Blind Men and the Elephant – A Picture of Relativism and Tolerance
The Blind Men and the Elephant is a famous Indian fable that tells the story of six blind sojourners that come across different parts of an elephant in their life journeys. In turn, each blind man creates his own version of reality from that limited experience and perspective. In philosophy departments throughout the world, the Blind Men and the Elephant has become the poster child for moral relativism and religious tolerance.
Blind Men and the Elephant – A Poem by John Godfrey Saxe
Here is John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816-1887) version of Blind Men and the Elephant:
It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
The Third approach'd the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," -quoth he- "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," -quoth he,-
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," -quoth he,- "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
Blind Men and the Elephant – Philosophical Parable
The Blind Men and the Elephant is an ancient parable used today as a warning for people that promote absolute truth or exclusive religious claims. The simple reason is that our sensory perceptions and life experiences can lead to limited access and overreaching misinterpretations. How can a person with a limited touch of truth turn that into the one and only version of all reality?
Blind Men and the Elephant – Theological Truth
When it comes to the moral of the Blind Men and the Elephant, it seems that today’s philosophers end their agenda too quickly. Doesn’t the picture of the blind men and the elephant also point to something bigger -- The elephant? Indeed, each blind man has a limited perspective on the objective truth, but that doesn’t mean objective truth isn’t there. In fact, truth isn’t relative at all… It’s there to discover in all its totality. In theology, just because we have limited access to Truth, that doesn’t mean any and all versions of Truth are equally valid. Actually, if we know the Whole Elephant is out there, shouldn’t this drive us to open our eyes wider and seek every opportunity to experience more of Him?