Logical gal takes on claim: “Truth is relative”

1 Nov

I teach a few precocious 8th graders who take pleasure in striking the contrary pose.  The other day a lively discussion erupted at the end of the period. What got us started was the conclusion in a simple French reader, “Il n’y a pas de familles parfaites”  – there are no perfect families.  One boy disagreed saying, ‘En fait’  /actually that there ARE perfect families!  I responded with incredulity, “Really?  for how long?”   He backed down and said that his family could be perfect for ……. half a day.  But when pressed to admit the enormity of 7 family members actually ‘being perfect’ with one another for that many hours, we slipped OVER into the bunny trail of TRUTH.

Since there were only 2-3 minutes left in class, I allowed us to converse en anglais in this French 1 class.

So, what was the connection between the concept of perfect and the concept of truth?  It all started when I asked the students how they defined ‘perfect’.  I think someone piped up about perfection being relative, like truth.  I then humorously asked, “So the Law of Gravity is relative?”

Class ended as the boys were affirming that “All truth is relative”.  Had we been able to pursue this chain of thinking, I would have led them to define truth.  Defining one’s terms is always the hinge on which statements or propositions rest.

As Bill Clinton might have expressed and Pilate thought, “It all depends on what truth means!

So if truth is defined as “that which corresponds to reality“, then relativity has NO bearing on the definition.  Truth doesn’t change according to the one who is looking at it.

For example: Terminating the life of a person or animal is the act of killing.

Whether that action is justified or not, is morally good or not is another question.  Good or bad, it is still killing due to how the term is defined.  It doesn’t matter that in some cultures people are exhorted to Love their Enemies where in other societies members are taught to Eat their Enemies.  Those are moral values which DO change according to how and in what/in whom they are grounded.

Back to truth. Truth either conforms to reality or it doesn’t.  The ‘discovered’  Law of Excluded Middle tells us as much. There is NO middle possibility.

Only pseudo-sophisticated modernists claim that Truth depends on the eye of the beholder.   And my 8th grade boys, as advanced as they are for their age, have yet to be  grounded in philosophy and critical thinking.   Nevertheless, I was encouraged to witness their grappling with important ideas.   Logical thinking can be found in all disciplines, even in French class!  It’s just part of ordinary life!

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