I thought they meant the same thing, but after asking about it in a philosophical forum, I was told they are different, but how so?

Are there universal meanings attributed to "conditional truth" and "relative truths" or can they mean anything you want them to mean with each philosopher having their own definitions of these terms?

  • Is there a specific context in which you encountered these terms? – Eliran Jul 6 '19 at 21:56
  • Well, actually, I just want to know if one can substitute another, but to be sure I need to know if there's no universally agreed meaning to these two concepts. – blackbird Jul 7 '19 at 1:23
  • "Relative", e.g. culturally relative, means that something is only true under particular cultural conventions, and is false, or rather meaningless, without them. "Conditional" means that the truth is conditioned on something, but it may well be absolutely true when the condition is fulfilled, e.g. "if a>b then a+1>b+1". – Conifold Jul 7 '19 at 5:16

According to Wikipedia,

Relativism is the idea that views are relative to differences in perception and consideration. There is no universal, objective truth according to relativism; rather each point of view has its own truth.

A relative truth in this context might be one that is not viewed as objective.

According to Wikipedia,

In semantics and pragmatics, a truth condition is the condition under which a sentence is true. For example, "It is snowing in Nebraska" is true precisely when it is snowing in Nebraska. Truth conditions of a sentence don't necessarily reflect current reality. They are merely the conditions under which the statement would be true.

Conditional truth would be a truth that has conditions. It need not be a relative truth since the condition need not be "relative to differences in perception and consideration".

Since these definitions come from Wikipedia they might be considered common meanings for these terms but the person one is reading might define them differently.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 3). Relativism. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:13, July 8, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Relativism&oldid=895357583

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 9). Truth condition. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:12, July 8, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Truth_condition&oldid=896250680

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The term conditional truth can vary in meaning. In Mathematical logic a conditional truth is a sentence that has the IF . . . THEN . . . Structure. This structure expresses the said relationship is necessary; that is, if the first part after the word IF (words before the THEN) is true then the second part (the words after the THEN) must also be true. You can't have a true part then a false part in the structure just mentioned.

In other context the IF . . . THEN structure may not be identical to the math version. Sometimes one can express a sufficient condition for the structure of the sentence to be true such as "if you have a grade of 65 or above then you pass thus class." One may think how is that different from the first case in math. Well this example is NOT necessary or guaranteed. I can very well Still fail a class even though my grade average is above 65. I can have too many absences for instance or get caught red handed cheating on the final exam! Either way there are ways of failing the class even when the first part is true. The consequent the part after THEN does not depend on the first part literally. The first part is a WAY to pass the class. Many if . . . Then . . . Structures like this have many ways to arrive at the consequent--not just one way.

The relative truth you mention is another way of saying x is NOT TRUE 100 percent of the time. This is also called a contingent truth. For example, it rained today is not forever true. It can be true on Monday and false on Tuesday. Another thing the term relative can indicate is that inside knowledge of a topic is needed to resolve or understand the context. This still becomes a truth that is not the case 100 percent. A truth that is 100 percent without fail or exception is called an objective truth. Hopefully this helps.

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I would first start with the “fact” that there is an idea of universality and a view of relativism. Even under strong assumptions and rules like seen in axiomatic systems, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems help us understand that there are limits to what universality/existentiality contrast means and all the bunch of paradoxes or aporias directly or not derived –especially the famous antinomy of the liar. There is also an epistemological assertion that holds everything outside the mind is uncertain, which is called Solipsism.

An excellent approach to study what a truth is, may start with what is called "true" judgements. The truthfulness is said to be a quality that "truths" possess. What is unconditionally true despite time or any other contexts is considered absolute truth. Those truths that are determined by circumstances are defined as relative truths. In modal epistemology, you can find conditional "truths" while in deontology, you find categorical "truths". The former is linked to the question of what is necessary or sufficient (better in the sense of metaphysical possibility). The latter refers to what is linked to an imperative to evaluate motifs behind actions.

Pretty compelling evidence of conditional (sometimes interchangeably relative) truths that can be thought as absolutes under specific systems of proof is the well-known Euclid’s fifth postulate during thousands of years until the 19th century where it could be proven that is not “everywhere” true. This finding opened a set of axioms or relative truths to describe what is now known as absolute geometry, which avoids the postulate plus Hyperbolic, Elliptic and Thurston geometries with different interpretations. Cases like this abound in sciences.


Leibniz's Philosophy of Logic and Language
Modal Epistemology After Rationalism
Naturalism and Normativity
The Neurology of Consciousness: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropathology
The Categories of Dialectical Materialism: Contemporary Soviet Ontology
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  • Your last paragraph seems contradictory. You can't have absolute truths that are NOT TRUE EVERYWHERE. What you basically said is Euclid's 5th postulate is true under particular circumstances. If some has shown there is a place Euclid's 5th postulate Fails then Euclid's postulate is NOT absolute. People may THINK something is absolute and those people would be wrong. The term OBJECTIVE is usually used instead of absolute truth. Objective expresses the truth value cannot possibly change over time. – Logikal Jul 10 '19 at 16:05
  • Thank you for commenting, @Logikal. In fact, it's on purpose written in that way and that's the very reason I kept in quotes "everywhere". I wrote "evidence of 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑎𝑙 (...) 𝑡𝑟𝑢𝑡ℎ𝑠 that can be thought as 𝑎𝑏𝑠𝑜𝑙𝑢𝑡𝑒𝑠 𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟 𝑠𝑝𝑒𝑐𝑖𝑓𝑖𝑐 𝑠𝑦𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑚𝑠 (...) could be proven that 𝑖𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 “𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦𝑤ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒” 𝑡𝑟𝑢𝑒." Good examples of this phrase as it is are the barber paradox (a version of Russell's paradox) and the domain of discourse. Things considered absolute (or universal) end up circumscribed by the notion of their 𝑟𝑒𝑓𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙 discourse. – jonathan Jul 11 '19 at 0:12

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