Progress and relativism

Is it possible to be a true skeptic?

Of all the functions of the human mind, none is more essential than the ability to question anything and everything. This applies to people, authority figures and reality itself. And although formalized systems have sprung up around this ability – things like the scientific method and deductive reasoning – there seems to have been a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose of questioning and evaluating our surroundings. 

Although there are doubtless many factors causing this tendency, the main cause is the perception that morality, culture and, more or less, everything else is all relative.

Since we all exist in culture and coexist with moral systems, this discussion is closely related to everyday life. Viewing the various systems of the world as relative is not in itself harmful. 

On the contrary, it can help to increase our willingness to understand one another, since one could not start from a predisposition of always being right and everyone else being wrong. 

However, the necessary conclusion from such a position is that the act of questioning, of actively seeking truth, is useless: If what is right in one system is wrong in another, then life itself is devoid of ultimate truth. 

The basic issue with this assertion is that it takes away most of the reasoning for questioning anything at all. 

Why bother with searching for the answer, if that answer is merely a byproduct of culture? This reasoning does nothing to advance humanity on any level – globally, nationally or individually. 

In fact, practically every step forward in the world has happened precisely because people had a vested interest in either finding the truth or achieving a value they already believe in. 

Aside from perhaps the profit motive, the search for truth is one of the greatest motivators for human advancement. And truth is much more stable than profit. 

On a more concrete level, it’s important to ask if there are any moral relativists in the tangible sense to begin with. 

In day-to-day life, does anyone actually conduct themselves on the basis that there is nothing that embodies universal truth? 

One can say that they do so, but it would be nearly impossible to survive if one acted that out. It’s actually difficult to think of any other idea that has had so much influence without having had to prove its operation in daily life. 

I expect it’s because merely professing that there is no truth – no universal values or abiding principles – looks like rebellion without having to rebel.  People grow and learn everyday, and this alone is proof that relativism has little sway over reality, but a disproportionately great influence on culture. 

After all, the idea that one should improve oneself is also a value. Therefore, those who would give in to any sort of relativism as a system of belief are asserting a kind of unreality. 

Rather than stifling ourselves with the notion that everything is a matter of perspective, let’s continue to search for a system whereby truth can be found. 

It is only a vain search when one believes the very concept truth to be false.

~Duncan Hoag, Staff Writer~


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