Friday, September 28, 2012

"What seems to a man, is to him"

"What seems to a man, is to him".  So says Protagoras.  Basically, truth is whatever it seems to be to that individual.  Certainly nothing has changed under the sun as this seems to be espoused by many today.  There are many corollaries such as, "live and let live" or, "to each his own" and so on. 

But these are simply the mantra of those who refuse to stand for truth.  It is much easier to be a relativist than to espouse objective truths and defend them.  Perhaps the only "good" thing about relativism is the ease and comfort it affords those who espouse it. 

However, it is an incoherent and illogical system.

"If you say there are no universally valid truths including the claim that there are no universally valid truths, then you have contradicted yourself. You have said the claim both is and is not universally valid."
- John Searle "Refutation of Relativism"

and more from John:
"Until fairly recently relativism was mostly espoused by adolescents or other people inspired by Nietzsche or others outside of mainstream intellectual life. Recently it has reared its head as part of postmodernism. Why are the relativists not worried by the incoherence of their position? I don't know, but I think it is because they think they are possessed of an important insight, which is not touched by these logical worries."

See Plato's (speaking as Socrates) treatment of the same issue below in Theaetetus:

SOCRATES: Then let us obtain, not through any third person, but from his own statement and in the fewest words possible, the basis of agreement.
THEODORUS: In what way?
SOCRATES: In this way:—His words are, 'What seems to a man, is to him.'
THEODORUS: Yes, so he says.
SOCRATES: And are not we, Protagoras, uttering the opinion of man, or rather of all mankind, when we say that every one thinks himself wiser than other men in some things, and their inferior in others? In the hour of danger, when they are in perils of war, or of the sea, or of sickness, do they not look up to their commanders as if they were gods, and expect salvation from them, only because they excel them in knowledge? Is not the world full of men in their several employments, who are looking for teachers and rulers of themselves and of the animals? and there are plenty who think that they are able to teach and able to rule. Now, in all this is implied that ignorance and wisdom exist among them, at least in their own opinion.
THEODORUS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And wisdom is assumed by them to be true thought, and ignorance to be false opinion.
SOCRATES: How then, Protagoras, would you have us treat the argument? Shall we say that the opinions of men are always true, or sometimes true and sometimes false? In either case, the result is the same, and their opinions are not always true, but sometimes true and sometimes false. For tell me, Theodorus, do you suppose that you yourself, or any other follower of Protagoras, would contend that no one deems another ignorant or mistaken in his opinion?
THEODORUS: The thing is incredible, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And yet that absurdity is necessarily involved in the thesis which declares man to be the measure of all things.
SOCRATES: Why, suppose that you determine in your own mind something to be true, and declare your opinion to me; let us assume, as he argues, that this is true to you. Now, if so, you must either say that the rest of us are not the judges of this opinion or judgment of yours, or that we judge you always to have a true opinion? But are there not thousands upon thousands who, whenever you form a judgment, take up arms against you and are of an opposite judgment and opinion, deeming that you judge falsely?
THEODORUS: Yes, indeed, Socrates, thousands and tens of thousands, as Homer says, who give me a world of trouble.
SOCRATES: Well, but are we to assert that what you think is true to you and false to the ten thousand others?
THEODORUS: No other inference seems to be possible.
SOCRATES: And how about Protagoras himself? If neither he nor the multitude thought, as indeed they do not think, that man is the measure of all things, must it not follow that the truth of which Protagoras wrote would be true to no one? But if you suppose that he himself thought this, and that the multitude does not agree with him, you must begin by allowing that in whatever proportion the many are more than one, in that proportion his truth is more untrue than true.
THEODORUS: That would follow if the truth is supposed to vary with individual opinion.
SOCRATES: And the best of the joke is, that he acknowledges the truth of their opinion who believe his own opinion to be false; for he admits that the opinions of all men are true.
THEODORUS: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And does he not allow that his own opinion is false, if he admits that the opinion of those who think him false is true?
THEODORUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: Whereas the other side do not admit that they speak falsely?
THEODORUS: They do not.
SOCRATES: And he, as may be inferred from his writings, agrees that this opinion is also true.
SOCRATES: Then all mankind, beginning with Protagoras, will contend, or rather, I should say that he will allow, when he concedes that his adversary has a true opinion—Protagoras, I say, will himself allow that neither a dog nor any ordinary man is the measure of anything which he has not learned—am I not right?
SOCRATES: And the truth of Protagoras being doubted by all, will be true neither to himself to anyone else?
THEODORUS: I think, Socrates, that we are running my old friend too hard.

No comments:

Post a Comment