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A common criticism of relativistic moral and philosophical thinking, of the kind that flies the banner "there are no absolutes," is that by making that statement you are in fact holding to an absolute.

My question is this. What if we modify this claim to the following: Except for this statement, there are no absolutes." Can this be held as a coherent worldview?

  • There are no exceptions in the real world. The superior & interior mentality allows exceptions. I can't see a use of exception from a subordinate up to a superior. Superiors use except on subordinates to save time. An exception logically proves the original claim FALSE. For example, objectively I can't say All students passed the exam except Al. By saying except I am saying less then 100 percent passed the exam but the quantifier ALL expresses 100 percent. You can't have it both ways. You are using slang to take shortcuts when you use the term except. – Logikal Apr 14 '18 at 15:56
  • It would require an exception to every boolean statement that can be derived from a law of physics. Right? If I can say 'Objects are attracted to one another by gravity.' it would need an exception or it would be absolute. – jobermark Apr 14 '18 at 16:23
  • @jobermark, once you use except the claim is proven not to be absolute. That is there are case a the truth value is false & not true. At best the claim is sometimes TRUE. – Logikal Apr 25 '18 at 18:12
  • @Logikal Clearly not so. "You can divide by any number except 0" is absolutely true. – jobermark Apr 26 '18 at 16:18
  • @jobbermark, in some context zero is NOT defined as a number. In that case your claim before the word except would be true so cut out the rest of the words at except and beyond. If you say zero is a number then you conflict yourself. You make a set and THEN apply the rule because it is convenient. Had you listed all the numbers you could divide by this would be painstaking work. You decide to take a shortcut by doing less work. Apply the rule after you contradict what you just said. How about this: I have never murdered anyone except my wife. Is this an acceptable usage? Could it be true? – Logikal Apr 26 '18 at 16:47
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"Except for this statement, there are no absolutes"
  1. "This statement" would have to include the transitive closure of all of the supporting theorems and axioms, i.e. a suitable propositional calculus, definitions of all the terms used, etc.

  2. Coherence can be difficult to establish when one's claim involves the incoherence (non-absoluteness or relativism) of all other things. We can arrive at a contradiction by introducing a new statement, built using the axioms and calculus in response 1, that simply refers externally to your original statement and claims it is true. Then the original statement implies that the external statement (which is not itself) is not absolute. If it is not absolute, then it follows that the self-referential version, which must have an equivalent truth value, is not absolute either. We could therefore extend our original "This statement" to include the infinite set of all things consequent from it according to its axioms and calculus. How to ensure that an unseen result is not eventually consequent from one's initial axioms may be difficult to prove.

  3. There exists an identical statement built on a similar stack of calculus and definitions, but different only nominally, that is, that "This Statement" #2 versus your original "This Statement" #1. Thus it would be possible to build numerous such claims in parallel. However, if any one of them is true, then all the others are false. There is no fundamental distinction among the reasoning applied or the truth value assigned to each of them, and so if any is true, all are false, leading to a contradiction. Therefore the worldview in question is incoherent. A coherent worldview cannot assume that there are no absolutes not already contained in the set of one's own limited claims. On the contrary, it must continually assimilate other absolutes which are perceptible and/or consequent from the initial statement.

So in itself, the worldview expressed by the quoted statement is not coherent. By extension, this LEGO-brick like behavior of truth adhering to other truth applies to all propositions claiming truth, absoluteness, or coherence. Coherence itself is a function of truth with respect to other truth.

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Just declare your statement a hypothesis and present your arguments for this hypothesis.

In the present case this means to say:

I shall argue for the hypothesis that there are no absolutes. And I know that my statement "There are no absolutes" is a hypothesis itself.

Declaring a statement a hypothesis makes clear that

  1. the statement may be refuted but
  2. that I maintain the statement and present supporting arguments until someone refutes the hypothesis.
  • We are talking about self the consistency of statements. How does declaring the statement a hypothesis help? – njspeer Apr 14 '18 at 15:00
  • “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” – CriglCragl Apr 14 '18 at 15:13
  • @njspeer One has to handle with care self-referring statements. It's better to avoid statements like the example from the OP's question. – Jo Wehler Apr 14 '18 at 15:21
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    I agree. The author's statement is just a hypothesis. – Overmind Apr 17 '18 at 5:11
  • You are taking a cop out. Basically you are avoiding a refutation because you are not really SAYING anything but you are putting something out there to fish. This is obvious & intended. It like being FRIENDS with a woman want to have a relationship with because you are too scared of being rejected. You figure if you don't come direct she won't directly reject your advance. Slick! If the original claim has a truth value of true then the original claim becomes the absolute. There would be no times the value is false. Hence it would be absolute. That is the truth value doesn't change. – Logikal Apr 26 '18 at 23:39
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Claiming that the statement “there are no absolutes” is the only statement that is absolute could be viewed as fallacious due to special pleading unless there is some explanation provided justifying that exception. The reason this justification is important is that the objection may suggest a serious problem with the statement that is being ignored.

Let’s consider now your question: Can [there are no absolutes except this statement about absolutes] be held as a coherent worldview?

Let’s assume that there are no absolutes except for the claim that there are no absolutes. Is the statement 1+1=2 an absolute statement? Perhaps we need another exception for mathematical statements?

More seriously how can we form a logical argument showing that the statement is actually “coherent” if logic itself is relative? Don't forget that we assumed there are no absolutes to be a coherent worldview. How will we show that?

Either the list of exceptions has to grow or we have to take seriously that there might be something wrong with the original statement that there are no absolutes.

  • It makes no sense to say except at all in logic. The except concept thing is about authority. The lead person does not want to perform a laborious task. In this way he takes a shortcut and creates a set then he tells to to remove the exception and then apply the rule. It is simple if three students are in a class you can list three names easy. All three student pass the final exam.You list their names. When the class has 100 students, the authority doesn't want to list 87 names to tell you who passed the final. It is simply easier to remove the names of students who failed. – Logikal Apr 26 '18 at 23:46

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