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liminal's avatar

When you come across a conversation where absolutes are being discussed and someone presents an exception to the absolute how do you respond?

Asked by liminal (7769points) March 8th, 2010

I have been in many a conversation where an exception to a rule is presented and people start getting all in a dither and combative over something that is surely more about their cognitive dissonance than the information at hand. I know it can be true of me.

I have seen people respond to exception/s as evidence that the absolute exists, for them: “That’s the exception that proves the rule.”

I have seen people think the absolute has no validity because of the presence of an exception. “That exception disproves the rule.”

Here is an innocuous example:

Dr. Wonderful says: “Smoking leads to death.”

Mr. Malevolent says: “No way! My aunt petunia has been smoking on her corncob pipe every day of her beautiful life all the way up until that bus killed her!”

How about you, does an exception to an absolute cause you to rethink the topic at hand, do you dismiss the exception, do you start digging into your own perceptions, or some other facinating thing?

Do you even know what I am talking about?

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16 Answers

Jewel's avatar

I immediately give them a Great Answer!
Absolutes are not always true or relevant. They can make the answerer look pretty silly when others with different knowledge, or differnt absolutes, begin to speak on the subject.
I feel it is smartest and more inviting (of conversation) if we avoid absolutes.

lillycoyote's avatar

One of the problems with your example is that it is not an absolute. Smoking greatly increases the risks of premature death caused by all sorts of diseases, cancers, emphysema, etc. I think smoking leads to death in only about fifty percent of cases and statistical risk is not a predictor for individual risk. In a room full of smokers, half of them will die from smoking but you can’t predict whether or not one of them will be Aunt Petunia or not. There are very few absolutes in the world in spite of the abundance of people who possess absolute certainty about something.

Your_Majesty's avatar

I’m so open. However,I need to observe what’s the exception about(is it rational,relevant,fact,or else). As we know that “there’s no absolute answer for every single thing in this world”,for that exception will always exist. I usually will defend my perception,but sometime I’ll try to consider other exception answer(if it’s really arguable). The best we could do as one community is to find and solve(judge and be judged,correct and incorrect) a hypothetical issue through argumentation.

liminal's avatar

@lillycoyote So, you look to see if there is really an absolute at hand?

liminal's avatar

@Jewel I agree, I think the use of absolutes is tricky ground.

liminal's avatar

@Doctor_D I appreciate your approach!

filmfann's avatar

If there is an exception, it is not an absolute.

davidbetterman's avatar

I tell them never say never.

Jeruba's avatar

Do you really mean “global generalizations” rather than “absolutes”?

wundayatta's avatar

I refuse to discuss absolutes. But then, I’m a statistician—on average.

A little statistics joke.

liminal's avatar


As I read these responses I realize that I am really wondering how people respond to the presence of absolutes in a discussion and secondly, if exceptions are offered to prove a statement is a global generalization, rather than an absolute, how do they then respond? Which I fear isn’t much clearer, but I hope it is.

Also, I don’t like the example I used, I think it detracts and wish I could take it away.

wundayatta's avatar

Do not generalize from one case. Exceptions don’t “prove” the rule. They are, however, part of normal variation. Which is to say that they don’t disprove the generalization.

Anyway, that’s what I usually say. Something like that.

liminal's avatar

I’ve noticed.

lillycoyote's avatar

@liminal yes, and there usually isn’t one. As I said, there are very few absolutes and if people insist on arguing from a position that there are, from a position of absolute certainty, and that their absolute is the one that is absolutely right, then I generally just walk away, because there is really no point in debating or arguing with people who are already certain that what they believe or “know” is correct.

Coloma's avatar

I concur…in my humble opinion, the only absoloute is the fact we exist, well…death and taxes do factor in. lol The rest is perspective.

I recently experienced this with a person I do not know well on a trip I took to Southeast Asia. I am fan of the eastern philosophies and they are rigidly fundementalist…ooooh boy…started sharing some Buddhist perspectives and they immediatly adopted a very aggresive ’ Everyone WILL BE JUDGED by the ONE GOD!

I could intuit they were turned off to me permanently…the judgement had been made, blindly of course, as is always the case. :-(

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