Can you disprove the statement, 'Truth is relative'?

The most familiar challenge to relativism is straightforward and, to my mind, has never been adequately answered. It is that the truth of "Truth is relative" had better not be relative. But we can spell the argument out a little more. Question: Relative to what? Now, whatever you tell me, I will introduce an explicit statement of the alleged condition. So, if it's "relative to cultural standards", I'll ask you to consider something like: Lying is impermissible, according to the predominant standards of culture X. I can't even make sense of the claim that that is true only relative to cultural standards. It's like trying to make sense of "It's warm in Texas in Oklahoma". (Afficionados will note the similarity of this argument to Quine's criticism of conventionalism. That's non-accidental.) Note that no such argument could show that truth was not in some interesting sense relative in some particular area. The foregoing does not show, for example, that moral claims are not true only relative...

I am born into a faith which has an overtly stated principle belief that it is irrational to believe in the existence of a supernatural or a divine power/intelligence. Does that make it a rational or irrational religion? Since it is an organized and practiced religion, am I an atheist, agnostic or religious in the conventional sense. (Jainism and to some degree Buddhism have similar notions.)

As you note, there are plenty of religious people who are atheists, since there are large segments of Buddhism that do not posit the existence of a divine being. The identification of religious belief with belief in God, however, common in the United States and, perhaps, other western countries, is therefore deeply misleading and exclusionary. In the serious study of religion such an identification is not taken terribly seriously. One might well go further and suggest that the emphasis upon "belief"in the popular understanding of religion in the west is itselfinappropriate. Much of the emphasis in religious studies nowadays is on "lived religion" or "lived faith", the idea being that what it is to be religious surfaces in not so much in what one says or even believes but in how one live's one's life.

Our son (8 years old) was stating yesterday that all things have opposites. He was discussing the matter with our daughter (10) and she argued that it cannot be so. The examples our son provided were of the kind light vs dark, day vs night, cold vs hot. I tried to explain the oriental idea of the TAO, the whole being composed of Yin and Yang, both opposites but complementary and each with a touch of the other. Another example I tried to make was the definition of a vase, or a bowl or any vessel that is defined by its content. An empty vase not being anything without just "nothing" inside. The question our daughter raised was then: What is then the opposite of a lion? Or a tree, or a rock?... I had a hard time trying to get a good answer for that one and settled for a non-lion, no-tree or no-rock (thinking of the vase allegory above). My question to you is then, what would your answers be? Is there really a duality in all things and if so, how does it apply to the lion case? Thank you.

There are many different conceptions of "opposite" at work in your question. One, with which your son seems to have been operating, is similar to what Aristotle would have called "contrary". Two properties are contraries if it is impossible for them to be present in the same object at the same time, and at least one of them must be present. A weaker conception would be that of a "contradictory", for which only the first clause applies: They can't both be present. The conception of a contrary that your example of the vase employs, however, is spatial or perhaps (to use a technical terms) "merological", that is, defined in terms of parts and wholes. So let us ask: What is the opposite of you?Non-you? And what is non-you? The sum total of everything that is notpart of you? If that's counts as your "opposite", then, yes, everythinghas an opposite, but note that we are operating with the spatial or mereological sense of opposite, not the Aristotelian sense. It's not very interesting that...

Given that 'mental distress' will afflict at least one in seven of us, and as many as one in four (all according to contemporary extrapolations of evidence), and that the spectrum of analyses pertaining to 'mental health' is riven with contradictory perspectives, conceptual muddles, and what even a cursory examination would reveal as potentially harmful (to an individual) prescriptions, and the crossed borders of morality, scientific objectivity and 'spiritual' domains, why is there so little on a 'philosophy of mental health', and where should such a philosophy begin?

I believe there has been a fair bit of discussion of mental health in the so-called "continental" tradition. One classic in that tradition is Foucault's Madness and Civilization . You might also want to look into the work of R.D. Laing, for example, The Politics of Experience , and the early work of Thomas Szasz, such as The Myth of Mental Illness . These are pretty radical viewpoints, and I'm not saying I agree with them, but both Laing's work and Szasz's early work are worth reading. There is a piece on mental illness in the Stanford Encyclopedia .

Hello. I wonder what you think about the following: About 13.7 billion years ago, there probably was a Big Bang. The astronomers start their counting of time from that. What do the philosophers think of what happened before the Big Bang? JB from Sweden

Well, I've answered other similar questions despite my not being terribly well-informed about science, so I'll take a stab at this one, too. The answer to this question depends partly upon whether the universe is "open" or "closed", that is, upon whether the expansion of matter will eventually cease, the universe will start contracting, and everything will end in a "Big Crunch". If so, then it is my understanding that the energy so generated would lead to another Big Bang, and the whole process would start again. If that's how things are, then, before the Big Bang, that may have been how things were. So suppose things weren't like that. Then I believe current physical theory implies that there wasn't any "before the Big Bang". Astronomers start counting time with the beginning of the Big Bang because time itself began with the Big Bang. If that seems bizarre, well, the theory of relativity does have a way of upsetting one's everyday assumptions about time. Someone who knows more about...