The Fundamental Difference between “Modern” and “Postmodern” Philosophies

The Fundamental Difference between “Modern” and “Postmodern” Philosophies May 24, 2016

The Fundamental Difference between “Modern” and “Postmodern” Philosophies

Modernity included a search for absolute, indubitable, rational certainty–based on logic and evidence alone. (Of course, many “modern philosophers” admitted such may be ultimately impossible for finite beings, but that didn’t stop them from holding it as an ideal and continuing the search.)

The first thing to note, however is that this was a search for certainty in what David Hume called the “synthetic realm”–propositions about truth outside the dictionary (the “analytic realm”). In other words, certainty outside matters of mere definition.

Gradually, many modern people came to believe such certainty was available, if at all, only in matters of science–especially the physical scienced where mathematics rules. “Nature and nature’s laws lay wrapped in night; God said ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”

Gradually, the impression set in among “modern people” that the “hard sciences” own “certainty” if not “knowledge” itself.

Postmodern thought is simply the rejection of certainty in the synthetic realm–even in science. (There is still debate about mathematics–whether it belongs in the synthetic or analytic realm.) Postmodern thought is defined by the belief (not certainty) that all truth claims are infected by BELIEF. That is, there is no such thing as “a view from nowhere.” Even what counts as “evidence” and “logic” is value-dependent, arising from within a story, a perspective.

Of course some postmodern thinkers go further than post-rationalism, post-foundationalism, and assert that “all truth claims are but masks for will to power.” But that is not necessary for postmodernity. What is the distinctive mark of postmodern thought is suspicion of all TOTALIZING truth claims–truth claims that claim such certainty that all alternative views must be suppressed.

So that raises the question “What does ‘totalizing’ mean?”

It does not mean voluntary groups cannot exert boundaries for themselves; it means people cannot be persecuted for believing differently than the reigning paradigm.

Well, that raises a host of other questions and around it goes. What does “persecution” include? Can a body politic enforce beliefs? Etc., etc.

But all I am attempting to do here is explain the most basic, underlying difference between “modern” and “postmodern” modes of thought. Modernity TENDED to elevate the so-called “hard sciences” to a special status OWNING “knowledge.” The attempt then was of course, to base everything on science (in German “Wissenschaft”).

Postmodernity TENDS to question all totalizing claims to certainty–claims that affect others in a negative way.

In a nutshell, in postmodern thought all “knowledge” is AT BEST “justified belief” and all “justification” of beliefs takes place within a metanarrative about the nature of reality. And no metanarrative is totalizing.

Of course, this is just a blog post, not a book. For more on this read (for example) Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be (InterVarsity Press). It’s a place to begin–for a Christian who wants to understand how Christianity and postmodern thought can kiss.

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