The term Absolutism may refer to philosophical stances which promote notions of absolute truth, involving contentions that in particular realms of thought, all statements in that domain are either absolutely true or absolutely false; in ethical philosophy such can include forms of moral absolutism, asserting that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are either good or evil, regardless of the context of the act, or graded absolutism, the view that a moral absolute, like "Do not kill," can be greater or lesser than another moral absolute, like "Do not lie." In social theories it can refer to autocracy (also known as "political absolutism"), involving political theories which argue that one person should hold all power, thus including systems of absolute monarchy, forms of government where the monarch has the power to rule their land freely, with no laws or legally organized direct opposition in force, and enlightened absolutism, the policies of absolute rulers who were influenced by the Enlightenment of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Europe. It can also indicate ideas of absolute space, in theories holding that space exists absolutely, in contrast to relationalism, which holds that space exists only as relations between objects, as well as to the absolute idealism of ontologically monistic philosophies, such as that attributed to Hegel in his accounts of how being is ultimately comprehensible as an all-inclusive whole. In rational and political contexts, many absolutist assumptions and stances are vigorously opposed by those of relativism and assessments and arguments of absurdism and anarchism which can involve implicit or explicit acceptance of both absolute and relative aspects of Reality or values within it.

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  • There is absolute truth in anarchism and it is to be seen in its attitude to the sovereignty of the state and to every form of state absolutism. ... The religious truth of anarchism consists in this, that power over man is bound up with sin and evil, that a state of perfection is a state where there is no power of man over man, that is to say, anarchy. The Kingdom of God is freedom and the absence of such power... the Kingdom of God is anarchy.


  • Relativism is not indifference; on the contrary, passionate indifference is necessary in order for you not to hear the voices that oppose your absolute decrees … Relativism is neither a method of fighting, nor a method of creating, for both of these are uncompromising and at times even ruthless; rather, it is a method of cognition.






  • George Bush made a mistake when he referred to the Saddam Hussein regime as "evil." Every liberal and leftist knows how to titter at such black-and-white moral absolutism. What the president should have done, in the unlikely event that he wanted the support of America's peace-mongers, was to describe a confrontation with Saddam as the "lesser evil." This is a term the Left can appreciate. Indeed, "lesser evil" is part of the essential tactical rhetoric of today's Left, and has been deployed to excuse or overlook the sins of liberal Democrats, from President Clinton's bombing of Sudan to Madeleine Albright's veto of an international rescue for Rwanda when she was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Among those longing for nuance, moral relativism — the willingness to use the term evil, when combined with a willingness to make accommodations with it — is the smart thing: so much more sophisticated than "cowboy" language.
    • Christopher Hitchens, as quoted in Christopher Hitchens and His Critics : Terror, Iraq, and the Left (2008) edited by Thomas Cushman and Simon Cottee
  • It is possible that the distinction between moral relativism and moral absolutism has sometimes been blurred because an excessively consistent practice of either leads to the same practical result — ruthlessness in political life.
    • Richard Hofstadter, in The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. (1955), Introduction, p. 16
  • In the light of absolute values (religious or ethical) man himself is judged to be limited or imperfect, while he can occasionally accomplish acts which partake of perfection, he, himself can never be perfect.



  • Every truth—if it really is truth—presents itself as universal, even if it is not the whole truth. If something is true, then it must be true for all people and at all times. Beyond this universality, however, people seek an absolute which might give to all their searching a meaning and an answer—something ultimate, which might serve as the ground of all things. In other words, they seek a final explanation, a supreme value, which refers to nothing beyond itself and which puts an end to all questioning. Hypotheses may fascinate, but they do not satisfy. Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt.Through the centuries, philosophers have sought to discover and articulate such a truth, giving rise to various systems and schools of thought. But beyond philosophical systems, people seek in different ways to shape a “philosophy” of their own—in personal convictions and experiences, in traditions of family and culture, or in journeys in search of life's meaning under the guidance of a master. What inspires all of these is the desire to reach the certitude of truth and the certitude of its absolute value.



  • The Russo-Japanese War now gives to all an awareness that even war and peace in Europe – its destiny – isn’t decided between the four walls of the European concert, but outside it, in the gigantic maelstrom of world and colonial politics.
    And its in this that the real meaning of the current war resides for social-democracy, even if we set aside its immediate effect: the collapse of Russian absolutism. This war brings the gaze of the international proletariat back to the great political and economic connectedness of the world, and violently dissipates in our ranks the particularism, the pettiness of ideas that form in any period of political calm.


  • A modern theory of knowledge which takes account of the relational as distinct from the merely relative character of all historical knowledge must start with the assumption that there are spheres of thought in which it is impossible to conceive of absolute truth existing independently of the values and position of the subject and unrelated to the social context.




  • How are you going to teach virtue if you teach the relativity of all ethical ideas? Virtue, if it implies anything at all, implies an ethical absolute. A person whose idea of what is proper varies from day to day can be admired for his broadmindedness, but not for his virtue.
  • All parties without exception, when they seek for power, are varieties of absolutism.
    • Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, as quoted in Crown's Book of Political Quotations : Over 2500 Lively Quotes from Plato to Reagan (1982) by Michael Jackman, p. 160



  • Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.
    • Bertrand Russell, in "Unpopular Essays" (1950), Ch. 2: Philosophy for Laymen, p. 43


  • He who dreamed of democracy, far back in a world of absolutism, was indeed heroic, and we of today awaken to the wonder of his dream.
    • Louis Sullivan, in "Education" an address to the Architectural League of America, Toronto (1902), later published in Kindergarten Chats (revised 1918) and Other Writings (1947)


  • We designate by the term "State" institutions that embody absolutism in its extreme form and institutions that temper it with more or less liberality. We apply the word alike to institutions that do nothing but aggress and to institutions that, besides aggressing, to some extent protect and defend. But which is the State's essential function, aggression or defence, few seem to know or care.




  • Following Korzybski, I put things in probabilities, not absolutes... My only originality lies in applying this zetetic attitude outside the hardest of the hard sciences, physics, to softer sciences and then to non-sciences like politics, ideology, jury verdicts and, of course, conspiracy theory.





  • Every country has its own constitution; ours is absolutism moderated by assassination.
  • Relativity must replace absolutism in the realm of morals as well as in the spheres of physics and biology. This of course does not involve the denial of the principle of continuity in human affairs. Nor does it mean that each generation must repudiate the system of values of its predecessors. It does mean, however, that no such system is permanent; that it will have to change and grow in response to experience.

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Last modified on 21 March 2014, at 01:51