Paul Tillich on the Absoluteness of Absolutes

The logical position against any claim of relativism is a self-contradictory term, an impossible combination of words. If one avoids this impossible combination of words, relativism itself becomes relative: therefore an element of absoluteness is not only a possibility, but even a necessity, otherwise no assertion can be made.

But absolute relativism is also impossible practically (pragmatically). If I am asked to surrender totally to relativism I can say, “But I live! I know what ‘true’ and ‘false’ mean. I do something as ‘better’ than something else, I venerate something which concerns me ultimately and which for me is holy.” The question then is: How can one make such statements if relativism has the last word? In the different realms of man’s encounter with reality, there must be some absolutes that make meaningful life possible or it would be like the chaos before creation, described in Genesis. Therefore I believe it may be a service to life itself to find these absolutes and to show their validity and their limits.

(My Search for Absolutes, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967, pp. 65-66—emphases are Ed’s)

Paul Tillich’s Summary of His Absolutes

These absolutes were: (1) the structure of the mind that makes sense impressions possible, and the logical and semantic structures of the mind;(2) the universals that make language possible; (3) the categories and polarities that make understanding of reality possible. Others were (4) the unconditional character of the moral imperative, regardless of its contents, (5) the principle of justice–acknowledgement of every person as a person. Finally, there was (6) agape, love, which contains and transcends justice and unites the absolute and the relative by adapting itself to every concrete situation. (Ibid., 124.)