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Thursday, April 03, 2003
A bit about Relativism

Here is an important little story from a piece by Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge:
Once upon a time, a high-powered ethics meeting put on a forum with representatives of the 'great' religions. First the Buddhist talked of the ways to calm, the mastery of desire, the path of enlightenment. The panellists all said 'Wow, terrific, if that works for you that's great'.

Then the Hindu talked of the cycles of suffering and birth and rebirth, the teachings of Krishna and the way to release, and they all said 'Wow, terrific, if that works for you that's great'.

And so on, until the Catholic priest talked of the message of Jesus Christ, the promise of salvation and the way to life eternal, and they all said 'Wow, terrific, if that works for you that's great'. And he thumped the table and shouted: 'No! It's not a question of if it works for me! It's the true word of the living God, and if you don't believe it you're all damned to Hell!'

And they all said: 'Wow, terrific, if that works for you that's great'.
It's a great story but, I suspect, that certain other groupings would have spoilt the sequence at a much earlier juncture. The (completely mistaken) great religions are notorious for claiming, uniquely, to have access to the truth. And this without a shred of evidence that one might call objective. In any other context, believing things established by ignorant and superstitious people thousands of years ago, arguably with selfish ends in view, would be considered unsound. Still, it's nice to have philosophical questions made interesting, isn't it?

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