Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks

luc

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This book was recommended and talked about in the "Is Gender a social construct?" thread here, where you'll find an interesting discussion about postmodernism.

Having finished the book, I think it's really good and can I highly recommend it. It's basically a 'tour de force' through the development of Western philosophy and where it went astray. It also brings home the point that what's happening on the left (and also the reaction by the right) is by no means a coincidence or even something new - it's rather a pathological line of force that runs very deep and goes back to the Enlightenment and beyond.

He also brings in socialism and makes the case that postmodernism is in part a reaction to the obvious failure of Marxism - the only way out as a true Marxist believer is to deny that there are any facts and logic at all, otherwise the facts and logic would lead them to the conclusion they have to give up their treasured belief system.

The book is very easy to read and straight-forward - it manages to make its compelling case in a way that's accessible to everyone. However, I guess those who are not familiar with philosophy at all might still find it a bit difficult at times, but I guess you can't avoid this when discussing philosophy with its long tradition and terminology.

The criticism I have is related to this 'compelling argument': the author basically sees the philosophical development of the West as a fight between English and German Enlightenment philosophy - the Germans being the bad guys of course :) He makes it look as if Kant's epistemology 'poisoned' the pure Anglo philosophers with a skeptical view of our ability to experience truth via our senses - Kant said we are restricted by our a priori make-up of our minds. The author then draws a line from Kant to the post-modernists who preach nihilism, relativism etc.

I think it's not an unreasonable argument, because indeed such Kantian skepticism can be abused to justify nihilism and relativism. But Hicks makes it sound as if on the one corner, you have the noble, rational Enlightenment philosophers (like Locke and Mill) and on the other corner you have the religious, anti-rational fanatics (aka Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and all the other Germans) who paved the way for postmodernism. I think this is way too simplistic. Many of those German philosophers had very interesting things to say and their skepticism of 'pure reason' was quite on point, given what we now know about psychology, self-deception, how evolution shaped our perception etc. Also, the religious/theological component can't just be dismissed so easily; ironically, this is another reason why postmodernism is so ugly and destructive - its total rejection of any theological truth. Here, the author apparently falls into the trap that many of those worshiping the Enlightenment today fall: the emphasis on the individual absolutely needs to go hand in hand with the divine and the potential of the individual to act according to its own 'divine spark' so to speak. Otherwise, you end up with individualistic nihilism where your 'will' aka. whims reign supreme - exactly what we're seeing in the West today.

Nonetheless, the way Hicks describes this 'battle' makes it easy to follow and remember the various philosophical lines of force, and he sure has a point here. I think he's done a great job laying out some of the philosophical battle grounds that are still highly relevant today. Reading this book makes one familiar with the nonsensical arguments and ideology of the postmodernists and can immunize us against their twisted assaults on our minds and souls.

Highly recommended!
 

Anthony

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luc said:
I think it's not an unreasonable argument, because indeed such Kantian skepticism can be abused to justify nihilism and relativism. But Hicks makes it sound as if on the one corner, you have the noble, rational Enlightenment philosophers (like Locke and Mill) and on the other corner you have the religious, anti-rational fanatics (aka Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and all the other Germans) who paved the way for postmodernism. I think this is way too simplistic. Many of those German philosophers had very interesting things to say and their skepticism of 'pure reason' was quite on point, given what we now know about psychology, self-deception, how evolution shaped our perception etc. Also, the religious/theological component can't just be dismissed so easily; ironically, this is another reason why postmodernism is so ugly and destructive - its total rejection of any theological truth. Here, the author apparently falls into the trap that many of those worshiping the Enlightenment today fall: the emphasis on the individual absolutely needs to go hand in hand with the divine and the potential of the individual to act according to its own 'divine spark' so to speak. Otherwise, you end up with individualistic nihilism where your 'will' aka. whims reign supreme - exactly what we're seeing in the West today.

Nonetheless, the way Hicks describes this 'battle' makes it easy to follow and remember the various philosophical lines of force, and he sure has a point here. I think he's done a great job laying out some of the philosophical battle grounds that are still highly relevant today. Reading this book makes one familiar with the nonsensical arguments and ideology of the postmodernists and can immunize us against their twisted assaults on our minds and souls.

Highly recommended!
Agreed, it's not so black and white, and who knows what Kant or other philosophers that the postmodernists draw upon would think about this movement in philosophy.

What is clearly shown in the book is the complete detachment that postmodernism has with reality and the universe. I get the picture that its main goal is destructive in nature, and it's quite foreboding since it has a lot of influence these days, especially in education of the younger generation.
 

