By Hannah Kangas – [email protected]
Over the past few weeks, I have heard increasingly alarming relativistic rhetoric, both from Washington and from our own community at CSB/SJU.
Relativism is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to be “the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning and procedures of justification are products of differing frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.”
In other words, it is asserting that concepts such as “truth” and “justice” are relative, subjective to particular cultural contexts or even personal standpoints. Prime examples of this rhetoric are phrases such as “It’s anyone’s bet what’s right or wrong,” “he gave alternative facts,” and “no position is the truly the best position.”
One could see virtue in relativism at first glance; after all, it supplies a sort of automatic respect for another’s view that is sometimes sorely lacking in intellectual discourse.
However, relativism also allows the individuals who have no facts or logic behind their statements to hide behind the justification of individual merit to personal opinion, no matter how false or derogatory their beliefs may be.
This piece is not designed to be political. It is pointing to the flaws in relativistic logic, which I am sure permeates political parties up and down the spectrum. I am referencing “alternative facts,” not because they were invented by a conservative Republican, but because what she is saying is logically faulty and ethically dangerous.
The consequences that this relativism offers comes in the form of a sense of entitlement to make up the “facts” of one’s own reality, regardless of the truth value of these “facts.”
I am dismayed to see this faulty logic displayed by members of our community.
In particular, I am disappointed in the claim that St. John’s as an institution should not take a position on an incident causing a huge degree of fear and division in the community by using the defense that both sides of the issue must be valued. This implies that the administration believes that one viewpoint is not better or more moral than another (which is absurd to anyone who values human rights), or that administration is not strong enough to take a side on an issue of which they actually have strong convictions. Either alternative is unacceptable.
Though no “official” position is being taken, there are very real consequences of this decision. This is a situation where doing nothing is taking a very clear position on the side of the oppressor. A position that suggests that there is no importance behind acknowledging the direct effect on human dignity of many of the institutions’ students.
St. John’s University will remain morally culpable for the consequences of hiding behind these claims of false neutrality. This is what happens when relativism takes the reigns.
Here is the Catch-22 of it all: it would be hard to convince a relativist that any violation of logic has occurred at all, because if there is no mutual respect for a truth beyond personal opinion, then who’s to say whether or not one is right or wrong in asserting these alternative truths?
There becomes no way to decipher right from wrong when everyone can have his or her own justification for personal truths in a very public reality where our actions deeply affect one another.
“No position is truly the best position,” says our institution. But tell us, President Hemesath, exactly what type of “truth” are you referring to?
This is the opinion of Hannah Kangas, CSB senior