A High School Student-Athlete Explores Truth

Katarina White

The effects of physical warfare create trauma and confusion, however, most people do not even realize the extent of corruption and pain causing an intellectual war that rages around them. Make no mistake: everyone is in this battle; everyone has already chosen a side. This intellectual battle has two camps: one side is advocates of objective truth; the other side is proponents of relativism. Why does this battle matter? Because how a person thinks determines how they live and because they live in a community, everyone’s lives affect how the community is governed. In order to understand the battle, one must defuse each side. Objective truth means that something is completely and independently true for all people whether they know it or not to be true. On the other hand, Stefanick, world-renowned author and public speaker, defines relativism as “the idea that there is no universal, absolute [objective] truth but that truth differs from person to person and culture to culture” (page 4). In other words, truth would be relative to how a person feels or believes. Essentially, relativism proposes that everyone can have their own “truth,” which means everyone can be right at the same time. Logic demands that everyone choose a side of the battle wisely. There are numerous flaws to show how relativism doesn’t fit in with philosophy and real life. By examining the variances between a preference claim and a moral claim, the potential error of human perception, and the theory of natural law, one must come to the conclusion that a realistic relativistic perception of truth collapses on itself.

The first step of engaging in this battle is to realize that there are two different types of claims: moral claims and preference claims. A moral claim is a decision or a belief that could impact your life or someone else’s life. An example of a moral claim is that homosexual marriage cannot be legitimate. The opposite moral claim is that homosexual marriage is the same as heterosexual marriage.  Another of a moral claim is that abortion is never a good choice. Conversely, an opposite moral claim on the other side is that abortion is a woman’s choice. A preference claim is a decision or a belief that does not seriously impact a person’s life or someone else’s. An example of a preference claim is that Star Wars is amazing and Star Trek is horrible. The controversy between objective truth and relative truth belongs in the realm of moral claims, not subjective, preference claims. Particularly, proponents of objective truth are not arguing about what someone likes, but rather what exists as the truth. The problem with relativism is that everything is categorized as a preference claim because “everyone has their own truth”. Said by Stefanick, “Relativists hold that there are no right and wrong moral choices; rather right and wrong to one’s feelings, sentiments, or cultural milieu” (Page 7). An objective truth has no feeling or emotion behind its answer because the standard lies outside of human feelings and opinions. For example, the fact that the Earth is round is an objective truth. Newton’s three laws of motion are an objective truth. There is no emotion behind the fact that the sky is blue. Objective truth is outside of any human whether they believe it or not. It does not matter how strongly someone may feel that the Earth is flat; the objective truth is that the Earth will always be round. However, many people do not know the difference between a moral claim and a preference claim. Twenty random high school students and teachers were surveyed on whether they believe in universal truth (universal truth is the same as objective truth). All of them stated that they did, “in fact”, believe in universal truth. But when they were asked to define what they believed universal truth was, eighteen of them defined it as preference claim! When in reality, universal truth has nothing to do with people’s preferences, feelings, or emotions.

The second step to progressing in this intellectual battle is to recognize that human perceptions are often flawed; what one may perceive, may not be the reality. There have been many current stories about how drug abuse caused people to hallucinate substantially causing them to have a backward perception of reality. “A Turkish man who is believed to have been high on a cheap street drug known as Bonzai recently jumped off a roof, thinking he was diving into a swimming pool.” (McCusker, 2014) This man relatively believed that he was jumping into a swimming pool, but he consequently fell to his death. The objective truth would be that there was no swimming pool and that if he jumped, he was going to die. This man’s different perception of reality caused his death. Another example of how perception does not agree with reality is gender change. If a woman changes her female parts to become male, it does not mean that she is a man. She may perceive that she is a man, but in reality she is still a woman. Case in point, if scientists dig up her bones three hundred years after she dies, those scientists will conclude that she was a woman by the objective evidence. Scientifically proven, “Within the same population, males tend to have larger, more robust bones and joint surfaces, and more bone development at muscle attachment sites” (Male or Female?) and specific genome types. It is an objective truth that just because someone medically changes their bodies to resemble a different gender, they are still the same gender they were at birth.

Another example of a flawed human perception is the claim that what is legal is also moral. That would be incorrect. Not all laws adhere to objective truth. For example, sexual tourism. It denies objective truth of the meaning of sexual intimacy. In Costa Rica, sexual tourism is extremely popular, and many of the people in the business make a tremendous amount of money, therefore, boosting the economy. While most people agree that this activity is wrong, it is, in fact, legal in Costa Rica. It is not logical to think that this legal activity is right in one part of the world, but wrong in another. It is not logical to base the morality of each action based merely on location. And moreover, the act of killing a child before it is born, abortion, is legal in several countries, including America. According to Stefanick, “Abortion is legal because of how relativist society comes to see human rights” (Page 23). The same logic that was previously asserted about location. First in the sense of the implausible conclusion that abortion can be morally licit in one country but wrong in another.

Unfortunately, the ways of relativism have worked its way into the modern society. Logically, relativism sounds like a justified practice to follow. Relativism promotes good feelings and good intentions. Everyone would come up with their own rules to live their lives. Jarvis, another popular author, wrote in his article, “They suggest that if we could just love each other and ‘get along,’ there would be no need for absolute claims of religion, morality, or philosophy” (2013). However, in order to truly get along, there must be shared, objective truths rather than individual subjective truths. Adolf Hitler had his own truth. He believed that he was “purifying” the world. According to the logic of relativism, no one should argue his right to live out and behave according to his truth.  By way of explanation, “Relativism leaves us with no criterion for moral decision-making but personal taste” (Stefanick, page 12). Nonetheless, almost all would agree that Hitler was wrong. If so, there must be an objective truth that those that are pointed to, otherwise, Hitler’s doing would be logically be justified.  In other words, “Cruelty is equal to non-cruelty” (Jarvis, 2013).  This is the problem with relativism—there cannot be two truths, there can only be one truth, objective truth. Everyone cannot be right at the same time.

The last step in the engaging of the battle is leaving emotions behind to be able to recognize that how anyone thinks, determines how they live. Strictly speaking, people must choose the right side of the battle. Based on logic, relativism does not make sense. “If there is no such thing as absolute truth, then there is nothing ultimately right or wrong about anything.” (Universal Truth, 2014). For example, math would be irrelevant because there would not be a correct answer. Two plus two equals four, but to someone else it might equal five. Both of those answers would be correct because there would not be a wrong answer. People would be free to murder, steal, rape, and cheat. Anyone could rob a bank if they wanted to because no one would be accountable for anything. Killing would be just as right as not killing. There would be no use in learning anything because no one would know what to study for. “Relativism robs us of a sense of meaning.” (Stefanick, page 26) Words would not have any meaning because everyone would come up with their own meanings to them. Even though Joseph Stalin believed he was justified in killing forty-nine million of his own people, who could argue his truth was less true than another’s truth. Therefore, in order to have some purpose in life, it is logical an absolute truth exists outside of individual perception.

Overall, there is more evidence to create enough doubt in relative truth. How can it be absolutely true that nothing is absolutely true? “Relativism is self-refuting—it commits intellectual suicide” (Klusendorf, page 18). It is simply illogical for everyone to have his or her own truths. The choice between objective truth and relative truth is an obvious one. Even though the intellectual battle may seem like a tough fight, it is, indeed, quite simple once looked into at a deeper level. Although the truth may not always be clear, it is each person’s responsibility to seek it.

Katarina White is a 17-year-old high school junior who plays competitive soccer, is president of the astronomy club, and is active in her church.

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