Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Importance of Absolutes


We live in a world in which there is a strange dichotomy concerning absolute truth.  An absolute is a truth that transcends our own subjective beliefs or opinions; this would be a truth that is not my truth or you truth, but The Truth. 

On the one hand, there are plenty of people who live their lives passionately defending absolutes that probably reflect personal bias, rather than being truths that can be defended rationally.  I'm talking about supposed absolute truths like:
  • There is a God (somewhere up there) and he'll caste you into hell for all eternity if you don't follow his commands to the letter.
  • Free market capitalism is the only legitimate way to structure the economy of a country.
  • Every sexual act must be open to the transmission of new life.
  • Only one religion is true, and it just happens to be mine.
The problem is that we often inherit ideas about what is true from our families, our communities, from the political groups to which we belong, and from our religions.  These supposed truths may not make much sense at all, but they become our eternal truths, our sacred dogmas.  We live are lives according to them, engage in conflict when they are challenged, and sometimes are even willing to die to defend them.

I have no doubts that the world would be much better off if people exercised a but more discretion when choosing the absolutes that are going to guide their lives.  And, if you can't come up with some rational arguments in defense of your Absolute, then that should tell you something right there.

But in my humble opinion, philosophy is precisely about about the search for absolutes.  We don't do philosophy or ethics for the purpose of obfuscation (despite what undergraduate philosophy majors might believe), but for the purpose of clarifying reality.  The quest for absolute truth, therefore, is the goal of the philosophical enterprise, and if there are no absolutes, then we are probably wasting our time doing philosophy at all.

I also think that it is logically impossible to negate the possibility that at least some absolutes exist.  The relativists says that there are no objective truths.  But doesn't this claim itself take the form of an absolute?  The atheist says their is no God...again an absolute.  The skeptic argues that very search for the truth is misguided...but this rejection of the truth becomes its own absolute. 

In short, if you are doing philosophy, you can't really help making Truth claims, and there's Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  A good absolute--whether it is metaphysical, religious, political, moral, or aesthetic--can provide the kind of order and meaning to life that we are all looking for. 

I have plenty of absolutes in my life.  Some have served me extremely well in life and have withstood the test of numerous challenges from men and women much smarter than I am.  Others haven't born up quite so well under scrutiny and I am in the process of re-evaluating them.  In fact, as I get older I find myself continually reexamining the sacred truths that have hitherto guided my life. 

So what are your own absolutes, anyway?  Can you argue rationally in defense of them or have they taken on the form of unreflected dogma?  And if you had to, could you defend your absolutes if they were challenged by the contemporary equivalent of a Socrates?

You might just be surprise where this kind of reflection take you, so give it a try!

12 comments:

  1. The need for virtue ethics is absolute. Virtues help develop and shape our character. The most fundamental aspect of life is to live a life of happiness.

    Imbuing virtues into the human mind gives us meaning and purpose. Most of us want to be treated with respect and compassion. If we treat each other with courtesy, compassion, loyalty, honor, honesty, just to name a few, we could expect our acquaintances, friends, and family to return the courtesy. Virtues are absolute! We cannot possibly learn everything around us during our lifetime. As humans, we absorb as much knowledge as we can. Virtues should be one of them, since it has shown in most people that virtues are an inspiration to become enlightened inner beings of wisdom.

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    1. While it is nice to expect that people will respond in a similar fashion if treated the ways you mention, not everyone will act that way in return. Some people will not feel obligated to act respectfully and compassionately in return, but rather, they could even see the person who acts that way as easy to take advantage of when in need of a favor. Since not all people act respectfully and compassionately, virtues cannot be an absolute.

      -SI

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  2. Humans need faith! First, what is faith? Faith is the unconditional, unquestioning, unwavering belief. In my case, it is God. I believe that God exists. Regardless, my absolute truth deals with the need for faith.
    It is our human nature to be intrigued by the unknown. As humans, we desire to know. Therefore, we are intrigued by the unknown by either fearing it or searching for answers. For instance, we do not know for certain how we came into existence. Therefore, we create explanations to “solve” this unknown. However, our explanations are limited! We are limited by our lack of knowledge as well as language. We cannot comprehend everything and abstract things are harder for the human mind to grasp. Additionally, we are restricted by the words we have, i.e. our language. The ultimate unknown in conjunction with how we were created is why we were created. Humans desire to know their individual purpose for life and spend the entirety of their lives searching for that meaning and striving to achieve it. This is where faith comes in. We need faith, a belief in something, in order to discover our purpose. For example, I believe in God and my faith in Him leads me to try to live a good life and make it to heaven. However, I understand that this is not everyone’s belief. My absolute truth is that everyone needs to believe in something; everyone does believe in something. And it is this belief, this faith, which gives meaning to our lives. Without faith, life would be meaningless. Without faith in something, why would we do anything? Do I KNOW if God exists? No. But do I BELIEVE that He does? Yes! And this is my faith.

