True For You But Not True For Me
Have you ever heard someone say, “That may be true for you but it’s not true for me!” It’s the kind of sentiment which might be appropriately limited to our experiences and our emotional responses to them, but it can not be true about those issues which effect us all, known as universals. These include what we consider to be morally right or wrong, whether a fact is true or false, or whether we should regard something as either good or bad. For example, one of the universal laws that is not subject to personal opinion is gravity. Someone may disagree with it, but their disagreement doesn’t change its reality.
The kind of judgment needed to distinguish right from wrong, true from false, or good from bad, must allow for those things which are universal and thus common to all. This kind of truth, what Francis Schaeffer called ‘true truth‘ is also not subject to context, circumstances, popularity, or fashion (Beckworth & Koukl 1998, 20). Neither is it restricted to a time or place. Thus, what can be known as true has generally been acknowledged as such down through the ages by various peoples located in different parts of the world. Philosophers refer to this kind of truth as objective truth.
“When truth dies, all of its subspecies, such as ethics, perish with it. If truth can’t be known, then the concept of moral truth becomes incoherent. Ethics becomes relative, right and wrong matters of individual opinion. This may seem a moral liberty, but it ultimately rings hollow. “The freedom of our day,” lamented a graduate in a Harvard commencement address, “is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true.”‘
Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism – Feet Planted Firmly In Mid-Air, (1998) Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2006, page 20
The idea that something like morals, facts, or values could be true for you but not for me, is known as relativism. It is not a new idea.
PROTAGORAS: Truth is relative, it is only a matter of opinion.
SOCRATES: You mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?
PROTAGORAS: Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Truth is subjective.
SOCRATES: Do you really mean that? That my opinion is true by virtue of it being my opinion?
PROTAGORAS: Indeed I do.
SOCRATES: My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you, Mr Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is my opinion, then you must grant that it is true according to your philosophy.
PROTAGORAS: You are quite correct, Socrates.
(William and Mabel Sahakian, IDEAS OF THE GREAT PHILOSOPHERS, Barnes and Noble, NY, 1966, 28)
Socrates showed that relativism is self-defeating. If it is right, as Protagoras argued, then it must be wrong, as Socrates argued.
How do we arrive at objective truth, particularly when it comes to moral issues? The historians Will and Ariel Durant wrote the award-winning The History of Civilization (1976), from which they concluded in another book, The Lessons of History (p. 50-51), “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.” The essence of this religious contribution to formulating an objective moral code is found in The Decalogue (The 10 Commandments), which includes prohibitions against murder, adultery, bearing false testimony, and stealing, for example.
In an age that mistakenly seems to think that truth about whether certain conduct is right or wrong morally has more to do with its popularity or fashionability, the idea of objective truth seems very old fashioned. But despite how it seems, there are good reasons for thinking that the idea of objective truth is actually time-less, and worthy of our attention today..