Quite some time ago a former friend and I engaged in some rousing debates about God, absolutism, relativism, morality, etc. He was an educated Christian apologist, well read and versed in apologetics and Christian philosophy, and I at the time was educated in pretty much nothing. Well, except I had been a semi-well read Christian for many years before becoming, at that time, a Deist.
Anyway, some of our comment/discussions can be found here:
â™¦ Atheism and Christianity share in moral relativism.
But more directly addressed here, and with one of the many comment-conversation/debates:
â™¦ Absolutely Relative (the theme continues)
In these discussions, I would argue that when it comes to morality and concepts of “reality,” it’s all relative to a greater or lesser degree. Mark’s response is that’s a self-defeating belief to “make an absolute statement that there no absolutes.” His constant metaphor was that it was like sawing off the limb you’re sitting on.
If you read the discussions (and why would you? They’re banal, often redundant, and often just inane,) you’ll see that I try very hard to make him realize the problem is in semantics and facts vs. reality.
Since these discussions I’ve been going to grad school, earning my Master’s in English. Never in all my undergrad education had I studied any philosophers, no cultural critics. Not even the big ones like Hegel or Nietzsche much less the more recent ones like Derrida or Adorno. But I’ve been doing a LOT of it in the last year and a half now.
Image my pleased surprise when in my Cultural Studies class this last week, we discussed Adorno and Barthes and Frederic Jameson, and their ideas on the differences between facts and reality, and especially the issues of language and semantics (and semiotics) when dealing with reality. In fact, we even discussed directly the entire concept of “everything is relative, there are no absolutes” when dealing with reality which is different from facts, and all of it made problematic because of issues in language which is itself a signifier for ideology! Man, it was a heady discussion, but really thrilled me that some of the arguments I was trying to make a couple of years ago, had been thoroughly approached with similar conclusions as I had come up with, by people much more thoughtful and intelligent than I!
Which proves to me not that I’m that intelligent and thoughtful, but that these conclusions are just that obvious and reasonable. 🙂
Some of the gritty bits: Jacques Lacan came to the conclusion that the realities we accept are formed not by biological imperatives, but by language. Language forms our reality, more specifically, the signs that are created by our culture, of which language is one of. A sign being the system of the signified and its signifier.
For example: The swastika is a signifier. But of what? You will get five completely different answers depending on if you ask a Nazi, a Jewish American, a Hindu, a southwestern native American, or a Buddhist Korean. The signifier, the swastika, has no inherent meaning, no absolute meaning. It has whatever meaning we attach to it, and then that sign forms part of our reality.
That makes sense when you’re dealing with something “small” like a single symbol: a logo, restroom signs, a word (poison in English and poison in German have very different meanings). But it’s harder to grasp when you extrapolate that out into more esoteric, cultural concepts–but it’s no less true. Concepts of love, generosity, loyalty, honor, faith, have whatever meanings the culture ascribes to them. The culture, according to Adorno, Marx, etc., is the result of ideology promoted by the ruling class.
In any case, the “reality” we all accept personally and culturally is quite different from facts. Things like 2+2=4, and aluminum boils at X temperature. Although the meaning of the number 4 and the word “aluminum” are imbued with cultural significance and is subject to relative reality, the facts they are intended to convey are universal absolutes.
To make a statement like “there are no absolutes” is exempt from it’s seeming paradox because the linguistics of the statement and the reality its reflecting on exist on two different layers of apprehension.