Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Is postmodernism dying? And would anyone be sad?

Big Monkey, Helpy Chalk (the nom de plume of a Philosophy Professor) outlines a retrospective on postmodernism and opines that it is a dying fad. Well worth a quick read. John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts concurs, with a added caveat:

As concerns postmodernism, it always seemed to me that they had a strawman target. There never was a coherent tradition of "modernism", and I have long said that I don't know what it is that postmodernism is post- to, but that I am a prepostmodernist at heart. A friend shortened this to "preposterist".

There is a long standing reaction to "modernity", if by that we mean a scientific view of the world. It hasn't been helped by those who claim scientific standing for their own social or moral agendas, though. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Hitler and many others have all claimed that they, and nobody else, represents the true scientific approach. In the face of that, how can the ordinary person fail to be antimodern? And so they are - most people do not accept some or all of modern science. Antivaccinationists, creationists, astrologists, and so on all reject some aspect of the modern scientific consensus because they feel, as Theodore Roszak and others of the so-called New Left did, that it is somehow anti-human. I sympathise. But the fact is, that what they object to are trends that predate the modern world that simply dressed themselves in scientific garb.

Postmodernism always seemed to me to be a kind of epistemic nihilism. It's much easier to reject claims to knowledge that you object to if you can claim that there is no knowledge, just power and economics [emphasis mine]. How we know that, ironically, is not usually discussed by the postmodernists.

But even as (or if) postmodernism dies as an academic branch of philosophy its toxic legacy will contaminate modern society and politics for decades to come.

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