Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why 'Relativism' doesn't work

(For enquiries about the book 'Okraalom', please get in
touch with my via the internet
or by writing to 137 Milton St. Christchurch
(NZ) 8024)

Is relativism anything more philosophically robust than just
a lazy thinker's attempt at self-justification?
(Perhaps, better put, justification for his own childhood

I don't think it is, but I must admit it is a popular attitude
and seems to act as an intellectual basis of argument for
'putting down' ideologies and idealisms, assuming
the 'virtue' of tolerance, protecting one's belief-system
comfort zone and avoiding confrontations.

However, if it is to be thought of as a respectable stand
from which to criticize opinions other than your own -
opinions that assume some element of universality -
then I think there's a basic flaw in it.
(Perhaps a mathematician can help me here,
as this seems to have something logical to do with the
weakness in 'closed' mathematical systems.)

Relativism says that the adoption of world-views
(if they don't do violence to 'everyday' proven and
obviousfacts) is a matter of choice. 'I' feel that
my world-view is right,'you' feel that yours is,
though it clashes with mine.
(I may appeal to the many millions of - say
- Catholics who agree with mine as against the far
fewer Buddhists that agree with yours,
but that's not relevant.)

Any world-view, sincerely held, is right for the
holders, and, for them, world-views that don't
fit in with it are wrong.

The problem is, the relativist has sunk the
platform on which he stands against the
non-relativist in offering any argument at all
against the non-relativist's opposition to him.
The relativist's relativism is his basis of
criticism of the universalist's viewpoint.
But how can he sensibly be criticizing a view-
point that according to his own viewpont,
is just as right as his own?

Well, he can argue (and many relativists do)
that there *is* no right or wrong - not even
better, more plausible or a worse, less
plausible, kinds of world-views.
But in saying that he is holding a world-view
of his own (and one not without implications
for how people might behave and form their
'values'). He is still no better off in
assuming to be ableto oppose more
'universalistic' world-views, because there
is nothing in the viewpoint he has in
opposition to these than could be said to be
any 'better' or 'worse' than his own.

Relativism breaks down into intellectual
'narcissism' or solipsism.
There has to be some element of a universal
truth - not simple factualities
- for formulating a world-view that is
rational, pragmatic, and of any value
to the ongoing 'global/cultural' debate.
With the collapse of relativism,
the question that has to be tackled
is why some - even dearly-held -
beliefs are wrong and leading us toward
disaster, and some are not.
That is the question that the New Atheists
tried to tackle.