Postmodern philosophy

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Postmodern philosophy is a philosophical movement that arose in the second half of the 20th century as a critical response to assumptions allegedly present in modernist philosophical ideas regarding culture, identity, history, or language that were developed during the 18th-century Enlightenment. [1] [2] Postmodernist thinkers developed concepts like difference, repetition, trace, and hyperreality to subvert "grand narratives", univocity of being, and epistemic certainty. [3] Postmodern philosophy questions the importance of power relationships, personalization, and discourse in the "construction" of truth and world views. Many postmodernists appear to deny that an objective reality exists, and appear to deny that there are objective moral values. [1]

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Age of Enlightenment European cultural movement of the 18th century

The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".

Difference is a key concept of philosophy, denoting the process or set of properties by which one entity is distinguished from another within a relational field or a given conceptual system. In the Western philosophical system, difference is traditionally viewed as being opposed to identity, following the Principles of Leibniz, and in particular, his Law of the identity of indiscernibles. In structuralist and poststructuralist accounts, however, difference is understood to be constitutive of both meaning and identity. In other words, because identity is viewed in non-essentialist terms as a construct, and because constructs only produce meaning through the interplay of differences, it is the case that for both structuralism and poststructuralism, identity cannot be said to exist without difference.

Contents

Jean-François Lyotard defined philosophical postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition , writing "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards meta narratives...." [4] where what he means by metanarrative is something like a unified, complete, universal, and epistemically certain story about everything that is. Postmodernists reject metanarratives because they reject the concept of truth that metanarratives presuppose. Postmodernist philosophers in general argue that truth is always contingent on historical and social context rather than being absolute and universal and that truth is always partial and "at issue" rather than being complete and certain. [3]

Jean-François Lyotard French philosopher

Jean-François Lyotard was a French philosopher, sociologist, and literary theorist. His interdisciplinary discourse spans such topics as epistemology and communication, the human body, modern art and postmodern art, literature and critical theory, music, film, time and memory, space, the city and landscape, the sublime, and the relation between aesthetics and politics. He is best known for his articulation of postmodernism after the late 1970s and the analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition. He was a director of the International College of Philosophy which was founded by Jacques Derrida, François Châtelet, Jean-Pierre Faye and Dominique Lecourt.

<i>The Postmodern Condition</i> 1979 book by French philosopher François Lyotard

The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge is a 1979 book by Jean-François Lyotard, in which Lyotard analyzes the notion of knowledge in postmodern society as the end of 'grand narratives' or metanarratives, which he considers a quintessential feature of modernity. Lyotard introduced the term 'postmodernism', which was previously only used by art critics, into philosophy and social sciences, with the following observation: "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives". Originally written as a report on the influence of technology in exact sciences, commissioned by the Conseil des universités du Québec, The Postmodern Condition was influential. Lyotard later admitted that he had a "less than limited" knowledge of the science he was to write about, deeming The Postmodern Condition his worst book.

A metanarrative in critical theory and particularly in postmodernism is a narrative about narratives of historical meaning, experience, or knowledge, which offers a society legitimation through the anticipated completion of a master idea.

Postmodern philosophy is often particularly skeptical about simple binary oppositions characteristic of structuralism, emphasizing the problem of the philosopher cleanly distinguishing knowledge from ignorance, social progress from reversion, dominance from submission, good from bad, and presence from absence. [5] [6] But, for the same reasons, postmodern philosophy should often be particularly skeptical about the complex spectral characteristics of things, emphasizing the problem of the philosopher again cleanly distinguishing concepts, for a concept must be understood in the context of its opposite, such as existence and nothingness, normality and abnormality, speech and writing, and the like. [7]

Structuralism theory that elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure

In sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel. Alternatively, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure".