    Eric

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    1. How do you know God exists? Could you argue that evolution is the possible origin of our existence? Social Darwinist s believe in survival of the fittest, only those who can adapt will become the elite. People can use synonyms for the word faith such as confident. Where did faith originate from? Life can still have meaning without faith.

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  3. Wrapped in a shinny bow rests a gift made by elves and when unwrapped absolute truth is revealed. Just as the elves are nothing but non-existent fiction so is absolute truth nonexistent. Man has like the bow been twisted round and round by misconceptions of a perceived inconsistency in form spoken by all men who have since spoken of absolute truths.
    The great err has been committed was when the first man spoke and said that there are no absolute truths, as opposed to the correct form absolute truth is fiction. This has lead people to comment that he was making an absolute statement by saying there are no absolutes and so they went on to try and find their own absolutes to live by and all have been met with problems with their claims. Now if only this first man where to have said absolute truths are like Santa Clause and those elves, pure fiction, created only to comfort.
    Mark

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    1. What do you mean Santa Claus is fictious? Don't ruin children's fantasies of dreaming.

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  4. Every since I was a small child we were always told and shown by the example of both my parents that the one absolute that we were to live by was that as far and as much as we could without making our own lives to uncomfortable one should others who are in need.The help most of the time would be in the form of giving advise or being there to give support and comfort but also at times included giving money and food to friends or groups in or around our home town.

    It is easy for the most part to support this truth. Helping others follows in Jesus footsteps and the teachings of the scriptures.Helping others gives you a feeling of self worth (knowing that you are a giving and caring person who is not selfish). It is important to realize that many people are not as fortunate as you are sometimes and noone wants to see someone else suffering if they know that there is something(even the smallest jesture or kind word)they can do to help.valerie

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    1. I agree that one should try to help others whenever possible. However, it is hard to say that it is an absolute because unfortunately there are people who "beg" for money, for example, and are in actuality scamming you. Due to the "untrustworthiness" of some people, it is hard to claim that as an absolute truth

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  5. Personal gain should never be achieved by intentionally causing harm to others. Actions to better one’s life can only be carried out if they will not result in major harm to anyone. The actions do not necessarily have to benefit anyone else, but they absolutely cannot harm them.

    Success should be achieved through hard work, dedication and determination, not through deception or sucking up to one’s superiors. Success or personal gain can be viewed as anything considered beneficial to someone in the present or for the future that will result in happiness in one’s own understanding of happiness. A goal for personal gain must only be pursued if the actions performed to achieve it do not directly cause harm to others. Harm can be viewed as anything that will bring about suffering for another person. Overall, one must remain truthful in their attempts to better their life. Personal gain and success could not honestly be obtained if one has to live with the guilt of harming others in an attempt to better their own life. Unless, of course, harming others would not cause one to feel guilt. In that case, perhaps a test should be conducted to observe any sociopathic tendencies.

    -Stefanie

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  6. Faith is void of absolute truth and does not affirm the validity of the object of faith.

    Faith is a feeling that can only stem from an individual's mind. The mind does not reveal knowledge, it subjectively interprets information one receives from one's senses. The senses are constantly aroused by a plurality of sources that become stored both consciously and subconsciously. It is impossible to trace the influence of every experience one endures throughout one's life. For this reason, to take a strong emotion such as faith as true is to misunderstand the functioning of the human body.
    -Daniel Woods

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  7. During my solitary philosophical sessions, I have experienced an internal pertinacity or an intellectual rigidity that continually refuses to abandon the search for a vantage point or an Archimedean point. Due to the seeming incoherence of daily existence and the self-cancelling vacillation that has afflicted the lofty beings of philosophy; I have sought to eliminate the anarchic chaos and confusion that have penetrated into the innermost recesses of the philosophical mind. I have generally searched for the presence of a unifying and transcendent principle in a world continually beset by widespread ignorance and irrational, bellicose ideologies. The desire to achieve precision in my philosophical terminology is an unrelenting aspiration. I have never sought to abandon veracity in the presentation of my philosophical views. However, I will not deny that I have yielded to my frailties and innumerable biases. I have pursued certain areas in the academic fields of philosophy and history by providing tendentious misinterpretations of accumulated information. In a dimly lit realm, I have sought to acquire possession of an Archimedean point. Trapped within a labyrinthine structure that stores and compartmentalizes my rapidly streaming thoughts (Mental depository), I have attempted to establish an irrefragable philosophical concept despite the unending collision of incongruous and discordant thoughts. Those who seek to establish a universally applicable viewpoint often succumb to an ideological craze. As a result, the desire to establish intellectual (philosophical) homogeneity concludes with the acceptance of a bellicose ideology. These inflexible ideologues have abandoned the quest for conciliation and fusion. In order to avoid self-cancelling vacillation, I have assumed the position of an assiduous researcher of an extensive range of philosophical material.

