A dialogue on relativism

by Matt Slick

Relativism is the philosophical position that all points of view are equally valid and that all truth is relative to the individual.  But, if we look further, we see that this proposition is not logical.  In fact, it is self-refuting.

Following is a dialogue which I invented to illustrate a truth. 


Matt: I don't believe that all points of view are equally valid.
Jan: Why not?
Matt: Because it doesn't make sense that everything is relative.  That wouldn't be logical.
Jan: Ah, you see?  That is your problem.  You are using logic to refute relativism and you cannot do that.  Relativism isn't based upon logic.  It isn't the same thing.  So you can't use logic to refute relativism. 
Matt: If you say I cannot use logic to refute relativism, then you are using logic to say this since you give me the logical statement and conclusion that I cannot use logic to refute relativism because relativism isn't based on logic and that they are not the same thing.  I hope you can see that you made a logical case here for not using logic.  If that is so, then your complaint is self-contradictory and invalid.  Would you want me to follow a system of thought that is self-contradictory?
Jan: I can see why they call you slick.  But, the point is that relativism is true within itself and logic is not a necessary property of relativism.  It can be used within relativism, but it is not superior to relativism.
Matt: To say that relativism is true within itself is an absolute statement.  Don't you see that you can't do that if relativism is true?  You would have to say something like, "Relativism is true some of the time."
Jan: You are playing word games here.
Matt: I do not see how.  I am simply responding to what you said.  I think what you are doing is making assertions without proof.  You are saying that it is true because it is true.  In essence, you are telling me an absolute truth that relativism is its own self-existing truth.  This is an absolute statement, which again refutes the notion that relativism is true.  Furthermore, if relativism is true then relativism itself is relative.  In other words, if relativism is true, then relativism may or may not be true in and of itself.  If that is true, then relativism can be false.  If relativism can be false, then relativism can't be true.
Jan: There you go using logic again.  Logic is not the whole means by which truth is determined.  Relativism goes beyond logic to truths that logic cannot prove. 
Matt: Okay, then without using logic, can you tell why relativism is true?
Jan: It is true because it is true that people believe different things, and people have different perceptions of reality and what is right for them.
Matt: I agree that people believe different things, but does believing different things make them true because they are believed?
Jan: No, of course not.  But you must understand that we perceive things differently, and these different perceptions are true for different people.
Matt: I can agree with that, but I am not speaking about things that really are relative, like which side of the bed you should get out of in the morning.  I'm talking about things like lying, cheating, stealing, etc.  If relativism is true and all points of view are equally valid, then someone's view that it is okay to steal is valid.
Jan: Technically, it would be, depending on the circumstances.  For example, if it meant feeding your family or helping someone.
Matt: I see.  Okay, give me your money right now.  I want to steal it from you.  If I had a gun, I'd point it at you and rob you.  Is that okay?
Jan: Of course not.
Matt: Why not?  My view is that in order to win the argument, I must rob from you to demonstrate the absurdity of your position.  Therefore, it is right for me.  You should approve.
Jan: But I cannot, because it isn't right for me that you steal from me.
Matt: Oh, so relativism has boundaries?  It is true only for the individual, no one else?
Jan: In that case yes.
Matt: Then relativism isn't a universal truth is it?  If it is only true for individuals on an individual basis, it may or may not be true or false, right or wrong, or whatever.  It is just a kind of "whatever you want to do and feel" philosophy.
Jan: Sort of, but you can't harm anyone else.
Matt: Are you saying that it is an absolute that you are not to harm anyone else?
Jan: There you go again turning this into an argument on absolutes.
Matt: But I am only following your lead.  You're the one who said that relativism is true because it is true.  Correct?
Jan: Yes, I said that, but you have to understand that it is relative to the individual.
Matt: If relativism is true because it is true, then can I say that it is false because it is false?
Jan: You could if you wanted to.
Matt: Then would it be false or not?
Jan: It would be false for you.
Matt: But that isn't what I said.  I said it was false.... "because it is false."  I didn't say it was false for me.  I said that it is by nature false.  Don't you see?  You said it was true "because it is true."  You spoke of it as being true "by nature."  You implied an absolute quality to relativism as a real truth.  If I can do the same thing in the opposite direction, then how does my assertion become different in nature than yours?  In other words, "by nature" it is true and "by nature" it is false.  Both cannot be true.  Therefore, relativism doesn't work.
Jan: What you are doing is using logic again.  Relativism and logic are different things.  You cannot use one thing to judge another.
Matt: But you just did.  You made a statement and drew a conclusion.  You said that relativism and logic are different.  Then you said that I cannot use one to judge the other.  In other words, you made a statement and drew a logical conclusion.  Look.  If you want to validate relativism using relativism, then why do you keep using logic to do it?
Jan: You keep going back to these logic games.  You have to understand that they are simply different.
Matt: So then, what you are saying is that I am not allowed to examine relativism in a logical manner.  Correct?
Jan: Correct.
Matt: You want truth, right?
Jan: Of course.
Matt: But, if I must accept that relativism is simply true, how can I possibly know if it is ever false?  What you are saying is that it is never false.  If it is never false, then it is always true.  If it is always true, then it isn't relative, is it?
Jan: There you go using logic again.
Matt: I'm trying to ask questions, but it seems that you want me to avoid thinking and just accept relativism as true.  If I were to say that relativism is true, then it is absolutely true that relativism is true which would mean that the opposing view that relativism is false could not be true...which would mean that relativism is not true since it states that all views are true.  It seems to me that the only way relativism is true, is if you stop thinking logically and just accept by blind faith that it is true.
Jan: This is the problem with the western, Aristotelian logic system.  It teaches you that there are absolutes when there are not.  
Matt: But to say there are not absolutes is an absolute statement, which is self-refuting.  Again, it seems the only way to accept relativism is to not think logically.  You have to believe it on faith.
Jan: The nature of relativism is that it is not subject to logic.  No logical reasons are necessary to establish this.  Relativism, by its nature, is not of logic, but beyond logic.  The essence of relativism is that relativism itself is true.
Matt: Then you are simply stating that relativism is true without proving it.  In other words, you can't prove it.  You just say it is true and that's it.
Jan: We are getting nowhere.
Matt: I disagree.  I think we are making great progress.
Jan: See?  It is how you perceive it, isn't it?
Matt: Then, is it valid that we have made progress?  After all, relativism says that all points of view are equally valid.
Jan: It's valid for you, not for me.
Matt: Here we go again...


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.