Key Difference – Absolutism vs Relativism
Absolutism and relativism are two concepts that are associated with many terms although there is a key difference between these two words. Absolutism approaches things in an objective manner and considers an action as right or wrong. In this sense, there is no middle ground. An action can be either right if not wrong. On the other hand, relativism rejects this stance of objective analysis and elaborates that human actions cannot be put into rigid categories as right or wrong. Instead, relativism highlights that the action is always relative hence, what might appear right to me is based on my point of view, context, and experience. This can differ from person to person. This article attempts to give a comprehensive understanding of absolutism and relativism highlighting the differences that each stance has. However it must be stressed that when we use these concepts, they can be used within various fields such as ethics, morality, politics, etc. The article uses a holistic approach.
What is Absolutism?
Absolutism approaches things in an objective manner and considers an action as right or wrong. According to this principle, the context in which an action takes place is given very little significance. The focus is only on the action. Based on this, it is considered as right or wrong (even good or evil). Even if the conditions in which the action occurs are harsh, this is disregarded.
To clarify this further, let us use a branch of absolutism known as moral absolutism. According to moral absolutism, all moral questions have a right or wrong answer. The context is not considered as important, making the actions inherently moral or immoral. One of the key features of absolutism is that it disregards the individual’s or group’s intentions, beliefs, or goals. This is why throughout history absolutism is favored even by legal systems as it is easier to uphold the laws when there is a rigid right or wrong answer. This can be noticed in most religions as well.
What is Relativism?
Relativism rejects the objective analysis of actions and elaborates that human actions cannot be put into rigid categories as right or wrong. Relativism stresses the importance of the context in which an action takes place and pays attention to the intentions, beliefs, and goals of the individual or the group. This is why it can be stated that the approach is not excessively objective.
If we focus on moral relativism to engage in a comparison with absolute relativism, one of the key differences is that it does not dictate any universal moral truths, but recognizes the relative nature of circumstances (cultural, individual, social).
What is the difference between Absolutism and Relativism?
Definitions of Absolutism and Relativism:
Absolutism: Absolutism approaches things in an objective manner and considers an action as right or wrong.
Relativism: Relativism rejects the objective analysis of actions and elaborates that human actions cannot be put into rigid categories as right or wrong.
Characteristics of Absolutism and Relativism:
Absolutism: In absolutism, the context is ignored.
Relativism: In relativism, the context is recognized.
Absolutism: Absolutism is very objective.
Relativism: Relative does not have a very objective approach.
Absolutism: Absolutism consists of rigid right or wrong answers.
Relativism: Relativism does not consist of rigid right or wrong answers.
1. Tintoretto Allegory Attributed to Tintoretto [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons
2. Unity Matters By Hamiltonmatt1234 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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