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Absolutism vs. Relativism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on October 19, 2023
Absolutism believes in fixed truths; Relativism holds that truth varies based on perspective.

Key Differences

Absolutism and Relativism are philosophical stances that address the nature of truth, morality, and knowledge. They offer contrasting views on the universality or variability of such concepts.
Absolutism posits that certain truths, principles, or values are universal and unchanging. This means that regardless of cultural, historical, or individual differences, there are truths that remain constant and applicable.
On the other hand, Relativism argues that understanding and interpretation of truth, morality, or knowledge can vary based on cultural, historical, or individual perspectives. It suggests that what may be true or moral in one culture or time might not be so in another.
In Absolutism, there is a belief in an absolute standard, often grounded in a higher power or objective reality. This gives a definitive answer to moral and ethical questions, as there is a clear right or wrong.
In contrast, Relativism acknowledges the complexity and diversity of human experience and culture. It cautions against imposing a single view or standard on diverse societies or individuals, promoting an understanding that different perspectives can coexist.

Comparison Chart

Nature of Truth

Universal and unchanging
Varies based on perspective

Moral Standards

Fixed and objective
Subjective and variable


Often in a higher power or objective reality
Cultural, historical, or individual perspectives



Approach to Diversity

One truth for all
Multiple truths based on perspectives

Absolutism and Relativism Definitions


Absolutism stands firm against changing societal views.
Despite evolving societal norms, absolutism maintains its principles.


Relativism adapts to cultural or individual differences.
Cultural relativism respects diverse customs without judgment.


Absolutism is the belief in universal truths.
Absolutism dictates that stealing is always wrong, regardless of the situation.


Relativism believes truth is perspective-based.
Relativism suggests what's considered polite varies across cultures.


Absolutism often relies on an external authority.
Religious absolutism derives its principles from divine commandments.


Relativism holds no universal moral standards.
From a relativism view, morality can differ based on societal norms.


Absolutism holds certain principles as unchanging.
In moral absolutism, lying is deemed wrong, no matter the context.


Relativism argues against one-size-fits-all truths.
Relativism acknowledges that multiple realities can coexist.


A political theory holding that all power should be vested in one ruler or other authority.


Relativism promotes understanding over judgment.
Relativism teaches that understanding different viewpoints enriches society.


A form of government in which all power is vested in a single ruler or other authority.


The theory that value judgments, as of truth, beauty, or morality, have no universal validity but are valid only for the persons or groups holding them.


An absolute doctrine, principle, or standard.


The theory, especially in ethics or aesthetics, that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them.


(theology) Doctrine of preordination; doctrine of absolute decrees; doctrine that God acts in an absolute manner.


A specific such theory, advocated by a particular philosopher or school of thought.


The principles or practice of absolute or arbitrary government; despotism.


(philosophy) the philosophical doctrine that all criteria of judgment are relative to the individuals and situations involved


(philosophy) Belief in a metaphysical absolute; belief in Absolute.


Positiveness; the state of being absolute.


(rare) The characteristic of being absolute in nature or scope; absoluteness.


The state of being absolute; the system or doctrine of the absolute; the principles or practice of absolute or arbitrary government; despotism.
The element of absolutism and prelacy was controlling.


Doctrine of absolute decrees.


Dominance through threat of punishment and violence


A form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.)


The principle of complete and unrestricted power in government


The doctrine of an absolute being


Absolutism posits definitive right or wrong answers.
From an absolutism standpoint, there's a definite answer to every ethical dilemma.


Why is Relativism considered flexible?

Relativism adapts to cultural, historical, or individual differences in views.

What does Absolutism assert about truth?

Absolutism asserts that truth is universal and unchanging.

Can Absolutism accommodate changing societal norms?

Absolutism typically maintains fixed principles regardless of societal changes.

How does Relativism approach different cultures?

Relativism promotes understanding and respect for diverse cultural views and practices.

Is there a clear right or wrong in Absolutism?

Yes, Absolutism posits a definitive right or wrong based on universal truths.

Is religious belief a form of Absolutism?

Some religious beliefs can be absolutist, holding certain truths as divine and unchanging.

Can Absolutism and Relativism coexist in one's beliefs?

While contrasting, some individuals may hold both absolutist and relativist views in different areas of life.

How does Relativism view moral standards?

Relativism believes moral standards are subjective and vary based on perspective.

Does Relativism believe in a universal moral code?

No, Relativism holds that moral codes can differ based on various factors.

How do Absolutism and Relativism view ethical dilemmas?

Absolutism seeks definitive answers, while Relativism may accept multiple valid perspectives.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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