We must postpone any in-depth examination of relativism. At present, let us be satisfied with this superficial conception and ask ourselves whether our time has abandoned the idea of the objectivity of values.
It is easy to see that this is not the case. Firstly, we can note the return of religion and even fanaticism. A believer does not assign a subjective value to his God, only an objective value. Let alone a fanatic believer, who would never die for anything which only has a subjective value. As a general rule, violence at a time reveals that most people believe in the objectivity of value.
Must we say that this criticism of objective value is, at least, made by our contemporary thinkers? Even within the scholar community, there is no consensus regarding this issue. Several essays aiming at establishing the objectivity of value –mainly that of morality- have been published recently by M. Conche (Foundation of morality), R. Misrahi (What is ethics?), A. Léonard (Foundation of morality), H. Putnam (The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and other Essays), D. Wiggins (Needs, Values, Truth), etc. Therefore, has the notion of objective value been abandoned? Perhaps by a small part of humanity, but not by the major part.
Consequently, it would be a mistake to assume that our time is relativist: properly speaking, our era is a period during which a relativist position can be expressed more freely than. However, relativism is not the sole viewpoint, which would be the truth of our time. If it were the case, this would mean that our epoch has a horizon, viz. a broad perspective that includes all others and gives them a meaning: relativism.
However, our time appears to be the first in which all axiological theories are “next to one another”: objectivism and relativism, optimism and nihilism, atheism and fanaticism, etc. It therefore seems correct to define our postmodern era as being “without any horizon” as no axiological theory prevails over the others. To believe the opposite is to misunderstand the meaning – and the deep truth – of the thought process developed by Lyotard and Sartre, and to thus consider our time as a melody, not as a cacophony.
The literary metaphor which helps us to better understand our time is probably the following sentence from Lautréamont:
As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table. This meaningless encounter between unrelated objects is a powerful image of the insane postmodern juxtaposition of radically distinct axiological theories.
Consequently, to reduce postmodernity to relativism amounts to considering that human history may be written as a great narrative, if not as a children’s tale: “Once upon a time Marxism, then relativism, etc”. What prevails today is, conversely, the cacophony of all hierarchies of values, which, freed by liberal democracy, are expressed in violence and chatter, and conflict with each other.
What defines our time is not a loss of meaning, but the affirmation of all possible meanings.