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Postmodern philosophy is a philosophical direction which is skeptical of certain foundational assumptions of Western philosophy, of the 18th-century Enlightenment, and of philosophy in general.[1] It questions the importance of power relationships, personalization, and discourse in the "construction" of truth and world views. Postmodernists deny that an objective reality exists, and deny that there are objective moral values. One's idea of good and another's idea of evil are to be equally valid from the viewpoint of a postmodernist.[2][1]

In contrast to the philosophy of objectivism which bases truth on objectivity, postmodern philosophy bases truth on subjectivity.[3] A synthesis of both, is a self-referred ethical philosophy that bases truth on both objectivity and subjectivity, called The Philosophy of Freedom. Logically, since a post modernist believes only in subjectivity, a way one might refer to themselves is by saying "I am the independent subject of being, and I exist through the act of subjective thinking." Likewise, one might subjectively refer “me” to his or her independent subjects, which includes independent subjects such as “physical body” and “mental activity."[1][4]

Postmodern philosophy is extremely skeptical of everything, this would include postmodernism itself.[5] Under postmodernist views, denying that an objective reality exists implies it is impossible to know the truth about anything.[1][4]

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.[6][7] 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.[8]

Postmodern philosophy also has strong relations with the substantial literature of critical theory.[9]


Characteristic claimsEdit

Many postmodern claims are a deliberate repudiation of certain 18th-century Enlightenment values. 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 anti-Enlightenment 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. Thus, postmodern philosophy suggests equality for all things. One's concept of good and another's concept of evil are to be equally correct, since good and evil are subjective. Since both good and evil are equally correct, a postmodernist then tolerates both concepts, even if he or she disagrees with them subjectively.[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, and shares political similarities with modern identity politics.[1]

Epistemology, skepticisms, and controversiesEdit

Postmodern philosophy denies that an objective reality exists, and denies that there are objective moral values.[2][1]

There are various characteristics a postmodernist has. These include:

  • Activism: A practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action, especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.[11][1]
  • Dogmatism: The expression of an opinion or belief as if it were a fact.[12][1][2]
  • Skepticism: The doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain.[13]
  • Pragmatism: A practical approach to problems and affairs. [14][15]
  • Relativism: A view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them. [16][1][2]
  • Subjectivism: A theory that limits knowledge to subjective experience. [3][17]
  • Idealism: A theory that the essential nature of reality lies in consciousness or reason.[18][1][2]

Some philosophers describe postmodern philosophy as a prevalence of skeptical and irrational epistemologies to justify leaps of faith in an ideology.[19] Other philosophers claim that denying the existence of objective reality is the same as denying the law of identity. That which has no nature or attributes does not and cannot exist. The axiom of existence is grasped in differentiating something from nothing, while the law of identity is grasped in differentiating one thing from another, i.e., one's first awareness of the law of non-contradiction, another crucial base for the rest of knowledge.[20] Logic thus becomes a subjective device to “justify” anything anyone wishes.

Philosophers claim an example in history of a society applying this same type of logic is the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany.[21]

Logic was used as a subjective device. Philosophers state, this logic, “Aryan logic,” becomes a Nazi weapon: in the beginning was the Führer, who created the principles of inference. In the Nazis’ attack on logic, all the major elements of their irrationalist epistemologydogmatism, activism, pragmatism, relativism, subjectivism—blend and unite.[21]

This epistemology is similar to some of the characteristics of postmodern philosophy.

Definitional issuesEdit

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.[citation needed] 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.[22] 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.[23]



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 philosophersEdit

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 America, 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.[24][25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Duignan, Brian. "postmodernism (philosophy) (Encyclopædia Britannica)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 19 April 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Sim, Stuart. Routledge Companion to Postmodernism
  3. ^ a b Ron Miller. (2000) Beyond reductionism: The emerging holistic paradigm in education. The Humanistic Psychologist 28:1-3, pages 382-393.
  4. ^ a b Joan Vaccaro - Griffith University
  5. ^ pbs (Public Broadcasting Station)
  6. ^ Sim, Stuart. Routledge Companion to Postmodernism
  7. ^ Taylor, Victor and Charles Winquist. Encyclopedia of Postmodernism "Binary Opposition"
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Problematizing Global Knowledge. Theory, Culture & Society. Vol. 23 (2-3). Sage, 2006
  10. ^ Baghramian, Maria and Carter, J. Adam, "Relativism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
  11. ^ "Definition of ACTIVISM". Retrieved 2017-10-21. 
  12. ^ "Definition of DOGMATISM". Retrieved 2017-10-21. 
  13. ^ "Definition of SKEPTICISM". Retrieved 2017-10-21. 
  14. ^ Senchuk, Dennis M. (2008-07-17). "Review of Pragmatism as Post-Postmodernism: Lessons from John Dewey". ISSN 1538-1617. 
  15. ^ "Definition of PRAGMATISM". Retrieved 2017-10-21. 
  16. ^ "Definition of RELATIVISM". Retrieved 2017-10-21. 
  17. ^ "Definition of SUBJECTIVISM". Retrieved 2017-10-21. 
  18. ^ "Definition of IDEALISM". Retrieved 2017-10-21. 
  19. ^ Hicks, Stephen (2011). Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Scholargy Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1592476465. 
  20. ^ Rand, Ayn (1992). Atlas Shrugged (35th anniversary ed.). New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525948929. 
  21. ^ a b Rand; Ayn, Peikoff; Leonard (1982). The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America. New York: Stein and Day. ISBN 081282850X. 
  22. ^ 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).
  23. ^ John Deely, "Philosophy and Experience," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly LXVI.4 (Winter 1992), 299–319, esp. 314–15.
  24. ^ An interview with Rorty
  25. ^ 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.

Recommended readingEdit

  • Charles Arthur Willard Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy. University of Chicago Press. 1996.
  • John Deely "Quid sit Postmodernismus?," in Roman Ciapalo (ed.) Postmodernism and Christian philosophy, 68-96, Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. 1997.

External linksEdit