By Graeme Taylor
When Socrates remarked that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, he meant that a life which lacks a search for truth is a life unfulfilled. To Socrates, fulfillment meant answering the most important question we face: “What is the truth?” The purpose of higher education is to answer this question. The painter strives to capture life’s emotions, the physicist strives to portray the world around them, but they share a common goal: finding the objective truth through their work.
As an undergraduate student about to enter his final year of school, I have found that many of my peers and instructors have ceased to ponder the question of truth.
Many universities have abandoned the search for truth, instead focusing on amenities. Kenyon College (where I’ll be a senior in the fall), is a small liberal arts school with around 1500 students. Kenyon recently spent nearly half of its endowment on our athletic center, despite the fact that the school do not offer athletic scholarships. The shift from educating to entertaining is due to the rise of relativistic thought amongst academics, who teach that there are no objective truths in life, that “right” and “wrong” are subjective. I am lucky; my department at Kenyon abhors relativism and teaches about it critically. However, relativistic thought is prevalent most elsewhere throughout the country. If a classmate of mine makes a value judgement between two cultures, they will be rebuked by their relativist peers and instructors, who will say “that’s just their culture!” Relativism holds that there is no right or wrong. Even when professors do not state this explicitly, this is what is being communicated to my classmates when they are told that they cannot evaluate the actions of another because these actions are a part of “their culture”.
To this I say: When there is no longer a right or wrong to understand, what is the point of education?
Relativism, by holding all goals and actions as equal in value, robs life of meaning. Instead of examining life’s greatest questions, Americans seek fulfillment through material objects (“sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll”), in an attempt to distract themselves from the boredom of living the low, unexamined life. Relativism has thrown universities, vessels in the discovery for truth, off course. They would rather build rock-climbing walls than seek ultimate answers to the pressing questions of our time.
Relativism as a concept isn’t conducive with “common sense”: One does not need a degree to realize that there is an inherent problem with claiming that “right and wrong” and “true or false” are only a matter of opinion. Despite this, relativist professors will follow relativism to its logical conclusion, even if it means supporting something that any sensible person would abhor. For example, Leopoldo Lopez is a Venezuelan politician and an alum of my school. He is also a political prisoner. In fall 2014, his family came to speak at our school. Prior to their talk, a sociology professor spent his class time instructing his students that they should think twice before supporting Lopez, because they didn’t understand Venezuela and the way of life down there. A relativist will not condemn any system or action, even when it leads to the loss of one’s life and freedom.
If there is no truth to be discovered, then there is no purpose in life other than to pass the time. In a relativist world, life is pointless: If everything has equal value, then nothing has any value. If we are to save our culture from decay, then the rescue must start at the universities, for this is where our culture is forged. The vessel of discovery has been set off course by relativism. The path back to discovery can be found in higher education. The rise of relativism originated in higher education, and its demise will only come through higher education. If something is to be done, we have to start with the universities.