Ontological Relativism: Our Civilization’s Latest Thing

Philosophy at its best is the study of basic reality. It helps people to think more accurately. At its worst, philosophy is irrelevant or malevolent. Let the buyer beware.

One way to divide philosophy is into ethics, epistemology and metaphysics.  Each can be ruined by being relativized.

The classic expression of ethical relativism is Pope Francis’s infamous “Who am I to judge?” In moral relativism there is no morality for all, just for individuals. Ethics is subjective (relative to the subject who is ethicizing), not objective (the same for everyone.)

Epistemological relativism says “Your truth is not my truth.” Everyone (or maybe every tribe) has his own truth. Alethic relativism (it sounds better in Greek) makes all truth relative to the subject, the individual.

These last two have been popular for decades, because relativism means you cannot be wrong.  But there’s a new kid on the relativistic block. When the postmodern dude or dudette says “I self-identify as a[n] insert descriptor here” he is spouting ontological relativism.

Ontology is a subset of metaphysics, the study of the foundational principles of reality. Ontology deals with existence itself: What does it mean for something to exist? What are the possible modes of existence? What things really do exist? Ontological relativism expresses the idea that the nature of your existence, your very substance, is up for grabs. What you really are is your own choice.

In philosophy, “what you really are” could be called your substance. “Substance relativism” is another name for ontological relativism.

The appeal of substance relativism is the same as the appeals of the other relativisms: Under moral relativism you cannot be bad. Under alethic relativism you cannot be mistaken. And under substance relativism, your soul is free to be whatever it wants.

Under relativism, you’re off the hook. You have a perpetual get-out-of-jail-free card. And you have a magic ring that can make you be whatever you want to be. If reality is displeasing, Presto! Just change reality.


That’s the necessary endpoint of demanding freedom without acknowledging God, the ultimate authority and determiner of reality. If man really is the measure of all things, then all things (no exceptions) are whatever he wants them to be.

The only way out of this postmodern nightmare is to acknowledge the true and living God, the God of the Bible.


15 thoughts on “Ontological Relativism: Our Civilization’s Latest Thing

  1. Most magic rings are inhabited by a spirit. One supposes therefore that the ring is as much a subject as its possessor. But for the radical subjectivity of substance relativism to work, the magic ring must be excluded from the stretchiness of the very substance relativism that it serves. The magic ring cannot go on strike — or be other than the magic ring and servant of the bearer. Let the internal logic of substance relativism run itself to its end: Substance relativism is the involuntary servitude of the not-me to the me. When boys who claim to be girls and girls who claim to be boys demand that someone else should acknowledge their delusion as a reality, they are demanding servitude of the other.

    • Now that you mention it, that’s the passive-aggressive side of all relativisms: I can beat you up by saying passively that you’re wrong, all the while denying that I’m doing it. Substance relativism is me forcing you to inhabit my world when you’re around me. And the government sides with the relativists, for crying out loud!

      And thanks for your comment, Tom. Good to hear fro m you.

    • Sauron’s Ring had a will of its own, which was that of its maker;
      but not necessarily that of its bearer.
      Indeed, sooner or later the Ring’s will would overwhelm that of any bearer
      (of any bearer other than that of its maker, that is)
      even were the bearer to be as strong as Gandalf or Galadriel.

  2. I’m not sure that a man who tells us he is a woman is trafficking in ontological relativism, since OR forbids him saying what he is is to me or anyone else. We have the same ontological autonomy that he does, and his immediate self-consciousness does not put him in a “privileged position.” Consistent OR results in ontological anarchy. I think the trick nowadays is to seek ontological advantage with inconsistent use of OR. OR serves as a prophylactic that protects my “reality” from external criticism, but OR is normally augmented with an “intersectional” argument that makes my reality binding on you. Let’s follow the example of the PC atheists and call this OR+.

    In Biblical terms, this is Satanism. Just as Satan refused submission to God, so disciples of OR refuse submission to reality. Once they do this, they find, like Satan, that autonomy is not enough, and that they have a great thirst to dominate others. So they become disciples of OR+. Not only must you allow them to live in their reality (a.k.a. fantasy world), but you must join them in it.

    People who live in reality normally feel pity or amusement (or sometimes fear) when they meet a fantast. People who live in a fantasy normally feel anger when they meet a realist. I’ve found this to be the best test to tell the two apart. When I disagree with a realist, he usually shrugs his shoulders and laughs. This makes me suspect I’m off my nut. When I disagree with a fantast, he gets mad. This makes me suspect he is off his nut.

    • In this context — and having just read Master and Margarita (1940) by Mikhail Bulgakov (1891 – 1940) — I might want to defend Satan, or at least Bulgakov’s Satan. Mephistopheles is what he is and wants to be what he is (I am arguing after Bulgakov), not what he is not. The Devil, being a rational person, has at long last noticed that his substance relativism has done him no good, and he rejects it. He cannot be other than who he is, and who he is, is inferior to Him against Whom he once rebelled, but he is morally superior to the commissars and knows it. Eternal, he has had a good deal of time in which to figure these things out. He has figured them out, at least according to Bulgakov. Satan accepts “is-ness.” with which previously he was at odds.

      In Master and Margarita, Satan manifests himself in Moscow in 1928. The evil of the Communist regime is so evil, that it offends even Satan and causes his decisive change of mind. More particularly, the nominalism of Bolshevist propaganda irritates Satan, who is, or has become, a realist. In Bulgakov’s story, Satan turns Communist Moscow upside down, humiliates the commissariat, and aids those whom the commissariat has persecuted — in particular, an author who has written a novel about Pontius Pilate and Christ, and has had it rejected by the state publishing outfit. In a moving gesture, Satan arranges, at the end of Bulgakov’s novel, for the actual Pontius Pilate to be reconciled with the actual Jesus Christ and to ascend with Him to the Beyond.

      In their espousal of OR+, the adherents of the Left have gone beyond Satanism, enough that Satan himself likely experiences outrage over their hubris. The “rational” and “scientific” Communists who come into traffic with Satan in Master and Margarita invoke the “really there is no reality” hypothesis to explain away the inverse miracles that have shaken the regime. How very scientific!

      But I am testing the patience of my friends…

      • I like the notion of an inverse miracle or anti-miracle. Not that I’d like to be present when one occurred, mind you. But this is what happens when men develop the hubris to imagine themselves supernatural. They wind up like Micky Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Fantasia.

    • ‘Not only must you allow them to live in their reality
      (a.k.a. fantasy world), but you must join them in it.’

      There is a perfect demonstration of this reported in the Grauniad:

      “…activists for transgender rights view it as deeply offensive to deliberately use the wrong pronoun for a trans person. Doing so could be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it a crime to send messages that are indecent or grossly offensive, threatening, or contain information which is false or believed to be false, if the purpose for sending it is to cause distress or anxiety.”

      Believed to be false…?
      By whom?

  3. Pingback: Ontological Relativism: Our Civilization’s Latest Thing | Reaction Times

  4. This “ontological relativism” harkens back to Mark Richardson’s idea of “liberalism” as “self-creation” and the seemingly ephemeral nature of those “identities” not chosen, e.g., race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, religion, etc. What has “evolved” though is the apparent primacy of a self-annihilation to this “liberalism of self-creation.” It is the fact under constant attack. The particular creation is static and worthy of destruction because particular is not autonomous at that point of creation. So in the real world, true-hearted liberals are constantly destroying their last created self subconsciously recognizing the primacy of “radical autonomy” over and above any particular created state of being.

    “Ontological relativism” is perpetuating self-annihilation under the guise of revolutionary “self-creation.”

  5. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 08/25/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores


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