Pashalis

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I'm about a half way through the book and among the things that stood out for me as a newbie in that field is also the heavy emphasis on german philosophers. Obviously, I can't argue with what he said there since I don't have the knowledge base in that arena. If luc wouldn't have brought up that there might be a bigger picture there, one could easily get away with the idea that german philosophers were one of the mayor drives that laid the foundations of postmodernism. He also mentions Jean-Jacques Rousseau and that many of the german philosophers like Kant were inspired at least partly by his takes on things. So at this point in the book he traces the origins even farther back to Rousseau who was french.

On many occasions throughout the book you get a sense of "what?" and thinking what kind of minds can come up with something so unreal and sometimes flatly absurd. I kept thinking that some if not many of the major philosophical players that shaped things in the way the did, might have exhibited some kind of pathology expressed in their ideas.

Anyway, I'll read on and see if I can understand more. By the way, is there some kind of "philosophy for newbies" available that can teach people the basics in that area?
 

luc

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Pashalis said:
On many occasions throughout the book you get a sense of "what?" and thinking what kind of minds can come up with something so unreal and sometimes flatly absurd. I kept thinking that some if not many of the major philosophical players that shaped things in the way the did, might have exhibited some kind of pathology expressed in their ideas.
Yes, that's what I thought as well - many philosophers in the 'canon' may have been pathological to a degree, in one way or another. That doesn't mean that everything they said was wrong of course, but these pathologies can create a line of force that other thinkers pick up etc., until a deeply pathological world view is formed.

It's also interesting to notice which philosophers are still wildly admired, which of their ideas made it into the 'canon of ideas', and which of them are demonized. For example, Nietzsche's, Carl Jung's and Heidegger's thoughts are often seen as connected to the Nazis in some way or defamed as anti-semitic, thus delegitimizing their contributions. It's funny because that's the same thing that happens today: people who have something interesting to say are accused of being "Nazis", "white patriarchs" or what have you. Ponerization in action I guess.
 

Yas

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luc said:
Pashalis said:
On many occasions throughout the book you get a sense of "what?" and thinking what kind of minds can come up with something so unreal and sometimes flatly absurd. I kept thinking that some if not many of the major philosophical players that shaped things in the way the did, might have exhibited some kind of pathology expressed in their ideas.
Yes, that's what I thought as well - many philosophers in the 'canon' may have been pathological to a degree, in one way or another. That doesn't mean that everything they said was wrong of course, but these pathologies can create a line of force that other thinkers pick up etc., until a deeply pathological world view is formed.

It's also interesting to notice which philosophers are still wildly admired, which of their ideas made it into the 'canon of ideas', and which of them are demonized. For example, Nietzsche's, Carl Jung's and Heidegger's thoughts are often seen as connected to the Nazis in some way or defamed as anti-semitic, thus delegitimizing their contributions. It's funny because that's the same thing that happens today: people who have something interesting to say are accused of being "Nazis", "white patriarchs" or what have you. Ponerization in action I guess.
I absolutely agree, although I'm not quite sure about Heidegger... it seems to me that he indeed was kind of a truly bizarre character and he did join the Nazi Party, but, supposedly, it was because he had to do it in order to retain a position as a Professor at the University... but I don't know much about him. He does speak a lot about Being and sounds quite interesting though.

I think that the problem is also that people tend to take these people's words as facts instead of seeing them as the way in which human thought developed throughout history. Sometimes, when I hear philosophical debates, it's like people subscribe to one or another philosopher as a form of identity instead of arguing beyond what they said and trying to combine their different ideas, compare them to what we know today from other fields of knowledge and move toward the effort of finding the truth. It's almost as if what these people said becomes an ideology and from what I see, that's exactly the case.

For example, say a person is identified with Marxism, which is an ideology, but Marxism is structured upon previous ideas coming from other philosophers. For instance, Marxists learn to dislike Hegel because Hegel is an idealist and Marxism is materialistic in its roots (they talk about historical materialism as opposed to the historical idealism put forward by Hegel). Thus, the person that for one reason or another starts identifying with an ideology, begins a process of suppression of the ideas that could contradict their ideology and that closes the possibility of being able to do precisely what Hegel proposed, which was that ideas evolve as thesis, antithesis and synthesis, taking the best from the contradictory ideas in order to move into a new and better concept in a dynamic that one day might arrive to the Truth. (Well, I might be totally off here but this is what I remember from my limited knowledge base :P)

