All truths are relative, and this is the only absolute principle.

wrote August Comte.

Anyway a radical relativism poses a serious problem: if every truth is always relative, is the latter an absolute truth?

(R) Self-refutation of Relativity:

(1) All truths are relative.

(2) If (1) is true, the truth of (1) is not relative, then (1) is false.

(3) If (1) is false, the truth is not always relative.

From the truth of (R), it follows that (1) "every truth is relative" is always false.


Refutation of (R):

(4) It is possible to adopt an axiomatic system where the truth value of (R) changes,

(5) Therefore (R) is not always true, and consequently (1) "every truth is relative" is not always false.

Is it correct?

  • The statement with TRUE are quite problematic when used in a "unrestricted" way. See Liar Paradox. Aug 29, 2018 at 13:03
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    I've used "simple variant" regarding the Skeptical assertion : "nothing can be known (with certitude)" (and we are certain of this). In any case also the Liar is quite similar. Comte purported dictum is : "All truths are relative" (and this is a truth that is "absolute" (i.e. non-relative)). Aug 29, 2018 at 14:25
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    What is true is that some truths are relational and the relations of these truths to each other are also truths. Aug 29, 2018 at 16:41
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    Did you go on to see what August Comte made of this assertion and why? How did he justify it and what prompted him to assert this in the first place. Whats the context of the quotation? Aug 29, 2018 at 16:42

5 Answers 5


A more correct rendering of Comte's "absolute principle" would be

All truths are relative, except if they are statements about truths, and this is the only absolute principle.

Since this "reformed absolute principle" is a statement about truths, it explicitely exceptuates itself from its own domain.

I suspect that Comte knew that, but liked the paradox for rhetorical reasons.

  • "All truths are relative, except if they are statements about truths". But thiis is a truth about statements: thus it must be relative. Aug 30, 2018 at 6:13
  • No, Mauro: all truths are relative, except if they are statements about truths. So, statements about truths may not be relative. And since "All truths are relative, except if they are statements about truths" is a statement about truths, it may be not relative. Aug 30, 2018 at 12:36
  • @Luís Henrique The answer does a great job in explaining the context (as the quote was by August Comte and if what he meant was different then the quote is no more useful) but I am afraid I feel that your answer still doesn't answer OP's question. What he seems to ask is : whether it is right to infer that there exists atleast one absolute truth from the given statement and that question still remains unanswered. May 10, 2020 at 18:37

How can adopt a different axiomatic system? That's trying to replace the logic we all know with a different, made-up logic? If not then this still falls into the problem of "is (4) and (5) true?". If you did then that still means (1) isn't always true since its truth value could change according to (4)(if (R)'s truth value changes then (1)'s truth value does too) so the problem is still there. Regardless, choosing an "axiomatic system that makes that false statement a true one" doesn't prove anything since you need a common ground to prove something and logical statements work because logic is a common ground so picking an axiomatic system you only agree on just means that (4) is relative meaning (1) is relative(since for others who apply logic without this axiomatic system have that (R) is true therefore (1) is false) which again just proves it's false.


It would seem that we can no longer be sure whether truth can be absolute or must be relative. Both situations are possible and logically are acceptable, even though they appear to be opposites. This implies but does not prove that the way we think (and write about what we think) is inadequate to the task of properly deciding and understanding what we are REALLY thinking and writing about!

Let us accept that without knowing for certain that this reply is correct or not, it does manage to suggest that to a degree we can manage to understand the matter of truth as existing in both absolute and relative terms. As Hamlet should have proclaimed: "To be and not to be; this is the answer!".


I don't think a relativist arguing that "all truths are relative" will do themselves any favours. They could say though that "in my view all truths are relative", so this one is relative to their view, and the problem has gone away, case closed.

The more serious implication is that a proper relativist needs to acknowledge that the relativist claim cannot be made from a superior perspective (as relativism implies there is none); trying to convince others it can be an offer (to take on the relativist view), and cannot be sold as an undeniable necessity.


It is trivially not an absolute truth, as a great many people deny it. Depending on your point of view, you can assess the statement in at least three ways, as follows:

  1. It is a false assertion.

  2. It is a reasonable opinion.

  3. It is a paradoxical assertion, because the statement itself purports to be an absolute truth.

You can straightforwardly resolve the paradox in 3) by appending to the statement 'except for this one', a qualification that many people would take as read.

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