I thought taking philosophy during my last semester was going to be a fun and “eye-opening” class that would be great to end college with. But early in the semester I am realizing that it wasn’t exactly what I expected.
Fun at times, but often frustrating, this class has opened my eyes. Everything is relative in this class. Everyone’s beliefs belong to them, and there is neither truth nor falsehood. These class discussions were going nowhere because the barrier of relative truth stands in the way.
Like everyone it seems these days, at first it seemed there was no better forum to spew out my annoyance and opinions than Facebook and I posted this:
“Philosophy – the art of asking questions without ever having the intention of answering them, and rejecting all notions of truth to avoid the feeling of needing to change ourselves or our society”
I removed it quickly because I realized that it wasn’t completely true, and that it shouldn’t be true. We can look at philosophy and find the answers to our questions. Sometimes the truth doesn’t feel so good, and that’s where this class has been stopping. What’s the point of searching for an answer if we shy away from anything that might say we were initially wrong?
We were discussing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work entitled “Circles.”
His argument is that because nature is constantly evolving and because our actions seek to “outdo” previous actions that there can be no universal truth, because the truth of reality is consistently changing. That for every circle drawn, every horizon we see, we are able to draw another circle outside of it or go beyond that horizon. We are essentially limitless.
His discussion of growth and development is clearly a part of life, and it is engrained into every aspect of the world. We live in a world that has a story to it. It is progressing. It has a plot line. So I agree with his idea of pursuing excellence and development but there are two problems I find in his conclusion.
1. Just because the world is changing does not mean that there is no existence of an overarching truth.
2. And just because growth is not limited in certain aspects of our life, does not mean that we have no limitations.
Here’s an illustration of that first point. A doctor is diagnosing a patient. Given the symptoms, the doctor is able to bring down the possible source or cause of illness down to 10 possibilities. Even though the doctor is not completely sure at first which of these 10 are in fact the true source of sickness, we cannot conclude that nothing is causing an illness. We can’t state that because we don’t know, that nobody knows or that there isn’t a true illness causing it. Our perception and knowledge have no influence on truth.
Or take this example. One thousand years ago, if I had two rocks and a friend gave me two more rocks, I would have four rocks. The same would be true today, ten thousand years ago, and ten thousand years in the future.
And if someone were to state that I in fact had five rocks and not four, would we conclude that because we can’t agree that therefore to me it is four rocks and to him it is five? Would we say the number of rocks is relative? Or would we say that it is impossible to know the truth because there are conflicting perspectives?
There are laws and facts that do in fact stay true throughout time and so to say everything is relative is to not address the point that there is some storyline that is existent in this universe. Whether or not it is a good or bad story is another discussion.
And despite the fact that everyone’s carrying cell phones, driving cars, flying across the globe, and are more immersed in a technology-driven world, have we really changed over time?
Have we changed? Shootings and wars still occur. People steal and people lie just like they did centuries ago. We stab the backs of others, we look out for number one despite the small internal urge that throughout time has told us to care for others and to be above these temptations and poor moral decisions.
To answer the second point, the shortcomings of man’s ability to abide its own moral code is a circle we can’t break out of and that we clearly have limitations on.
Until we acknowledge our own boundaries and limitations, we will continue to accept the notion that truth is relative. And as long as we believe this statement, that essentially states that you don’t have to and shouldn’t align yourself with anything that may suggest that we change. And the big danger of relativity is that we may just be missing out on hearing the truth.