Postmodern philosophy also has strong relations with the substantial literature of critical theory. [8]

Critical theory philosophy that sociological understandings primarily use should be social reform

Critical theory is the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities. As a term, critical theory has two meanings with different origins and histories: the first originated in sociology and the second originated in literary criticism, whereby it is used and applied as an umbrella term that can describe a theory founded upon critique; thus, the theorist Max Horkheimer described a theory as critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."

Characteristic claims

Many postmodern claims are a deliberate repudiation of certain 18th-century Enlightenment values. Such a postmodernist believes that there is no objective natural reality, and that logic and reason are mere conceptual constructs that are not universally valid. Two other characteristic postmodern practices are a denial that human nature exists, and a (sometimes moderate) skepticism toward claims that science and technology will change society for the better. Postmodernists also believe there are no objective moral values. A postmodernist then tolerates multiple conceptions of morality, even if he or she disagrees with them subjectively. [9] [10] Postmodern writings often focus on deconstructing the role that power and ideology play in shaping discourse and belief. Postmodern philosophy shares ontological similarities with classical skeptical and relativistic belief systems. [1]

Human nature the distinguishing characteristics which humans tend to have naturally

Human nature is a bundle of characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, which humans are said to have naturally. The term is often regarded as capturing what it is to be human, or the essence of humanity. The term is controversial because it is disputed whether or not such an essence exists. Arguments about human nature have been a mainstay of philosophy for centuries and the concept continues to provoke lively philosophical debate. The concept also continues to play a role in science, with neuroscientists, psychologists and social scientists sometimes claiming that their results have yielded insight into human nature. Human nature is traditionally contrasted with characteristics that vary among humans, such as characteristics associated with specific cultures. Debates about human nature are related to, although not the same as, debates about the comparative importance of genes and environment in development.

Originated by the philosopher Jacques Derrida, deconstruction is an approach to understanding the relationship between text and meaning. Derrida's approach consisted of conducting readings of texts looking for things that run counter to the intended meaning or structural unity of a particular text. The purpose of deconstruction is to show that the usage of language in a given text, and language as a whole, are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible. Throughout his readings, Derrida hoped to show deconstruction at work.

Ontology study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations

Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that "The assumption that there is no common denominator in 'nature' or 'truth' ... that guarantees the possibility of neutral or objective thought" is a key assumption of postmodernism. [11] The National Research Council has characterized the belief that "social science research can never generate objective or trustworthy knowledge" as an example of a postmodernist belief. [12] Jean-François Lyotard's seminal 1979 The Postmodern Condition stated that its hypotheses "should not be accorded predictive value in relation to reality, but strategic value in relation to the questions raised". Lyotard's statement in 1984 that "I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives" extends to incredulity toward science. Jacques Derrida, who is generally identified as a postmodernist, stated that "every referent, all reality has the structure of a differential trace". [3] Paul Feyerabend, one of the most famous twentieth-century philosophers of science, is often classified as a postmodernist; Feyerabend held that modern science is no more justified than witchcraft, and has denounced the "tyranny" of "abstract concepts such as 'truth', 'reality', or 'objectivity', which narrow people's vision and ways of being in the world". [13] [14] [15] Feyerabend also defended astrology, adopted alternative medicine, and sympathized with creationism. Defenders of postmodernism state that many descriptions of postmodernism exaggerate its antipathy to science; for example, Feyerabend denied that he was "anti-science", accepted that some scientific theories are superior to other theories (even if science itself is not superior to other modes of inquiry), and attempted conventional medical treatments during his fight against cancer. [13] [16] [17]

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an encyclopedia of philosophy edited by Edward Craig that was first published by Routledge in 1998 (ISBN 978-0415073103). Originally published in both 10 volumes of print and as a CD-ROM, in 2002 it was made available online on a subscription basis. The online version is regularly updated with new articles and revisions to existing articles. It has 1,300 contributors providing over 2,000 scholarly articles.

Jacques Derrida French philosopher

Jacques Derrida was an Algerian-born French philosopher best known for developing a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction, which he discussed in numerous texts, and developed in the context of phenomenology. He is one of the major figures associated with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy.

