Are there absolute truths? Well, yes … and they are all trivial.
These are axioms, tautology, and truisms; respectively, true by definition (triangle, number, the meaning of add and subtract, etc.), true by form (ie logical grammar like “it is what it is”), true as brute fact (we accept these as true simply because we can neither explain them nor genuinely doubt them; like “I exist”, for example).
It makes no sense to say “I believe there are absolutes”. None.
Absolutes “just are” and there is no belief entailed because by definition, they are true, always true, undoubtedly true. They are also all trivial. They tell us nothing about the world. They are useful, but if the concept of “absolutes” is supposed to be more than trivial, there’s no getting from here to that idealistic romanticism.
What’s left? Well, deliberated truths. These and only these are significant and are what we are most concerned with every day. These are also the only “kind” of truths that necessitate belief. My writing just now and debates, advertising, these are all attempts to change your mind; to agree about something dubious.
In saying “I believe there are absolutes”, we are announcing to the world we corporately don’t believe they exist at all. We have said that though we don’t doubt they exist, it is a dubious claim one must become convinced of.
More oddly is the casual error in “Listen, absolutes exist! Jump off a cliff and tell me there’s no gravity on your way down!”
Folks, that is no different than saying absolutes exist because reality exists. What is true about “gravity”? Well, it isn’t about whether or not there’s some phenomenon in the world. Truth entails to what we make of that phenomenon. It is in saying something about the phenomenon itself. And for the specific example of gravity, the absolute truth sarcastically given is anecdotal and then cannot be an absolute truth at all. With gravity, we already are familiar with the phenomenon but we also know we have an incomplete understanding of it and we have two models of it that don’t play well together and so, we know one or both is wrong in some way. So, we have nothing absolute to say about gravity at all. We have useful models.
“So, what you’re saying is we can’t know anything for sure because we have to have absolutes to do that.”
No. That’s poor epistemology once more. Deliberation casts doubt on certitude, but certainty is psychology, not epistemology.
Belief is an attitudinal disposition toward a state of affairs. When beliefs are justified, the belief is labeled “true”. Knowledge is a web of beliefs, each justified in some way and considered true. True is ostensibly, “what the case is”. There’s nothing to say about truth, but all the conversation is centered around justification, and we can say much about that. In the most consolidated terms, all justification is determined by “reason to assert”; and the most assertable idea is the most believable and hence, what we think “is the case”.
“Ah, then this is all relativism then!”
No, not at all! A perfectly rational person, a person who wants the best reasons to believe what they do because they only want to believe what is true, won’t just think she can appeal to “her truth” and thumb her nose at “your truth”. She will of course want an objective opinion, and whenever possible, intersubjective agreement with others. Intersubjective agreement being the objective grounds which do not allow for “all points of view being equally valid”, “relative”, in other words. It satisfies our objections to thinking “there are rainbows because … magic” is equally valid to “there are rainbows because of particulate lightwave fragmentation through molecules of precipitation”.
“But ‘intersubjective’ is still subjective and not objective; a bunch of people agreeing on something doesn’t make it true!”
Sure! However, “objective” is not the opposite of “subjective” and it’s not the fact a group of folks agree that is the objective grounds; and, though all beliefs are subjective, not all beliefs are objective. What those grounds are comes from the fact that people don’t generally reason differently than anyone else. Logic applies, not because it is mind-independent (which it isn’t) but because it is a formal description of how people think; a specific language that makes sense for no other reason than it adequately represents how we think. Because of this, if we are all given the same information and have had similar kinds of experiences, we will likely agree on some conclusion and it again is “reasons to assert” that drive the process; not private relativisms or group-think. This, by the way, is the entire predicate of judicial systems that use a jury of one’s peers.
Now, that’s likely as much as need be said but it bears mentioning again that if a person asserts that absolute truths exist, it is necessarily dubious for the very fact the assertion can be doubted. Though not very problematic (any old idiot can doubt any assertion for no reason at all, after all), what is problematic is having to prove they exist in the first place for anyone genuinely doubting the assertion because they have good reason to; such as those above. In that case, it cannot be absolutely true absolute truths exist, and how one would prove it is exactly by “reason to assert” where one is merely left with more reason to believe than doubt, or doubt than believe. But, in justifying this way, it is QED that the entire appeal to claims of “absolute truths” is pointless; we’d prove it through deliberation.