Modernity? Pre-Modernity? Post-Modernity

Even though I just wrote an article trying to characterize “modernity” (and defend it), I think that all the claims that we are post-modern and all the pining for the pre-modern make me feel like Alan Jacobs in this piece:

So when people tell me that they want to recover the wisdom of the pre-modern, I just want to know what in particular they are talking about. At least tell me whether you’re talking economics, politics, moral philosophy, epistemology, theology, or what. And then we can narrow it down from there. Ditto when people vocally embrace the postmodern condition. What is it, precisely, to which you wish to be “post”? And now that you are post-X, what Y have you entered? Spell it out for me, one cog at a time.

The philosopher Bernard Williams used to say that we suffer from a poverty of concepts. Never more so, I think, than when we have useless arguments about modernity and its putative predecessors and successors. We think we know what we mean when we use such language, but the fruitlessness of our debates shows that there really isn’t substantive agreement. So my suggestion is that we all try to make our arguments — whether they are for something or against something — without ever employing that particular string of letters: “modern.” It would be a good discipline for everyone.

Your Thoughts?  What do you mean when you bemoan or celebrate the modern?  Or when you herald or lament the supposed arrival of the post-modern?  Or disdain or pine for the pre-modern?  Are these useful terms anymore or have they been worn out?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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