November 07, 2013

Putting it Together: Subjective/Objective and Absolute/Relative

Our second building block is the difference between "absolute" and "relative". They do sounds a bit like subjective versus objective, don't they? So, how are these two pairs different? There are a few ways we could draw lines between them. Let's look at one:

One way to put it is that subjective and objective relate to statements, while absolute and relative refer to things. If I make a statement about a thing, my statement might be an object of statement or a subjective statement. The thing (for some quality of the thing) might be absolute or relative. This might be clearer with examples.

Example #1: A subjective, relative statement
"I like that it's cold outside."
This is a subjective statement because I'm talking about my opinion – that I like this thing. It is relative because cold is not an absolute idea – cold for a Texan is not cold for an Alaskan, necessarily. (This is, admittedly, the foggiest of the four cases, and subjective and relative come out feeling very similar to each other. Bear with me.)

Example #2: A subjective, absolute statement
"I like this chocolate ice cream."
This statement is subjective because I'm talking about my opinion. It is absolute because that ice cream is either chocolate or not; it is either ice cream or not. I'm making a subjective judgement about an absolute thing.

Example #3: An objective, relative statement
"It is cold outside."
This statement is objective because I am talking about something outside of myself, the subject. I am talking about the weather. It is relative because one man's cold is another man's temperate.

Example #4: an objective, absolute statement
"That is chocolate ice cream."
Here we're talking directly about the nature of a thing. You don't get more objective and absolute than that. I am not talking about my opinion or my feelings but about that ice cream. And it is either ice cream or not, and it is either chocolate or not.



A caution about absolute versus permanent. The word absolute does not necessarily mean permanent. In one of my examples in the last post, I referred to chocolate ice cream as an absolute. What I mean is a bowl of ice cream is either chocolate ice cream order it is not chocolate ice cream. Perhaps it is strawberry or Neapolitan or Rockyroad. You may say, but the ice cream couldn't melt! Yes, and then it would absolutely be melted ice cream. To say that something is so does not mean it is permanent. As you may imagine, both of these concepts will be very important when talking about God. God, like chocolate ice cream, is an absolute good, but, unlike chocolate ice cream in my presence, God is permanent.

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