"Le devoir est-il absolu ou relatif ? La vérité n'est-elle qu'un idéal ?"

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Dec 17, 2023

4 min read


"Le devoir est-il absolu ou relatif ? La vérité n'est-elle qu'un idéal ?"

When it comes to the concepts of duty and truth, philosophers have long debated whether they are absolute or relative. Do we have an inherent duty that is universal and unconditional, or is duty contingent upon specific circumstances and societal norms? Similarly, is truth an ideal that is unattainable, or is it something that can be discovered through diligent pursuit? Let's explore these questions further and see if we can find any common ground.

Immanuel Kant, a prominent philosopher, argued that duty is formal, universal, and unconditional. Acting out of duty means that we must assume that everyone else can act the same way, and vice versa. Every duty has a specific content that should be able to take the form of a universal obligation. This means that any duty that is conditional, such as "I will tell the truth if I am paid," is considered hypothetical and not an absolute duty.

On the other hand, there are philosophers who argue for the existence of relative duties. These are duties that are tied to specific roles and responsibilities within society. They are contingent upon the circumstances and seek what is preferable or appropriate while avoiding harm. The stoics, for example, believed that there are also indifferent things that are not objects of duty. These indifferent things are neither good nor bad and do not require our moral obligation.

From a sociological perspective, Emile Durkheim believed that duties are the internalization of societal rules, particularly through education. Therefore, duties are relative to each society. For instance, the duty to respect the property of others corresponds to the requirement of a society based on private ownership. In this context, duty is still considered categorical – unconditional and without excuses – but its content may vary based on societal norms and values.

Now let's shift our focus to the concept of truth. Many philosophers argue that truth is an ideal that is inherently unattainable. The skepticism surrounding the ability of humans to grasp reality has led some to doubt the existence of truth altogether. According to this view, neither reason nor our senses can provide us with a complete understanding of reality. In this perspective, suspending judgment and embracing doubt can lead to a sense of contentment and happiness.

However, this absolute skepticism has its limitations. Aristotle argued that complete skepticism leads to inaction and silence because every action and statement requires some level of belief or affirmation. The pursuit of truth, although challenging, is essential for personal growth and emancipation. Immanuel Kant believed that the search for truth is also an effort to liberate ourselves from illegitimate authorities that dictate our thoughts and actions. It requires us to overcome our own laziness and cowardice, ultimately leading to true freedom.

In conclusion, the question of whether duty is absolute or relative and whether truth is an ideal or a tangible reality is complex and multifaceted. While some argue for the existence of absolute duties and objective truth, others emphasize the role of context and societal norms. Despite these differences, there are actionable pieces of advice that can be derived from these debates. Here are three suggestions:

  • 1. Strive for a balance between absolute and relative duties. While there may be universal obligations that apply to all humans, it is also important to recognize the role of specific roles and responsibilities within different contexts.
  • 2. Embrace skepticism, but do not let it hinder your pursuit of truth. Doubt and critical thinking are essential for personal growth, but they should not lead to complete inaction or silence. Seek truth as a means of emancipation and liberation from illegitimate authorities.
  • 3. Continuously question and evaluate societal norms and values. Just because something is considered a duty or a truth within a particular society does not necessarily mean it is universally applicable. Be open to reevaluating and challenging established norms to foster progress and inclusivity.

By incorporating these pieces of advice into our lives, we can navigate the complexities of duty and truth with greater clarity and purpose.

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