Paul Feyerabend Austrian-born philosopher of science

Paul Karl Feyerabend was an Austrian-born philosopher of science best known for his work as a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked for three decades (1958–1989). At various different points in his life, he lived in England, the United States, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, and finally Switzerland. His major works include Against Method, Science in a Free Society and Farewell to Reason. Feyerabend became famous for his purportedly anarchistic view of science and his rejection of the existence of universal methodological rules. He was an influential figure in the sociology of scientific knowledge. Asteroid (22356) Feyerabend is named in his honour.

Definitional issues

Philosopher John Deely has argued for the contentious claim that the label "postmodern" for thinkers such as Derrida et al. is premature. Insofar as the "so-called" postmoderns follow the thoroughly modern trend of idealism, it is more an ultramodernism than anything else. A postmodernism that lives up to its name, therefore, must no longer confine itself to the premodern preoccupation with "things" nor with the modern confinement to "ideas", but must come to terms with the way of signs embodied in the semiotic doctrines of such thinkers as the Portuguese philosopher John Poinsot and the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. [18] Writes Deely,

The epoch of Greek and Latin philosophy was based on being in a quite precise sense: the existence exercised by things independently of human apprehension and attitude. The much briefer epoch of modern philosophy based itself rather on the instruments of human knowing, but in a way that unnecessarily compromised being. As the 20th century ends, there is reason to believe that a new philosophical epoch is dawning along with the new century, promising to be the richest epoch yet for human understanding. The postmodern era is positioned to synthesize at a higher level—the level of experience, where the being of things and the activity of the finite knower compenetrate one another and provide the materials whence can be derived knowledge of nature and knowledge of culture in their full symbiosis—the achievements of the ancients and the moderns in a way that gives full credit to the preoccupations of the two. The postmodern era has for its distinctive task in philosophy the exploration of a new path, no longer the ancient way of things nor the modern way of ideas, but the way of signs, whereby the peaks and valleys of ancient and modern thought alike can be surveyed and cultivated by a generation which has yet further peaks to climb and valleys to find. [19]

History

Precursors

Postmodern philosophy originated primarily in France during the mid-20th century. However, several philosophical antecedents inform many of postmodern philosophy's concerns.

It was greatly influenced by the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century and other early-to-mid 20th-century philosophers, including phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, structuralist Roland Barthes, Georges Bataille, and the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Postmodern philosophy also drew from the world of the arts and architecture, particularly Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and artists who practiced collage, and the architecture of Las Vegas and the Pompidou Centre.

Early postmodern philosophers

The most influential early postmodern philosophers were Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida. Michel Foucault is also often cited as an early postmodernist although he personally rejected that label. Following Nietzsche, Foucault argued that knowledge is produced through the operations of power, and changes fundamentally in different historical periods.

The writings of Lyotard were largely concerned with the role of narrative in human culture, and particularly how that role has changed as we have left modernity and entered a "postindustrial" or postmodern condition. He argued that modern philosophies legitimized their truth-claims not (as they themselves claimed) on logical or empirical grounds, but rather on the grounds of accepted stories (or "metanarratives") about knowledge and the world—comparing these with Wittgenstein's concept of language-games. He further argued that in our postmodern condition, these metanarratives no longer work to legitimize truth-claims. He suggested that in the wake of the collapse of modern metanarratives, people are developing a new "language-game"—one that does not make claims to absolute truth but rather celebrates a world of ever-changing relationships (among people and between people and the world).

Derrida, the father of deconstruction, practiced philosophy as a form of textual criticism. He criticized Western philosophy as privileging the concept of presence and logos, as opposed to absence and markings or writings.