It's true that these philosophers were incredibly bright (in many cases) and did think about great things. And for me it is very interesting to study them as a history of human ideas and how these ideas relate to the historical context in which they were living, but they aren't the truth itself. The problem also seems to be that they can offer a perspective that is "comfortable" to certain people and also, some of them might have been downright pathological and played well for other pathological individuals in power to disseminate their own worldview, so they were supported in one way or another by them. Laura talks a great deal about this in many different writings, when talking about materialism and Darwinism and how it became so popular and almost a dogma, for example. I always remember this excerpt:

[...] Psychopaths, once in positions of power and influence, forbid areas of science that they know are dangerous to their position. It's a natural progression to apply this to the study of consciousness. They promote their own inner landscape (materialism) via science and project it onto humanity at large, effectively blocking the means by which they can be identified as abnormal. By creating such a semantic barrier, they can inhibit and shape our 'genetic potential for diversification of thought and conduct' in the direction of their choice. We lose the necessary tools with which to discover the true origins of their pathology, and the true potentials within normal humanity. By denying the existence of an ordering principle of consciousness, they deny the existence of any potential order to which we can strive.

This is where we find the key to understand the corruption of science and thus, society and its understanding of the world. It seems that a new semantic construct has been in process since pathological individuals realized that science could be used to gain and hold power: full-spectrum dominance.

The moment that Darwin published his Origin of Species in the nineteenth century, an event that marked the culmination of a gradual shift in society from being dominated by religion to what was called 'rational thinking' and science, the Authoritarians knew they had their Theory of Everything: Random processes of matter, no consciousness needed.

So, it has been the steady application of materialistic evolutionary thinking that is behind the explanation of the order of the universe that prevails today. There are, undoubtedly, psychopaths in the woodpile here acting as the éminence grise behind science  - the thing that controls most of our social constructs and institutions - because we certainly can't say that all scientists, or even most of them, are psychopathic. The profession itself excludes most psychopaths by virtue of the requirement for superior intellect. However, it can certainly include a great many members that are authoritarian in personality type.

Dark Ages and Inquisitions, Ancient and Modern - Or Why Things are Such a Mess On Our Planet and Humanity is on the Verge of Extinction
As for Stephen Hicks book, I started it today and find it fascinating and very useful to understand postmodernism, thank you for recommending it Luc!

Pashalis said:
Anyway, I'll read on and see if I can understand more. By the way, is there some kind of "philosophy for newbies" available that can teach people the basics in that area?
I particularly like this YouTube channel: School of Life _https://www.youtube.com/schooloflifechannel

It's got very basic short videos... and I'm not always in agreement with what they say there but they do a few summaries that are fun and well-done IHMO. Here there's a playlist on Philosophy for example: _https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwxNMb28XmpfEr2zNKQfU97eyEs70krSb

I don't know if you are looking for something as basic as this, so FWIW... ;)
 

T.C.

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A critique of the way Hicks' wrote the book and Jordan Peterson's blanket arguments against postmodernism:


https://youtu.be/fAPvgybAJQU?ecver=2

I just think it serves as a nice reminder that the devil is always in the details and unless you have the ability to immerse yourself in a particular subject for a substantial length of time, leaving your biases at the door and thinking with a hammer, you can't really get to the bottom of it. And it's seductive when someone like Peterson - intelligent and with a talent for summing up complex ideas into painless, bitesized chunks - says, "Derrida believed x. Foucault said y. Postmodernism is z," and so on.
 

Mr. Premise

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T.C. said:
A critique of the way Hicks' wrote the book and Jordan Peterson's blanket arguments against postmodernism:


https://youtu.be/fAPvgybAJQU?ecver=2

I just think it serves as a nice reminder that the devil is always in the details and unless you have the ability to immerse yourself in a particular subject for a substantial length of time, leaving your biases at the door and thinking with a hammer, you can't really get to the bottom of it. And it's seductive when someone like Peterson - intelligent and with a talent for summing up complex ideas into painless, bitesized chunks - says, "Derrida believed x. Foucault said y. Postmodernism is z," and so on.
Thanks for posting this video, T.C. It sums up very well my misgivings about Peterson's rants against postmodernism.
 

