Dialogue – Is Truth Relative?

This discussion takes place between 3 friends after a follow up discussion prior to dinner at the local pizza parlor.

Yang: Man, I’m really glad I’m full; it’s really hard to think on an empty stomach!

Paula: I agree!

Yang: That Pizza place is the best! There really is no other place that makes pizza as good as they do!

Paula: I disagree. I think that the pizza place on the other side of town is much, much better.

Mel: I think you’re both wrong; there is no better place than the little store we used to go to, when I was a kid. It’s still in business too; only it’s about 7 hours from here, so I don’t get to enjoy the pizza that often.

Paula: Once again, we see that beliefs are relative to the individual.

Yang: Paula, now that my hunger is satisfied I would like to pick back up where we were before dinner. But, this time, let’s get a little more serious. Before dinner we all came to the conclusion that beliefs are person relative, that is, each person holds their own belief, but that beliefs can also be true and objective.

Paula: Yes, I agreed to that, but I was hungry, and I just wanted to get something to eat, and I know you Yang, if I hadn’t agreed with you, you would have had us talking about it all night. You see, I still maintain, and want to underline that while beliefs are person relative, most truths are too.

Yang: If you are to take that position Paula, who is to say that your truth that states that most truths are relative isn’t itself relative? Then we’re right back to where I said we would be at the beginning: If a truth is relative, then it could be false, and a truth cannot be both true and false in at the same time in the same way, that violates the law of non-contradiction, so a truth is either true or false, but it can’t be both true and false.

Paula: See, that’s where we disagree, it’s not both true and false at the same time and in the same way, it’s different to each individual; it would only be true or false at the same time in the same way if truth was objective, which is a position by-in-large that I don’t support.

Mel: That’s a pretty interesting view Paula. Perhaps you can help Yang out, by defining what you believe truth is.

Paula: Well, I think truth is in the eyes of the beholder, for the most part. I mean, as you pointed out a while ago Professor, from your perspective, it is true that the moon is shining, but from a scientist’s perspective, the moon isn’t really shining, but it is reflecting.

Mel: Very good observation!

Paula: So, while you used that statement as an example of something that is objectively true, in reality it was subjectively true. So while you can say, from your perspective that the moon is shining, a scientist could just as rightly say, that it isn’t really shining, but it is reflecting.

Yang: But Paula, now you’re the one who is playing games with words and puzzles. If Mel had said: “It appears like the moon is shining tonight”, then that would be objectively true.

Paula: And yet, his statement would be person centric. If I was blind, I couldn’t agree with his statement that it appears like the moon is shining.

Yang: Ok, so what if Mel said: “It appears to me that the moon is shining”

Mel: Paula is right, this still suffers from the same problem, it is a statement that is obviously tied to my perception, and so does it not therefore seem to be relative to me?

Sophia: Hey Yang, Paula, Mel, how’s it going?

Mel: We’re doing well, except we’re in a pretty deep discussion about whether or not there is such a thing as objective truth.

Sophia: Wow that is deep!

Paula: Yes, but I think we were just about to wrap it up. We just agreed that any statement that I make is obviously tied to my perception, and because my perception is relative to me, then, any truth that I state is relative to me. And as a result, any truth that you state is also relative to you. So, because all truths are put forth by people, then truths are all relative, depending on the person that put it forth.

Sophia: Well, that is very interesting. Mel, what do you think about this statement that Paula just made?

Mel: It definitely has some truth to it!

Yang: Do you mean it definitely has some truth in it for everyone, or for just you? For me, it still doesn’t ring true, and if all truth is relative, that means, it isn’t true, because I say it isn’t!

Paula: Don’t start that again!

Sophia: Mel, let me ask you this question. Do you believe in God?

Paula: Mel already said yes.

Mel: Yes, I do, and I believe that this is a person-centric belief, but that it can also be true.

Paula: But how do we measure truth, except through perception, which is person centric, and therefore relative?