In the United States, the most famous pragmatist and self-proclaimed postmodernist was Richard Rorty. An analytic philosopher, Rorty believed that combining Willard Van Orman Quine's criticism of the analytic-synthetic distinction with Wilfrid Sellars's critique of the "Myth of the Given" allowed for an abandonment of the view of the thought or language as a mirror of a reality or external world. Further, drawing upon Donald Davidson's criticism of the dualism between conceptual scheme and empirical content, he challenges the sense of questioning whether our particular concepts are related to the world in an appropriate way, whether we can justify our ways of describing the world as compared with other ways. He argued that truth was not about getting it right or representing reality, but was part of a social practice and language was what served our purposes in a particular time; ancient languages are sometimes untranslatable into modern ones because they possess a different vocabulary and are unuseful today. Donald Davidson is not usually considered a postmodernist, although he and Rorty have both acknowledged that there are few differences between their philosophies. [20] [21]

Criticism

Criticisms of postmodernism, while intellectually diverse, share the opinion that it lacks coherence and is hostile to the notion of absolutes, such as truth. Specifically it is held that postmodernism can be meaningless, promotes obscurantism and uses relativism (in culture, morality, knowledge) to the extent that it cripples most judgement calls.

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 Duignan, Brian. "postmodernism (philosophy) (Encyclopædia Britannica)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  2. "Definition of POSTMODERN". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 Aylesworth, Gary (2015). "Postmodernism". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 ed.). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  4. Lyotard, J.-F. (1979). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University of Minnesota Press.
  5. Sim, Stuart. Routledge Companion to Postmodernism
  6. Taylor, Victor and Charles Winquist. Encyclopedia of Postmodernism "Binary Opposition"
  7. Derrida, Jacques; Bass, Alan (2001). "7 :Freud and the Scene of Writing". Writing and Difference (New ed.). London: Routledge. p. 276. ISBN   0203991788. Retrieved 8 September 2017. The model of hieroglyphic writing assembles more strikingly—though we find it in every form of writing—the diversity of the modes and functions of signs in dreams. Every sign—verbal or otherwise—may be used at different levels, in configurations and functions which are never prescribed by its "essence," but emerge from a play of differences.
  8. Problematizing Global Knowledge. Theory, Culture & Society. Vol. 23 (2–3). Sage, 2006
  9. Baghramian, Maria and Carter, J. Adam, "Relativism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  10. Blackburn, Simon (2005). "Postmodernism". The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy . Oxford University Press, UK. ISBN   9780198610137. In its poststructuralist aspects it includes a denial of... any fixed reality or truth or fact to be the object of enquiry.
  11. Ermarth, Elizabeth Deeds. Postmodernism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N044-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/postmodernism/v-1.
  12. Council, National Research; Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and; Education, Center for; Research, Committee on Scientific Principles for Education (2002). Scientific Research in Education. National Academies Press. pp. 20, 25. ISBN   9780309082914.
  13. 1 2 Preston, John (2016). "Paul Feyerabend". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  14. Phillips, Denis Charles; Burbules, Nicholas C. (2000). Postpositivism and Educational Research. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 1. ISBN   9780847691227.
  15. Kidd, Ian James (21 December 2016). "Was Feyerabend a Postmodernist?". International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. 30 (1): 55–68. doi:10.1080/02698595.2016.1240463. This article asks whether the philosophy of Paul K. Feyerabend can be reasonably classified as postmodernist, a label applied to him by friends and foes alike.
  16. Horgan, John. "Was Philosopher Paul Feyerabend Really Science's "Worst Enemy"?". Scientific American Cross-check (blog). Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  17. Pierre, Elizabeth Adams St (July 2016). "Comment: "Science" Rejects Postmodernism". Educational Researcher. 31 (8): 25–27. doi:10.3102/0013189X031008025.
  18. John Deely, Four Ages of Understanding: The First Postmodern Survey of Philosophy from Ancient Times to the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 2001).
  19. John Deely, "Philosophy and Experience," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly LXVI.4 (Winter 1992), 299–319, esp. 314–15.
  20. "An interview with Rorty". unc.edu. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  21. Davidson, D., 1986, "A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge," Truth And Interpretation, Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson, ed. Ernest LePore, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, afterwords.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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