    In an attempt to avoid a descent into the depths of intellectual bellicosity and fanaticism, I have sought to uphold a propitiatory philosophical stance. I firmly believe that if one seeks to acquire possession of an Archimedean point, the enterprising scholar should attempt to synthesize and blend discordant views by embracing an extensive philosophical definition. The scholar should seek to reduce the extent of philosophical incongruities through peaceful means and conciliation. In addition, the asperities of a narrow and inflexible philosophy should be reduced to impotence and a state of irrelevance by minimizing the severity of the rigid aspects of the particular philosophical school. I am of the opinion that the highly applicable and pertinent strands of philosophical thought have been interspersed with poorly expressed, incoherent and bellicose ideologies. I have always entertained the notion that the acquisition of a superior form of truth is the sole result of an unremitting analysis of widely dispersed truths. The minuscule seeds of a superior form of truth are in a state of isolation due to the dispersion of the intellectual seeds. The philosophical mind seeks to unite the multitudinous and highly varied manifestations of the superior form of truth. The philosophical syncretist seeks to amalgamate a heterogeneous collection of ideas. The syncretist possesses a superior absorptive capacity.

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  8. Conrad Jalowski (#2)October 21, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    The greatest opposition concerning the unremitting search for an Archimedean point (An underlying theoretical basis or principle; a vantage point) stems from the existence of a multiplicity of views regarding the historical development of the Archimedean vantage point. Concerning the Siege of Syracuse (214-212 BCE), Archimedes was regarded as the most clever artificer of the Syracusan Greeks. Despite the superiority of the Roman forces in the military branch of poliorcetics, the massive siege engines developed by the Syracusan Archimedes thwarted the naval operations of the invading Romans. At an earlier point in the affairs of Syracuse, Archimedes boasted that a sufficiently extended fulcrum and lever would be able to shift the earth’s placement in the hierarchical cosmos. For those who deny the existence of an Archimedean point, the reference to the impossibility of entering an external realm, or an area that is detached from the inhabitants of the terrestrial realm, forms the foundational structure of their opposition. I will propose two possible compromises to the previously listed dogmatic assertions.

    (1) The Grecians Panaetius of Cos and Posidonius of Syrian Apamea sought to expurgate the doctrines of the Stoic philosophy that were viewed as being objectionable, offensive, excessively rigorous, or culturally incompatible. Panaetius of Cos eliminated the asperities and inflexible doctrines of the Stoic philosophy in order to improve the general appeal of this school of Hellenistic philosophy during its exposure to the upper echelons of Roman society. An additional attempt to unite and collect the widely dispersed truths of philosophy was undertaken by Tullius the Orator (Marcus Tullius Cicero) whose greatest legacy consisted of the transposition of an entire literary genre from Greek to the Latin language. Marcus Tullius Cicero did not slavishly translate the rebarbative, contradictory and usually ill-written Greek philosophical texts that he had amassed during his efforts to acquire the precious texts of the Hellenistic East. Cicero was the first and greatest exponent of philosophical popularization. Through the processes of explication, dissemination, and the simultaneous process of vulgarization, Cicero sought to enlighten the Roman populace and to expand the boundaries of the philosophical realm. A compromise between philosophical rigidity and the popularization of philosophical thought was achieved by Tullius the Orator.

    (2) A second illustration of the superiority of philosophical syncretism and philosophical popularization consists of a detailed analysis of the underlying tensions between the absorptive capacity of paganism combined with its inherent ability to amalgamate and incorporate foreign cults, and the fanatical and monopolizing tendencies of monotheistic religions. Greco-Roman paganism thrived on the incorporation and absorption of foreign cults and Oriental mystical practices. Christianity thrived on the disruption of secular society, the bellicose and relentless proselytization of non-Christian residents, the extirpation of those who denied the veracity and sacred mission of the Christian faith, the imposition of a servile attitude and crude superstition on the masses of the Roman Empire, the lapidation and cruel punishment of sinful individuals, and the destruction of irreverent pagan texts. The relentless expansion of the Christian faith heralded the approach of universal decay and philistinism. The triumph of the bellicose and doctrinally rigid faith of Christianity resulted in large-scale slaughters of innocent victims. The spirit of conciliation and compromise must not descend into the depths of monotheistic fanaticism, unrestrained religious fervor, and philistinism.

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