Absolutism Vs. Relativism, Which Side Are You On?
Today, I found that Hegel is also known for having introduced the concept of the absolute in modern philosophy. Hegel defined the absolute as "the sum of all being, actual and potential." Absolutism or universalism is understood in contradistinction to relativism, which posits that facts are relative to one's perspective.
Hegel saw the history of human thought about the truth as a battle between absolutism and relativism: dogmatism Vs. skepticism. Proponents of absolute truth believe that some beliefs are universally true, whereas proponents of relativism insist otherwise, insisting that human truth is never absolute.
Aristotle and Heraclitus of ancient Greece are the world's first philosophers to embody absolutism and relativism, respectively, as understood by Hegel. Hegel's critics however accused Hegel of giving little to no consideration at all to Chinese, Indian, and Egyptian thoughts, accusing Hegel of being rather too Eurocentric.
Aristotle argued that knowledge, unlike opinion, must be universal and eternal and must not be bound by place and time. What's true must be exclusively true, and it can't be false; what's bad must be exclusively bad irrespective of time and place. Using reason, philosophers, Aristotle argues, must distinguish the true from the false and the good from the bad. Aristotle believes that philosophers can't differentiate the true and the good from the false and the bad, or say anything with certainty, without a grasp on absolute truth.
Enters Heraclitus, a skeptic. Heraclitus argues that human understanding is relative, arguing that we can improve our perspective ad infinitum. Heraclitus dismisses the absolutists as the proud and ignorant thinkers who see part of the picture and then boast as the possessors of the whole picture. The goal of the wise, according to Heraclitus, is to encompass all perspectives as possible rather than pretending that one is on the single and simple side of truth.
Now, who's right, Aristotle or Heraclitus? The answer is that, in our daily mundane life, we switch and change sides, between Aristotle and Heraclitus. We defend our beliefs and practices, explaining away counterexamples; we then question and doubt our beliefs and practices other times, bringing attention to couterexamples. We use both sides of our right and left brain hemispheres, the sides of Aristotle and that of Heraclitus, respectively, metaphorically speaking.
Positivists draw out their swords, defending the position that scientific fact is objective. While the pragmatists fight back, defending the position that
theories and models of science are merely useful tools, and that they are not complete, final, unimprovable explanations.
We take sides of this debate, according to Eric Gerlach, a teacher, depending on whether we want things to be questioned or unquestioned, whether we want things to change or remain the same. And that when we want certainty, relativity makes us insecure; whereas, when we want change, certainty makes us claustrophobic.
On our part, at the end of the day, we want to diligently exercise both sides of our mind as doing so gives us the ability to consciously take better positions, make better arguments, and be better human beings.