Do I Believe in Absolute Truth? Absolutely!

            So I read an article about “The Dark Knight” (the new Batman movie) and absolute truth.  I didn’t anticipate referencing the new Batman movie in a blog twice, but then I didn’t anticipate it the first time.  Let me also say in my opening remarks that I’m sorry the blog this week is almost totally devoid of humor and it’s kind of deep.  Sometimes important issues are kind of complicated (though this isn’t the case as often as some of my colleagues in academia would have you believe).

Anyway, someone was arguing that the part of “The Dark Knight” that dealt with the two groups of people on the boats* was a scene designed to demonstrate that such things as good and evil really do exist.  If this was truly the script writer’s intention then good for him, I say.

            Increasingly our society has bought into the idea that quaint notions of “good” and “evil” are simplistic.  There are those who scoff at the notion of absolute truths such as these.  Truth is subjective, they say, there is your truth and there is my truth, and you don’t have the right to try to force your truth on me.  In the article I read, a professor lamented that he has had students who have started arguing that slavery might be acceptable in certain instances, and it wasn’t their place to judge anyway.  As a history professor, I have recently encountered the same thing—a stray student or two who have argued with sincerity that while things like the Holocaust and slavery seem really bad to us, it’s wrong to say they are totally bad because not everyone sees it that way.  And, again, who are we to judge other people anyway?

            Let’s look at the flaws in this way of thinking.

            One, if I were to argue that there was no absolute truth, I would be making an absolutist statement.  In other words, if there is no absolute truth, then my statement that there are no absolutes would be true—it would be an absolute truth—which would mean there is at least one absolute truth, so I can’t argue that there are no absolutes.  Okay, maybe that one was a little complicated to start off with.  Sorry.

            Two, just because your perspective on the truth is different from mine it doesn’t mean that absolute truth itself is nonexistent.  Let me illustrate: you say 2 + 2 = 4.  I could say that I counted and came up with the number 5.  I could argue, therefore, that the solution to that equation is indeterminate, but it is not, I am simply wrong.  Likewise, some Hitler fan out there might say that the Holocaust was a good thing, but this does not render the Holocaust morally neutral.  It is still evil; the Hitler lover is simply wrong.

            Three, let’s look at the logical consequence of saying, “Who are we to judge other people when they engage in things like slavery and the Holocaust?”  If we are incapable of judging right and wrong behavior then how can we continue having twelve people judge the guilt or innocence of someone committing a crime in our country?  You might say that this is a ridiculous question—we have to be governed by laws.  But then who are you to tell me that?  If there are no absolute truths, how can you justify enforcing laws on me?  The result of all of this would be anarchy, but only for a little while.  In short order the strongest in society would impose their will on the rest.

            You might say that it would be bad for the strongest to rule over the rest, and I would agree with you.  But of course that’s because I believe in right and wrong.


* I didn’t write anything more specific because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone still wanting to see the movie.