# Can a relativist also be an absolutist about truth?

If your starting point is relativism (the view that there is no truth 'out there' because truth is subject to the individual) then you could deny the law of non contradiction. With this law out of your way you could hold that truth is both relative and absolute.

• And what would "truth is both relative and absolute" mean exactly? Relativism already requires reworking the meaning of "truth" making its conjunction with what "absolute" usually means unintelligible. One also has to be careful with accepting contradictions, without paraconsistent precautions, i.e. non-classical logic, the law of explosion would make every statement true and false. – Conifold Jul 26 '18 at 17:19
• It seems to me like the relativist would be self-refuting their own argument if they followed this pattern of thinking. Since they could argue that both the relativist approach to truth is true while at the same time argue that an absolute approach to truth is true. This seems to be a variation of Plato's argument that relativism is self-refuting; only this time, however, it is instantiated not by the absolutist about truth but the relativist their self. – Banana in a vat Jul 26 '18 at 18:03
• Lessee here. I think I remember this. PR (pure relativist): I deny non-contradiction. Obj (objectivist): I'm glad you agree with me that non-contradiction is absolute. PR: But I DON"T agree. I deny it. Obj: Yes, thank you for agreeing. It's so gratifying. PR: No no no! I deny non-contradiction. Obj: Yes, it is a brilliant proof of non-contradiction. <many cycles later> PR: Look here! I keep telling you! I deny non-contradiction! And my statement is equal to itself! – user34017 Jul 26 '18 at 19:10
• You are using "true" as if it had some predefined, and universally understood, meaning. This is not relativist's position, and with your use of "true" it looses its traditional meaning as well. So unfortunately the "argument" you are trying to make ("both the relativist approach to truth is true while at the same time argue that an absolute approach to truth is true") dissolves into a meaningless string of words. Meanings have to be taken care of before one gets to talk about arguments and "truth". Plato's argument only worked because he was dealing with very naive (straw man) relativists. – Conifold Jul 26 '18 at 19:26
• Perhaps this shows that it would be incoherent to suppose there is no truth 'out there'. It would certainly be impossible to prove it. All the same, I'd say there is some truth in the idea that truth may be both relative and absolute in at least some cases, depending on which way we look at it. – PeterJ Jul 27 '18 at 14:15

## 1 Answer

Here's an attempt to combine absolute and relative truth. It uses the notion of possible worlds, which may be a turn-off for some but others may give it a go :

Perhaps the most important challenge for comparative thought is whether there can be univocal truth between different worlds. For if there is not an interworld concept of truth, a concept of truth which is prior to and independent of any particular world, an ontologically neutral truth which is common to all possible worlds, in short, an absolute truth, then the possibility of rational discourse between worlds is questionable. The urgency of this concern is seen when the radical difference between worlds is appreciated. A world, in the classical ontological sense, is a particular categorial structure which materially defines what is possible and intelligible for experience and human understanding as a whole. What makes sense in one world may fail to make sense in another. What is possible in one world may not be a possibility in another. This means that worlds differ in the most radical way - propositional content and ontological possibilities being radically incommensurable between different worlds. And since meaning and truth are relative to a given particular ontology (for an ontology or worldview defines the very possibility of meaning and truth for the world in question) this seems to preclude the possibility of an absolute truth which is univocal, ontologically neutral, and common to all worlds. But since comparative thought primarily involves discourse between different worlds, and since rational discourse is taken to be concerned with moving toward the truth, one may well wonder whether significant discourse, that is, discourse between worlds, is possible. Thus, assuming that there is rational discourse between worlds, it appears prima facie reasonable to distinguish between relative and absolute truth. Relative truth is truth which is ontologically relative, that is, truth which arises within and is defined with respect to a particular ontology. Absolute truth is preontological, ontologically "neutral," and in this sense "transcendental," and common between different worlds. While relative truth is equivocal between different worlds, absolute truth is "univocal" over different worlds. (Ashok K. Gangadean, 'Comparative Ontology: Relative and Absolute Truth', Philosophy East and West, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 465-480 : 465.)