The Troubles of Relativism

Science has proven a fundamental boon in comtemporary culture. To the extent that the word “fact” has taken on two meanings: a single true idea, and something which can be verified experimentally. Thus blurring the reality, the truth, of the non-empirical. What can’t be proven to others is presumed to be less true, or “true for him” — the one who had the experience — alone.As an Orthodox Jew, I believe in an absolute Truth. G-d exists, whether or not I can prove the fact experimentally or even if I can’t prove it in any way shape or form. That’s an absolute truth, not simply true for me.Similarly, the existance of my mind: either I have a mind or I don’t. The fact that I can never share my mental life with another person doesn’t change that. Artificial Intelligence experts tend to discuss the “Turing Test”. The idea is that rather than create a computer that has a mind, if we can create a computer whose output can’t be distinguished from a person’s, we have succeeded. That would be in itself an admirable acheivement. However, it must not be confused with the original goal of actually creating an intelligence. Yes, I can only assume that other people are like me and have minds based on their behavior. Yes, there is no way to disprove sollipsism. But still, there either is a mind or there isn’t. The unanswerability of the question doesn’t make the answer less real. Just less knowable.There’s a saying that the scientist is climbing a cliff, and someday he will reach the top only to find the theologian is already there. I read in an e-zine the suggestion that he would then continue his climb, confusing the theologian with being more cliff, only to find nothing. I think we’ve had so much success with our hammers that we’ve denied the reality of everything but nails.

There is also an absolute moral standard. People may be more or less aware of this standard, but there is one “out there”. People deal with maps of the terrain, some maps closer to reality, some further. Again, I may not be able to prove which is closer, but that doesn’t make the terrain less real.

Moral relativism is really a lack of belief in the reality of any moral position. Uncertainty parading as virtue.

As Orthodox Jews, we should resist the current tendency in language toward relativism. The dictionary defines a fact as an item of truth. If people do not also use it to mean “an fact that was demonstrated experimentally” they keep their own thoughts clearer, as well as slow the pace of society’s drift.

(This entry is not really an end in itself. It’s a prelude to one on “Rights and Duties” and another on “Psychology and Mussar”.)

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    […] The Troubles of Relativism […]

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