By: Hendrik van der Breggen

My wife and I recently watched a Jimmy Kimmel video in which various American young people (including college-educated students) are presented with a map of the world (without written text) and are asked to identify at least one country—any country. All failed, except for a young boy at the end of the clip.

Sure, the sample is small and probably many who identified a country were left out of the video. Kimmel is an entertainer, after all.

But, still, the fact that even a few people couldn’t identify any county—including the U.S. or Canada—is disturbing.

I have been teaching Philosophy (in Canada) at the college/university level since 1996, when I first began as an adjunct instructor. My experience is limited, but I’ve noticed some troubling trends. Here are some examples.

In my Ethics courses when I discuss war, a growing number of students are unaware of which countries were involved in World War II. Some are even shocked when I point out that the U.S. didn’t want to go to war, but Japan initiated war with the U.S. by a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re also surprised when I point out that the winners of WWII helped rebuild the countries of the losers. Many simply seem to think the West is always bad, period.

When I discuss abortion, many students are unaware that there is no abortion law in Canada. Moreover, apparently following the lead of our present Prime Minister, many think abortion is a woman’s legal right.

They (including the Prime Minister) are unaware that Canada’s 1988 Supreme Court ruling did not give women the legal right to abortion. It merely struck down law that required therapeutic abortion committees. Why? Because the committees were not equally accessible across Canada and thus unfair to women. The Supreme Court ruling tasked Parliament with making an abortion law to remedy this unfairness and protect unborn children.

When I discuss homosexuality, a growing number of students simply think “born that way” justifies sexual behavior. But none seem aware that more reasoning is needed. If not, then my being born with a propensity to lie, steal, covet, kill, or have sex with children would justify behaving accordingly. Too much listening to Lady Gaga, I suppose.

In other courses, when I discuss the concept of truth, many students are unaware that truth isn’t merely subjective. I suppose they come by it honestly, since I’ve heard a professor say truth can’t be objective because we are subjective.

Yes, we are subjective beings, but that only means we perceive truth—objective, opinion-independent real truth—subjectively, not that there isn’t objective truth (and not that it isn’t knowable).

Think of the truth of Pythagoras’s theorem: for any right triangle the hypotenuse squared is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. This is objectively true, even though we subjectively perceive (know) it.

Truth is what is the case in reality or an accurate description of it; it’s not merely subjective.

I recently read an argument written by a professor in which it is concluded that love matters more than truth. The author seems unaware that his whole case rests on the truth claims made in his premises.

Surely, arguing love matters more than truth is like arguing one blade of a pair of scissors is more important than the other, or one airplane propeller blade is more important than the other. A wise friend puts it this way, “truth is the objective reality that informs what it means to love.”

Are we failing to educate our children?


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. Hendrik’s teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, critical thinking/ logic, and ethics. Over the past ten years, Hendrik has written (and continues to write) the newspaper column “Apologia” in which he attempts to make philosophy accessible to the general reader. Past and current installments of “Apologia” are available at Hendrik’s blog. Links to Hendrik’s other articles can be found at his faculty profile page. The views expressed here or in his column/blog do not always reflect the views of Providence.

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