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In Revenge of the Sith, Obi Wan tells Anakin:

Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

Then, in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda proclaims:

Do, or do not. There is no try.

Isn't this an absolute statement?

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    First off, just because Obi-Wan says it, it doesn't mean Yoda shares the view. See here for discussion about how Obi-Wan was wrong to say it. – phantom42 Aug 21 '15 at 14:12
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    Yes, well "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" is pretty absolute too. :-P – FuzzyBoots Aug 21 '15 at 14:28
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    Also, technically, Yoda said that in ESB and then Obi-Wan said it in RotS. – Dave Johnson Aug 21 '15 at 15:22
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    Obi Wan says: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." (RotJ) He says this after revealing the truth about Anikin's "death". This line may be out of context for the question, but it somewhat adds to @phantom42 comment – Eckert Aug 21 '15 at 17:41
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    "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" is the most absolute statement ever made in the Star Wars franchise. – Wad Cheber Aug 21 '15 at 22:33
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Looking at this from an in-universe point of view there seems to be a relatively straightforward answer. At the point where Kenobi says his rather bizarre and (to us) obviously illogical line he is still very much a part of the "old" Jedi order and a product of its flawed thinking. The Jedi had wallowed for a long time in the gray areas of indecision, hesitation, and doubt and that was the prime reason that they failed to foresee and prevent Sidious' plans. Kenobi's misguided assertions are the product of widespread institutional failure on the part of the Jedi order.

At the point where he says the line in question, the philosophy underpinning it is completely real and true for him. Only much later in the years leading up to the events of ANH does Kenobi have the time to reflect upon, learn from, and correct his mistaken perspective. This process of growth is mirrored by Yoda's own journey of reflection, which began in the immediate aftermath of his duel with Sidious.

Later on when Yoda is training Luke we see that the ancient Jedi master has banished the cognitive fogs that plagued him - finally he is able to see reality as well as his own past failures of perception. His famous line "do or do not, there is no try" seems to be firmly focused upon the idea of concrete results - something the Jedi and the rebellion desperately need. There is no time left for the indecision and ambiguity of the pre-Empire era, and Yoda has grown to understand that the only chance for success lies in the careful and deliberate integration of two of the Sith's greatest strengths into the training of the Jedi: forceful, confident action and clarity of purpose.

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Out-of-universe, it just boils down to syntax and a bit of hair-splitting.

Quote 1

Anakin: If you're not with me, then you're my enemy.

Obi-wan: Only a Sith deals in absolutes. I will do what I must.

Both Anakin and Obi-wan are using an absolute construction of language in terms of their syntax. Obi-wan is expressing an unsupported fact (if indeed it is true), whereas Anakin is taking an absolute position on a (presumably) inherently subjective issue (politics/philosophy) and portraying his opinion as a fact by excluding alternatives.

The only practical way of expressing an unsupported position as a fact without explaining why is to exclude all alternatives by using an absolute construction. Thus, in this case, the two, the content and the construction, become commingled.

Superficially, both of their statements appear as opinions expressed absolutely. Obi-wan's is a fact which sounds like an opinion because he provides no supporting evidence. Anakin's is an opinion or at least an unsupported position whose absolute expression excludes alternatives and thus makes it sound like a fact. Both of them sound like they are trying to make facts out of opinions by using absolute syntax, but 'internally' they sound like this for different reasons.

In his reply, Obi-wan is not referring to how Anakin constructs his sentence, but rather the sentiment of the sentence itself. That the sentiment must necessarily be contingent on the syntax is just an artifice of language in that specific scenario, it doesn't equate an absolute construct with an absolute position. It is just a weird coincidence that the word absolute has to cross with a scenario where an absolute construction and an absolute position intersect.

If it had been written another way, the issue would not have come up at all. For instance:

  • Anakin could have said something like "I fully believe in and am committed to my ideas, and knowing you and the practices of the Jedi Order, if you won't help me then I can reasonably infer that you will most likely do everything that you can to oppose me, therefore I find no other alternative than to presume you as my enemy."

  • In reply, Obi-wan could have said something like "I have observed that the Sith (and not any others), in contrast to the Jedi's practices, have a tendency to express decidedly absolute positions on subjective issues, as you have heretofore. Therefore, knowing this, and that you are now a Sith, and taking into context your previous comments and our current situation, as a faithful Jedi Master, I regrettably must oppose your plans as I no longer believe that I may sway you from your stated path."

Of course that language is stilted and absurd, but you get my point. If written differently neither would have had to get into the murky waters of commingling the construction of their sentences and their content.

Quote 2

Luke: Alright, I'll give it a try.

Yoda: No, try not. Do or do not, there is no try.

Yoda is stating that you can't use the Force by trying. Whereas trying can imply a directed and conscientious effort which in many cases may be good enough, Yoda rejects even this and suggests a far more concrete and committed state of mind has to be used. This state of mind can be thought of as knowing or believing (knowing without evidence). Anything less 'focused' than this will not work. Doing it is contingent upon, and the same as, this mindset of believing in it, and Yoda references this later on after he raises Luke's ship out of the swamp:

Luke: I don't, I don't believe it.

Yoda: That is why you fail.

Yoda speaks idiomatically, and in this case his use of an absolute construction again confuses it with the content. Yoda could just as easily have said "Based on my 800-odd years of training in the Force, and my extensive experience as a Jedi Grand Master, especially in the training of the Younglings for so long, I have observed that in order to use the Force effectively you cannot haphazardly 'try', you have to be fully committed to what you are doing, and if you do, then you will be able to use the Force."