Altair

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Here is a good summary of the Hicks' book: https://aroadtoindividuation.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/explaining-postmodernism-by-stephen-hicks-summary
 

Windmill knight

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Yesterday as I was thinking about all this postmodernism thing I got an idea. It started with remembering what a lecturer from my university once said. He had been to some conference on the topic in France and while speaking with his French colleagues, he was told that English speakers miss a lot from Foucault and Derrida because they very often use humour and irony in their writings, and all that is then lost in translation and taken the wrong way.

So my idea was: What if these type of postmodernists viewed themselves as some sort of intellectual satirists, mocking traditional philosophy, science and rationality, and didn't even take all they said that seriously anyway? What if a lot of what they said they really didn't mean - not literally anyway - but was deliberate provocation? So you could have Foucault saying things like 'truth is constructed by power', more or less as a rhetorical exaggeration of the fact that quite often power makes use of language and presents it as 'truth' for its own agenda. Or Derrida saying 'all is language and text, and it's oppressive'. Later, maybe, these postmodern guys would see they had no option but to fully play the role they had set up for themselves, and would end up believing their own rhetoric. Of course, they liked being considered radical, as they wouldn't be half as famous if they had measured their claims with a healthy dose of rationality and clarity. That would also explain why they loved writing so obscurely - you can't let people see through the game! And notice how Jordan Peterson called Derrida "one of the major tricksters"; maybe he was more right than he knew.

The problem is that if they were being rhetorical or 'funny', it was completely lost in entire generations of students and academics, some of whom went ahead and produced new theories based on that, and that is partly the reason why we have this gender-bender mess and SJW's fighting for nonsensical causes, as well as other ills such as the prevalence of irrelevant materials produced in the fields of humanities. For example, in political science I've read entire books about current American foreign policy that go on and on about the American national mithology and don't ever once mention that foreign policy is predicated on lies. Because the truth doesn't matter; just the narrative.
 

mkrnhr

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Mr. Premise said:
T.C. said:
A critique of the way Hicks' wrote the book and Jordan Peterson's blanket arguments against postmodernism:

[Video Link]

I just think it serves as a nice reminder that the devil is always in the details and unless you have the ability to immerse yourself in a particular subject for a substantial length of time, leaving your biases at the door and thinking with a hammer, you can't really get to the bottom of it. And it's seductive when someone like Peterson - intelligent and with a talent for summing up complex ideas into painless, bitesized chunks - says, "Derrida believed x. Foucault said y. Postmodernism is z," and so on.
Thanks for posting this video, T.C. It sums up very well my misgivings about Peterson's rants against postmodernism.
Can anyone summarize the salient points of the argument?
 

Windmill knight

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T.C. said:
A critique of the way Hicks' wrote the book and Jordan Peterson's blanket arguments against postmodernism:
...
I just think it serves as a nice reminder that the devil is always in the details and unless you have the ability to immerse yourself in a particular subject for a substantial length of time, leaving your biases at the door and thinking with a hammer, you can't really get to the bottom of it. And it's seductive when someone like Peterson - intelligent and with a talent for summing up complex ideas into painless, bitesized chunks - says, "Derrida believed x. Foucault said y. Postmodernism is z," and so on.
Ok, I watched the video and while it was quite well done and explained, I think the main points against postmodernism still stand. The video has the following main arguments:

1. "Foucault and Derrida are not really Marxist".- The video spends the most time on this point, which seems to me rather irrelevant. It is true they were not Marxists, but I think what Jordan Peterson was trying to say was simply that their thinking appeared in the context of a very strong Marxist movement and thought in universities. No big deal.

2. "There is merit to Foucault's idea about knowledge being related to power".- The thing is, I don't think anyone is denying that power uses the 'production of knowledge', as well as the representations of 'truth', discourse, narratives, language, etc, for its own purposes. The criticism is that Foucault had nothing to say of the actual objective truth and reality, which logically come before any use the power makes of it. There is also the fact that when power makes use of this knowledge, it inevitably manipulates it into something else that is no longer strictly true, it becomes half-truth or twisted truth or plain lies presented as truth. Foucault had nothing to say of that; he just kept using the same words: he called 'truth' and 'knowledge' whatever discourse was used by power (leading to a lot of confusion, at least in me). I think it is fair to say his position was then rather nihilistic and relativistic, metaphyisically speaking. But of course, postmodernists themselves would probably reject being called that because they don't do metaphysics anyway!

3. "Derrida was not a relativist, he simply said that language could not ever escape from itself in order to access objective reality".- Fine, but again the criticism to postmodernists in general still applies: they dismiss the notion of objective truth, whether it's because they have no interest in it (i.e. they are lazy), they think it's unreachable, or they think it doesn't exist. The video goes on to say that Derrida is not a relativist because he only said that the ultimate interpretation of reality was unattainable - not that all statements were equally valid. Ok, but then we should ask: what makes some statements more valid than others, if not some sort of reference to what we know of objective reality, which he says language is doomed to never access?

