All Truth Is Relative
It sounds like a thoroughly contemporary quote by a postmodern philosopher with his feet planted firmly in mid-air. Though this idea of relativism is currently in vogue, it is not a particularly novel way of thinking. In fact, it is a very old, crude, and predictable way for humans to live.
The idea of all truth being relative is at least as old as Protagoras, the man first credited with making the claim. The claim itself is self-defeating. If all truth is relative (and thus subject to being accepted or rejected by any individual at any given time), then even the claim that all truth is relative must be a relative claim. In other words, not even the proposition “All truth is relative” endures over time because that truth would have to be a relative truth.
Protagoras lived between 490-420 BC. He taught an early form of phenomenalism, in which “man is the measure of all things.” Basically, Protagoras believed that each person had to seek to answer his own questions about truth and, although some would arrive at better conclusions than others, still, at the end of it all no one’s decision would prove to be ultimately true or false. Decisions could only prove to be true for that individual at that time. Each person does what he thinks best in the moment of action.
As a result of Protagoras’s philosophy, the Sophists (who followed his thinking) came to a way of living that was little different from that of an animal. Indeed, after the Sophists, the Cynics came along and literally were referred to as dogs. Atisthenes was the “Downright Dog” leader and Diogenes was his “Royal Dog” associate. Relativism led human beings to become animals of instinct and impulse. Each individual sniffing his way along life’s trail with no ultimate hope for anything true or anything eternal was the end result of ancient relativism. Basically, the ideal life was one in which each person followed his own lusts until he died.
Whether old or new, it seems to me that relativism offers little more than a bleak outlook on life. It is more akin to animal life than it is to human flourishing. The ancients over time learned a better way and moved toward a virtuous life which at least had meaning to it. May the Lord bless us with clear and sober minds to learn better the truth, the life, and the way.