Friday, November 19, 2004

What is Post-Modernism??

Catez at Allthings2all has a series of posts on Postmodernism.

I have a little problem/confusion about the definition of "post-modern". Here, I think is the gist of my problem. All these categories appear to be too large and cover an umbrella of eras and schools of thought which are a mixture of "enlightenment", "modern", and "post-modern" elements. I am on a bit of a quest for more precision in my understanding of the definitions.

From these author Catez quotes and from what I have heard over the years, it appears post-modern is a term used to describe more the worldview of the culture at large than a philosophical school. The reason I think "post-modern" is defining culture and not a school of thought is because it appears that what is being called post-modern is actually the social application of the problems of "doubt" and "subjectivism" which I always would have considered problems addressed by modern thinkers. I (probably wrongly) have always equated modern with existentialism and doubt, BUT it appears that "modern" is defined as those thinkers who "believe their methods can come to knowledge" (hat tip to Andrew from 'Philosophical Poetry')
So a helpful tidbit here is that if one maitains an optimistic view of one's method one remains a modern as opposed to a post-modern. Hmm??

Nonetheless, I still think (again I am probably wrong here) that we can refine our definitions a bit.

Here is how I think the Terms could be defined:

Scholasticism and Pre-Scientific Thought
This is the era I think is so often missed. To me the pre-scientific thinkers had yet to discover the proper starting point of observation and experience. The scholastic world was interested in building a "house of ideas". The method was based on the authority of our thinking and the thoughts of other thinkers and not the final authority of the observed reality. But then came Galileo and his telescope. Observation proved that the ancients were wrong and, henceforth, the starting place for the authority of one's knowledge claims became observed reality.

Do we still see remnants of this old order? Have we bridged the great chasm between the 16th century and the 17th century? This question, I believe, is vital for all of us to answer!!
Here is my personal pet peeve. When Jesus says, "You know them (the validity of a teachers method or teaching) by their fruit, was he not saying that the bottom line is the external evidence (i.e. the observed reality)?" Is this how we in the West really approach the validity of a teachers teachings? Hmm?

I see the enlightenment as saying a few things:
1. The world can be understood through observation using the senses. Even observation of my self as a subject.
2. The sense and reason combined do indeed lead to the discovery of truth.
This approach can have either an objective or a subjective starting point. (That is the early thinkers (I imagine) did not address the problem of reality being mediated by the subject). Nonetheless, through experience, we can come to knowledge. The enlightenment was a very optimistic view of human potential and our ability to attain knowledge.

Modernism (I always thought):
Asked some specific questions to the methodological optimism of the enlightenment.
1. The premise is "If we are all subjects, and knowledge is mediated by a subject, how do we know something with certainty?" This "modern" dilemma leads to both philosophical and practical problems. Perspective becomes a major issue. How do we bridge the gap between the subject and reality and how do we bridge the very practical gap between the perspectives two or more subjects? The big double whammy of modern life!! Therefore,
2. The problem of pluralism and perspective becomes paramount.

3. How to live as a person and how to be authentically free and alive as a person/subject become the central question of modern life. No longer is the quest for truth per se, but, instead, the only quest left is the quest for authentic human existence.

Now it seems that what I call "modern" most people call "post-modern". But whatever?? I am asking for a little clarity here? Help!!!

A bit more on my understanding of "modern".
I think because science says knowledge comes through observation and reason, this method begs the question, "Can we trust our observations and our reason?". I think, actually, these questions were never solved in a practical manner. In other words, if we have all this doubt about our own "perspective", how do we then live and how do we then live together??

An example of a "modernist" to me would be Nietzsche. Now, I am bound to err here. I am in over my head BUT...was not Nietzsche asking how can a person live authentically and free in the modern world. In his answers, Nietzsche attacked what he saw as the slave identity of the "religious", "Jewish", and "Christian" which from his perspective was an existence based on fear and ancient authority. Is not Nietzsche saying, "In the modern world, where we have left only the world around us, our senses and our perspective, how do we live?

These questions which are based now in the analysis of the life of the individual subject and not the empirical quest for knowledge through observation and reason should not be lumped together under the single umbrella of the enlightenment!!

So then what is my understanding (as limited as it is) of Post-Modern
In my scheme, what is being called post-modern is the continuation of the modern dilemma. If we doubt our knowledge, "How do we live?" and to the post-modern, "How do we live together?" The answers in the post-modern world have a lot to do with learning to respect the others perspective. Our culture and the cosmopolitan culture in general acknowledges that perspective is a byproduct of "tribe". So this "post-modernism" is the cultural and practical response to the acceptance of "modern" ideas. That is my take on the post-modern worldview.

Now, I think these categories are far more helpful. Scholasticism/pre-scientific, enlightenment, modern, and post-modern. Separating enlightenment methods from scholastic methods, separating modern problems from enlightenment problems, and, again, separating post-modern applications from the modernist quagmire seems to explain the evolution of both thought and culture more accurately than the confusing umbrella of "modern/enlightenment" which I often hear in our popular discussion of the world we live in.

Any comments would be helpful!!
Please inform my opinions here!!!
Please, all you philosophical types, help me clarify these terms.
brad Part 2 is Here...

No comments: