absorb all differences into our malleable and ever expanding national heritage.
But philosophical relativity is deeply flawed. In actual fact, we don’t live our lives by it either. If someone tells you a lie, you don’t say, “Well, maybe he needed to sleep with that other woman and not tell me about it.”
Further, we can say unequivocally that slavery is ALWAYS wrong, lies are never welcomed, goodness is better than evil. We may have opinions about these truths; those can be relative. But the absolutes are … well, absolute.
With all that in mind, let’s explore it a little further.