The
Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

22: What is Postmodernism?:
An Introduction

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         We live in a conflicted time: the modern world and the postmodern world are all around us. Modernity began when the traditional world of the middle ages crumbled. Philosophically the modern world began when we started to seriously question the received wisdom of the ancients; when individuals became more and more free to form voluntary associations; when science and its method displaced authority as the criterion of knowledge; and when 'this world' replaced 'the next world' as the primary concern of everyday people.
        
         Modernity can be divided into five major movements which continue to influence how we think today. The five movements in rough chronological order are: (1) Dualism: in which new ideas and new categories were put forth such as Descartes new mind-body body problem. Dualism morphed into two opposite and competing world views: rationalism and empiricism which eventually lead to modern science. (2) Rationalism: in which reason is considered the way to knowledge and truth. (3) Empiricism: in which the five senses are the path to knowledge and truth. (4) Idealism: in which ideas are believed to be the substance of reality. Hundreds of new ideals have been presented to the world in the last 400 years where prior to that there were only one or two mainstream ideologies at any given time. (5) Existentialism: the philosophies of alienation, anxiety and the real existence of the self. Taken together these five movements make up the modern world.
        
         For the last 120 years or so a new movement has been gaining ground. Postmodernism: a rejection of much of what came before. The first 4 movements can be thought of as consisting of the Enlightenment tradition; existentialism reacted against the enlightenment. Postmodernism challenges the pillars of the Enlightenment, the scientific revolution and the existential tradition.
        
         Postmodernism challenges the enlightenment assumption that there is a unified objective world 'out there' that can be explained and described – a reality that is coherent and stable.
        
         Literary modernism (or the existentialist reaction to the enlightenment) assumes that everyone has a unique understanding of the world, a distinctive artistic vision.
        
         Postmodernism goes further: objects are not really there. Objects are constructed by cultural discourses. Therefore there is neither any real object nor any unique vision. Popular artists are examples of broad cultural discourses.
        
         Postmodernism stresses fragmentation. Postmodern culture lacks unity and coherence. It is a world of ceaseless movement and change. The world is chaotic because there aren't any stable truths or identities only shifting cultural constructions that continually evolve through dialog. Therefore there cannot be a systematic master narrative.
        
         Postmodernism, being very fragmented, does not have a unity of ideas but the most famous postmodern authors seem to consistently emphasizes: (1) the contingency of ideas; (2) the fluidity of identity; and (3) the relational nature of truth.
        
         Questions
        
         1) Do you believe that the world is objectively understandable and/or knowable OR is everyone's understanding unique OR are all things socially constructed phantoms.
        
         2) Do you favor the enlightenment world OR the modern world OR the Postmodern world?
        
         3) Considering the contingency of ideas, postmodern authors would say that all communication is done with signs and symbols, but all signs and symbols are arbitrary social creations therefore anything we communicate is fundamentally arbitrary. What is at stake if we accept this assertion or if we reject this assertion?
        
         4) Considering the fluidity of identity, postmodern authors believe in an onion model of the self: Our 'SELF' is a collection of different relationships to every other 'OTHER' in our universe. What is at stake if we accept this assertion or if we reject this assertion?
        
         5) Considering the relational nature of truth, postmodern authors claim that everyone and every culture has some mechanisms for the verification of truth and that this mechanism changes over time and with circumstances. What is at stake if we accept this assertion or if we reject this assertion?
        
         6) Consider the benefits and detriments of the three main ideas of postmodernism as they apply to your well-being and that of your society. What do you see as benefits and detriments? Please remember answers in order to see if you change your mind after we have done some postmodern authors and studied their main issues.
        


© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren