Thursday, July 07, 2005

Relativism: Round Two!


Down in the combox, the friend's rejoinder:

he argues that there is a difference between truth and absolute, the difference being that anything absolute must withstand the test of time whereas truth does not have to do that. he says there are no tangible absolute truths, because we have no way of knowing that these tangibles will exist tomorrow... i don't know what to say to that.

I put the response up here so that it didn't get lost in the shuffle.

The more I read, the more I am sure he's just inadvertently fudging definitions of words. Something is called eternal, not absolute, when it lasts forever (more specifically, has no beginning or end.) Something that withstands the test of time, incidentally, is called a classic, although I have never yet heard the phrase "classic truth". Who knows, perhaps someone will surprise me. I rather doubt it, though.

An absolute truth is one that does not vary from person to person. If 'a' is true for Pat, then it is also true for Jen, Will, and Meg as well. That is what is meant when a truth is said to be absolute. While it is true that we have no way of knowing when the world or things in it will end, as Christ reminds us when He says"Watch ye therefore, because ye know not what hour your Lord will come." (Mt. 24:42) we do know how things are, which is what matters, not how things will be or might be.

I got the feeling that your debate was at least sparked by, if it doesn't center around, morality, so now to that.

There's a few things to remember about the laws that we are morally bound to obey. The first thing is that there are three basic varieies: natural law, Divine law, and human law.

Natural law refers to the moral laws that God has written on our hearts. As the name would tend to suggest, it is a part of our very nature, and so long as our nature does not change (ie, so long as we are humans) there is no reason (that I can think of, anyway) that this would change either.

Divine law refers to moral precepts and commands that God has given to us outside of the natural law, primarily through Divine revelation. Since the time of public revelation has ended, this too should be free from change, at least until the Second Coming. Minor clarifications are made, of course, as the ramifications and consequences of what has been revealed to us becomes clearer, but as your friend does not seem to be Catholic, and hence would probably not understand too well the concept of "development of doctrine", I wouldn't go into that. If your friend challenges you on this and you do have to give an explanation, I would keep it very basic and along the lines of "what was revealed to us in the time of Christ did not change, but our understanding of it simply became clearer".

Human law would refer to disciplinary laws made by governments or the Church of that are apart from both natural and Divine law. These laws may change at the discretion of the authorities, so long as they do not conflict with the other two. A classic example of a Church law that could change would be priestly celibacy. I am personally all for it, but at the same time recognize the right of the Church to change this. (Another example, just for all the SSPX-ers and those of that ilk who might happen to be reading this, would be the language that the Mass is celebrated in.) Typically referred to as civil law, I felt this designation to be a more accurate one.

Following this, morality can be considered absolute because:
  1. Human nature is the same in all persons (as evidenced by the fact that they are all called "human") and so the laws within that nature will be the same for all people without exception, and can thus be said to be absolute.
  2. Divine revelation was for the sake of all people, as opposed to a particular group, and so will apply in the same way for all people without exception, and can thus be said to be absolute.
  3. While it is true that the specific precepts of human law can and do change, the basic priciple itself, that of respect for the law, which can be inferred both from natural and Divine law, does remain the same, and so applies to all people without exception, and can thus be said to be absolute. (for more on obedience to civil law, here is a previous post on the subject)

I must admit that I'm becoming curious as to how the outcome of this will turn out. Do let me know.

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam+

"I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person."
-Socrates (as quoted by Plato), The Death of Socrates


At 3:50 AM, Anonymous susie said...

thank you!
our argument kind of died; we haven't talked about it in a while and it's been replaced by other topics. (example: he was baptized Catholic and is thinking about coming back to the Church)

At 8:56 PM, Blogger David said...

Tell him my prayers are with him through this discernment, and that I hope to soon give him a very hearty "Welcome home!"

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