The Nature of Truth and the Relativity of Duty

Lucas Charbonnier

Lucas Charbonnier

Sep 01, 20234 min read


The Nature of Truth and the Relativity of Duty


The concepts of truth and duty have long puzzled philosophers, leading to debates about their nature and relativity. In this article, we will explore the idea of truth and its various forms, as well as examine the absolute and relative nature of duty. By delving into these topics, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of their complexities and implications.

The Nature of Truth:

Is there such a thing as absolute truth? While definitive truths do exist, they are limited to logic and mathematics, which are universal and not subject to the changing realities of the world. On the other hand, truths derived from empirical observations, particularly in the realm of science, are provisional. They are constantly subject to change as our knowledge evolves over time. Therefore, it is essential to question scientific truths as they are restricted by the knowledge available at a particular moment.

Connecting Truth and Duty:

At its core, truth is the accurate correspondence between a representation and that which it represents. It is a singular entity, whereas error is multifaceted. The notion of "to each their own truth" is self-contradictory, as it claims universality while undermining itself. True truth is the same for everyone and is objective, independent of individual subjectivity. But how can we know the truth? Reliable criteria for truth are necessary.

1. Evident Truth:

One criterion for truth is evidence, which appears so clear to the mind that doubt is impossible. However, evidence is not always reliable, as it can be deceiving or excessively subjective. René Descartes emphasized that genuine evidence must arise from doubt. While evidence alone may not be sufficient, it is an important aspect of determining truth.

2. Rigorous Reasoning:

The guarantee of certainty lies in the rigor of reasoning. The form of reasoning itself provides assurance. However, truths concerning facts and the external world cannot be established solely through reasoning. They must also be verified empirically through the observation of facts. Reasoning and empirical evidence together contribute to the pursuit of truth.

3. Trustworthiness:

It is reasonable to believe what a trusted source claims to be true, as we cannot verify everything ourselves. However, the reliability of these criteria is limited. Dogmatism, which asserts absolute certainty, can be refuted by the argument that nothing is entirely certain, making doubt the most reasonable attitude. The skeptic denies absolute criteria for truth and refuses to claim definitive knowledge. Instead, they tirelessly seek truth by progressively eliminating falsehoods and acknowledging errors.

The Relativity of Duty:

Moving on to the concept of duty, we find ourselves questioning its absoluteness or relativity. Immanuel Kant views duty as a categorical imperative, a formal, universal, and unconditional obligation. Acting out of duty assumes that everyone can act as the individual does, leading to the universality of duty. Hypothetical duties, on the other hand, are conditional and dependent on specific circumstances.

1. Relative Duties:

Duties tied to specific roles and responsibilities, known as duties of state or social duties, are inherently relative. They seek what is preferable or appropriate while avoiding harm. Stoics classify the indifferent, which are not objects of duty, between what is preferable and what is harmful. This concept is linked to the freedom of indifference, where individuals have the freedom to choose among indifferent options.

2. Sociological Perspective:

According to Émile Durkheim, duties are internalized social rules, primarily through education. They are therefore relative to each society. For example, the duty to respect the belongings of others corresponds to the requirement of a society based on private property. This categorical imperative is unconditional, and no excuse should hinder its fulfillment.


In the pursuit of truth, it is crucial to question and challenge established scientific truths while considering reliable criteria such as evidence, rigorous reasoning, and trustworthiness. Duty, on the other hand, can be viewed as both absolute and relative. While some duties are universal and unconditional, others are context-dependent and tied to specific roles and responsibilities within society. A reasonable love for truth should enable us to recognize and critique our own errors and opinions. By understanding the complexities and relativity of truth and duty, we can navigate through a world that is constantly evolving and gain a more profound insight into our own beliefs and actions.

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