Sophia: Just a minute, let me continue. Mel, you believe in God, right? Now let me ask you this, does your belief in God make God real? What I mean is, if God isn’t real, can your belief in Him make Him become real?

Paula: Well, to Mel, He could be real or not real depending on whether Mel believes He is real.

Sophia: That’s not my question. Can Mel’s belief make God real, in actuality?

Yang: No, God either exists in actuality or doesn’t exist in actuality. What you believe about it is inconsequential.

Sophia: So, could we say, whether God exists or not, is an objective truth. Again, what I mean is that if God exists, then He exists in actuality, and if He doesn’t exist, then He doesn’t exist in actuality. And therefore, God’s existence is either objectively true, or objectively false, but either way, it’s objective. It doesn’t matter what your belief is on this question, it is either true in actuality or not true in actuality.

Mel: Yes, that’s a great point. So, at least in the case of God, there is objective truth as to whether He exists or not.

Sophia: Paula?

Paula: Ok, I see what you’re saying; my belief about the existence of God, while being subjective to me, in reality is being held to a standard of truth that is outside of me, that is, it is being held to actuality?

Sophia: Exactly!

Mel: What if we don’t agree on what God is?

Yang: Oh brother, here we go again.

Paula: Seriously though, aren’t we then tied to our perception of God to answer this question? And we’ve already stated that perception is person-centric; so therefore the answer of the belief of God is relative to the person answering the question. I could think God is a tree, or a spirit, or a word, or a breath, or I could define God as that which doesn’t exist, so then my definition of God, is that which doesn’t exist.

Sophia: Ok, let’s get even more basic. I say that I have a rock in my hand.

(Sophia holds up her hand)

Now, let’s vote, who thinks that I have a rock in my hand?

Mel: I do.

Yang: I don’t.

Paula: I don’t either.

Sophia: Ok, so, does whether you believe that I have a rock in my hand or not change the fact that I have a rock in my hand or not? Can your belief, person-centric as it is, affect actuality?

Paula: No, I suppose not, so then we’re right back to the same point we were at right before dinner, all belief is subjective, but some belief is true.

Yang: I think there is one important thing we have learned though….

Paula: What’s that?

Yang: Well, for one thing, there is at least one truth that is objectively true, so we can certainly no longer say that “All truth is relative”.

Paula: Yes, but I would still say that most truth is relative.

Sophia: However, let me change my last question to be a little different, and let’s see how your answer might change. Let’s say, for arguments sake, that I am omniscient, that is, I know everything. Now, ask me a question, any question!

Yang: Is there such thing as objective truth?

(Yang gets this evil grin on his face)

Sophia: Tricky, tricky! Ok, so that’s your question, “Is there such thing as objective truth”. Now, answer your own question, please.

Yang: I still say there is.

Mel: I’m pretty sure there is.

Paula: I don’t think so.

Sophia: Now here is the catch, all three of you have your beliefs, and yet, in order to have your beliefs, you must presuppose that your belief is valid on each other. Yang, if you say that there is objective truth, then you are binding Paula with that statement. Paula, even when you say there is no objective truth, you are binding Yang to that statement, by saying that Yang can’t hold you to an objective standard, because there is a standard that says there is no standard. So, in either case, you are both asserting there is an objective truth that stands outside of your person-centric perception. In order to argue whether there is objective truth or not, you both need to appeal to something outside of yourself.

Paula: Wow, I guess I never really thought of it that way.

Mel: So what you are saying is, the fact that we are arguing as to whether or not there is objective truth means that we are appealing to something outside of ourselves as the arbitrator to the answer of the question of objective truth?

Sophia: Exactly right. And here is the final thing to leave you to think about. I am not going to tell you whether or not I have a rock in my hand. So while there is an objective truth, each of you will continue to believe what you believe based on your own person-centric perception.

Paula: So, to sum up what you are saying: There is such thing as an objective standard for everything, but, as humans that rely on our perceptions, we may not be able to always understand or articulate what that objective truth is?

Sophia: You’ve got it.

Yang: So, someone out there knows the best pizza place then!

Paula: You are a piece of work….