4. "It's ok for postmodernists to use obscure language because their ideas are not easily turned into pop-culture bytesize, just as quantum physics or any other discipline".- Well, on this point, I speak by experience. If you read one of the abstract theoretical books by Foucault, you will often find an explanation throughout a number of pages that goes like this: 'A' is not 'B', nor 'C', nor 'D' nor 'E'. And then when you are waiting for him to finally define what 'A' is, he doesn't and he just moves on to something else. Isn't that deliberately obscuring the issue? Does he even know what 'A' is then? So no, I don't think their works are hard to read simply because the topic is complicated.

5. "Jordan Peterson is a postmodernist himself".- This is mainly based on the assertion that JP borrows some arguemnts from Rorty, and that he uses a multidisciplanry approach, and that he recognizes that there is indeed a relationship between power and discourse. I don't see anything wrong with that, and again I think the point is rather irrelevant, cause calling him a postmodernist is in the end a matter of semantics.
 

Meg

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mkrnhr said:
Mr. Premise said:
T.C. said:
A critique of the way Hicks' wrote the book and Jordan Peterson's blanket arguments against postmodernism:

[Video Link]

I just think it serves as a nice reminder that the devil is always in the details and unless you have the ability to immerse yourself in a particular subject for a substantial length of time, leaving your biases at the door and thinking with a hammer, you can't really get to the bottom of it. And it's seductive when someone like Peterson - intelligent and with a talent for summing up complex ideas into painless, bitesized chunks - says, "Derrida believed x. Foucault said y. Postmodernism is z," and so on.
Thanks for posting this video, T.C. It sums up very well my misgivings about Peterson's rants against postmodernism.
Can anyone summarize the salient points of the argument?
I haven't watched it yet, so no notes on his argument. A transcript was provided with the video, though.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1p_3o-bTAzNLFB9xQG7R1E1THI8CcdEdPvyMTSI8Lfsg/pub
 

mkrnhr

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Thanks Menrva and Windmill knight. Basically the argument is weak and uses unnecessary word gymnastics to say nothing.
 

Anthony

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Windmill knight said:
Yesterday as I was thinking about all this postmodernism thing I got an idea. It started with remembering what a lecturer from my university once said. He had been to some conference on the topic in France and while speaking with his French colleagues, he was told that English speakers miss a lot from Foucault and Derrida because they very often use humour and irony in their writings, and all that is then lost in translation and taken the wrong way.

So my idea was: What if these type of postmodernists viewed themselves as some sort of intellectual satirists, mocking traditional philosophy, science and rationality, and didn't even take all they said that seriously anyway? What if a lot of what they said they really didn't mean - not literally anyway - but was deliberate provocation? So you could have Foucault saying things like 'truth is constructed by power', more or less as a rhetorical exaggeration of the fact that quite often power makes use of language and presents it as 'truth' for its own agenda. Or Derrida saying 'all is language and text, and it's oppressive'. Later, maybe, these postmodern guys would see they had no option but to fully play the role they had set up for themselves, and would end up believing their own rhetoric. Of course, they liked being considered radical, as they wouldn't be half as famous if they had measured their claims with a healthy dose of rationality and clarity. That would also explain why they loved writing so obscurely - you can't let people see through the game! And notice how Jordan Peterson called Derrida "one of the major tricksters"; maybe he was more right than he knew.

The problem is that if they were being rhetorical or 'funny', it was completely lost in entire generations of students and academics, some of whom went ahead and produced new theories based on that, and that is partly the reason why we have this gender-bender mess and SJW's fighting for nonsensical causes, as well as other ills such as the prevalence of irrelevant materials produced in the fields of humanities. For example, in political science I've read entire books about current American foreign policy that go on and on about the American national mithology and don't ever once mention that foreign policy is predicated on lies. Because the truth doesn't matter; just the narrative.
I'm not sure and I've read some of Foucault and Derrida. It was years ago, but they never came across as attempting to be satirical, especially not Foucault.
 

Mr. Premise

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mkrnhr said:
Thanks Menrva and Windmill knight. Basically the argument is weak and uses unnecessary word gymnastics to say nothing.
You should really watch the whole thing. His argument is not weak if you follow the whole thing.
 
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