Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Paradox of Relativism and Nihilism

Relativism and Nihilism are two philosophical systems that seem to have at least some prevalence in our postmodern world. Although I'm sure not all would agree with how I will be defining them since they are words that contain a plethora of meaning for various individuals, I use the word "relativism" as a philosophical system in which there are no absolutes and criteria is assessed by means of cultural and situational factors. I will use the word "nihilism" as a philosophical system in which all values are baseless and nothing can be known or communicated. These two systems fascinate me in their ability to absolutely deny the existence of absolutes.

Take relativism, for example. Relativists deny the existence of absolutes. But, think about this claim for a moment. In the denial of absolutes, you have created an absolute, for you have claimed that there are absolutely no absolutes. In less, of course, you meant that there are only no absolutes in certain contexts, which makes even less sense.

Then, of course, there's nihilism. Nihilists deny the existence of values and our ability to communicate with one another. As for the first claim (the denial of the existence of values), I wonder what sort of value Nihilists assess nihilism as being, for they certainly seem to hold the value of the denial of values, and the value of the denial of our ability to communicate with one another. Then there is the second claim (the denial of our ability to communicate with one another). Nihilism is a belief commonly held and expressed by multiple individuals. I'm not sure how the first nihilist communicated their nihilism to the second, but they apparently did, proving nihilism to be false. If we weren't able to communicate with one another, then I would not be able to even know what nihilism is. Since I have heard of nihilism, nihilism proves itself to be false.

“The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”


Jeffrey said...

I've always felt that there is a flaw in the concept of "the relativist claims the Absolute of, 'there is no absolute'". If there is a concept of absolute, then to say that there is no absolute is just a denial of the concept. The wording could be changed to 'there is one absolute: that nothing is absolute.' However, in plain language, the statement makes sense. It's like saying that there is no unicorn. Sure we have an idea of a unicorn, we can draw it, we can even paste a horn to a horse, but in reality there is no unicorn. Thus, to claim there is no absolute is to just deny a concept. It is a coherent statement.

The Wanderer said...

Hello, Jeffrey. Thanks for stopping by to check out the blog. I tried to do the same for yours, but your profile wasn't available.

As far as your defense of the coherence of the statement "there is no absolute", or the new version "there is one absolute: that nothing is absolute", I'm going to have to strongly disagree with the coherence of these statements.

I agree that the relativists are simply trying to deny the existence of absolutes, but the problem is that this denial of absolutes is a self-defeating proposition.

If I am to say "There are no absolutes", this cannot be absolutely true in all situations. For, if there were no absolutes, then I could not be absolutely sure there were no absolutes.

As far as my personal belief in the existence of absolutes, they are undeniable. There are certain things that are always true in all contexts. One such thing is a tautology, or a statement that is necessarily true. If I say "All dogs are dogs" there is no possible reality in which this statement is false. It is absolutely true that if something is a dog, then that thing is a dog.

However, I digress. The point is that in plain language this statement still does not cohere with reality, because to deny the existence of absolutes is to say that there are absolutely no absolutes, which is to make an absolute claim.

Jeffrey said...

Josh, It's Logan...,
Although, I see your point on the basic assumption of absolutes. I was just ranting about the denial of the sense of the phrase. In reality, the phrase makes sense - it is a denial of a non-physical concept. By the way phrases go, It makes sense (although you don't accept the premise it is based on).

Andy said...

Hmm, not sure I agree with what's been said. If the nihilist is saying everything is without meaning and certainty, hanging on to the idea that the nihilist is being contradictory by holding onto the truth of this paradox is suggestive of a trap.

It is you that's holding onto a nature of there being truth. Whereas a nihilist would enjoy the absurd nature of the paradox.

The paradox points out the ridiculous nature of language and logic, thereby possibly negating it? We work within a language system yet on inspection language and in turn logic can start falling apart. What this paradox does is point out the non-absolute nature of those systems.

I guess it can be looked at as not being a paradoxical proof of absolute truth it's a claim whose whole point is that it points out paradox. That things that appear to be certainties end up being paradoxical. Where is the truth in the statement?

The truth does not negate the paradox which in turn does not negate the truth, which does not negate the paradox..... the whole thing becomes infinitely looped and in turn ridiculous.

Thereby I guess it could be argued that to hold on to the absolute assumptions that logic and language imply within this paradox is in itself ridiculous and absurd. Thereby supporting the nihilist position.

I am being devil's advocate here, I don't have an answer to any of this, I'm trying to get my head round it all and don't know what to think/believe.