Conclusion

Although all three sentences use an absolute construction, and the writing makes them all sound the same and therefore contradictory, they are different:

  • Anakin is offering a false choice to Obi-wan based on a conclusion/position that he has drawn from their discussion of subjective issues. As the Sith apparently have the tendency to believe that their conclusions/position are absolute (equivalent to facts) he is using an absolute construction of language since there is no other way to portray a conclusion/position as a fact without explaining why unless you exclude all alternatives using an absolute construction.

  • Obi-wan is expressing what he considers to be a now self-evident fact (due to the content of Anakin's statements), but due to a lack of supporting evidence alongside an absolute construction of language, he makes it sound like an absolute opinion and therefore equivalent to Anakin's.

  • Yoda is expressing an opinion (on a subject, the Force, which is highly interpretational even within the Jedi Order, but) which very well may be a fact, though without supporting evidence, and due to his idiomatic expression it sounds like an absolute statement.

N.B.1. The Jedi don't claim that they never use absolute constructions of language, they use them all the time. The Jedi also hold absolute positions on interpretational issues, as Null pointed out, such as The Dark Side of the Force. I am not convinced that the Jedi's absolutes are highly subjective issues that they pigeonhole into being objective, nor that they use absolute positions in their reasoning, but if there is evidence that they do then I'll have to change my answer.

N.B.2. In the quoted conversation on Mustafar between Anakin and Obi-wan, Anakin presents a number of opinions about politics and the Jedi, and from them draws the conclusion that what he is doing is justified. He then presents Obi-wan with a false choice (friend/enemy). My answer is based upon interpreting Obi-wan's statement in the context of the entire conversation.

N.B.3. In their conversation, Obi-wan sees Anakin going down a line of what he considers faulty reasoning (the Jedi are evil! et cetera) and points out to Anakin that the tendency to see subjective things as absolute where they actually are not can lead to precisely that kind of faulty conclusion, and that this is a tendency of the Sith. In this context, Obi-wan considers it to be a fact that the Sith do this, as Anakin has just portrayed it, and his comment is as much on the 'absolute' conclusion that Anakin has drawn, as his chain of reasoning that used 'absolute' positions.

  • Anakin's statement is not an opinion. It is either true, or it may be a false dichotomy (it's not a false dichotomy in this case because Anakin is forcing Obi-Wan to choose sides). Obi-Wan's statement is arguably opinion since the Jedi do seem to have absolutes (e.g. never use the dark side! forever will it dominate your path!). Yoda may be merely expressing an opinion, but it could be a fact based on his experience as a Jedi (possibly you really have to resolve yourself to do something, and merely trying is not enough). – Null Aug 26 '15 at 19:11
  • It's a fair point about Anakin. The conversation is on subjective matters but that doesn't necessarily make his stated conclusions based on it an opinion. I'll try and find a different way of saying it. Yoda could be expressing a fact, and probably is, as I sorted of alluded to in my suggested wording, but since he didn't substantiate it and the Force in general is very 'interpretational' in-universe, I didn't want to make the standing claim that he was stating a fact. I'll see if I can make that more clear as well. – Phyneas Aug 26 '15 at 19:38
  • I don't entirely agree about Obi-wan, but I see your point. I am interpreting Obi-wan's statement as being a rejection of portraying the subjective as the objective. If it really does turn out that the Jedi take highly subjective claims and portray them as objective then he is being a hypocrite. Although the Jedi do make authoritative statements on issues, I didn't see it in the same spirit as what he was castigating Anakin for, but I'll see if I can fit in that distinction somewhere. – Phyneas Aug 26 '15 at 19:42
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Adding to User251563's answer:I would also add, though I may be wrong, that while ObiWan is a Knight, Yoda is a very old Master whom one is given to believe would understand the nature of the Force far better than Obi-Wan. This especially makes sense given that on top of everything else, Yoda has had a couple of decades to do little more than ruminate on the nature of the Force.

Or perhaps Yoda knew that Luke had a ridiculously high midichlorian count and was being held back by his lack of understanding of the force.

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The question is how widely we should interpret Obi-wan's statement, and the answer is - not that widely.

Obviously there are absolute facts in the physical world, and the Jedi have no problem dealing with them. There's a door, it's either open or closed, and if you ask a Jedi about it they won't waffle about, but tell you whether it's open or closed. (Well, assuming they're in a helpful mood.)

This is basically where Yoda's statement is. There's an X-Wing in the swamp, it will either rise or not rise when Luke tries to lift it. The question of whether his technique will lift the X-Wing out of the swamp is inherently a physical absolute. If we rearrange his statement, it's essentially "you'll never get that thing out by trying, only by doing". Even if we generalize this to talk about Force powers in general, it's still a statement of physical cause and effect.

Obi-wan isn't talking about physics, though. His is a question of ethics. Anakin is describing an ethic that divides the galaxy into "people who obey me" and "people I stab with my lightsaber" and Obi-wan is saying emphatically that this is not what Jedi are supposed to believe. They're not meant to crusade, even against the Dark Side, and this is precisely why. Jedi are meant to build communities and compromise, and to bring about peace. Therefore, anyone who truly believes what Anakin is saying is not a proper Jedi.

At worst Obi-wan is guilty of some rather pointed hyperbole: he presumably doesn't literally believe that the Sith are the only people who practice such black-and-white thinking, but they're the relevant one to hand. (It's not like Anakin is threatening to go join the Brownshirts or his local homeowners' association.) He doesn't specify that he's talking about an ethical debate because to Anakin that would be obvious in context.

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