Madville Times does a great job of refuting South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard's latest erroneous contention about the value of philosophy. If fact, Cory does such a great job that I would not even have bother with this post if Daugaard had not put out a weekly release with this sentence: "Everything is relative, of course."
The numbers Daugaard is referring to in the press release may need context, but they are not relative. Given Daugaard's distaste for liberal arts, one should not be surprised that the Governor is imprecise in his language use. All of us are at times, but no one in the South Dakota blogosphere has a paid staff hired to ensure usage is precise. It is more troubling that Daugaard sees nothing wrong with the phrase "everything is relative. In fact, not everything is relative.
Let's turn to philosopher Simon Blackburn.
Then, fortunately, there are countless small, unpretentious things that we know with perfect certainty. Happiness is preferable to misery, and dignity is better than humiliation. It is bad that people suffer, and worse if a culture turns a blind eye to their suffering. Death is worse than life; the attempt to find a common point of view is better than manipulative contempt for it. –Simon Blackburn, Being Good, 134.Terry Eagleton provides and even stronger statement:
All truths are established from specific viewpoints; but it does not make sense to say that there is a tiger in the bathroom from my point of view but not from yours. You and I may contend fiercely about whether there is a tiger in the bathroom or not. To call truth absolute here is just to say that one of us has to be wrong.Off the top of my head, I can think of only two schools of philosophical thought that would accept "everything is relative" as true: the ancient sophists and their descendants, the postmodern deconstructionists. For whatever reason, Daugaard doesn't seem like one of the latter.
If it is true that racism is an evil, then it is not just true for those who happen to be its victims. They are not just expressing how they feel; they are making a statement about the way things are. ‘Racism is an evil’ is not the same kind of proposition as ‘I always find the smell of fresh newsprint blissful.’ It is more like the statement ‘There is a tiger in the bathroom.’ One could imagine someone murmuring consolingly to the victims of racism that he understands just why they feel the way that they do; that he understands just why they feel the way they do; that this feeling is of course entirely valid for them – indeed, that if he were in their shoes he would doubtless feel just the same way; but that in fact he is not in their shoes, and so does not consider the situation to racist at all. This individual is known as a relativist. He might conceivably be known, less politely, as a racist. – Terry Eagleton, After Theory, 106
Perhaps the Governor would know that if he brushed up on his philosophy instead of condemning it and trumpeting his wisdom about philosophy without understanding the subject. The latter quality does mark him as a sophist.
Just in case I didn't make it clear earlier: not everything is relative