The paradox of postmodernism

(Actually, it is a self-contradiction.  But then where’s the alliteration?)

They will admire you for seeking the truth.

They will mock and revile you for claiming you found it. 

contradiction.jpg

In a nutshell, a key element of postmodern thought is that truth is relative – i.e., there are no absolutes.  Of course, purveyors of this philosophy think that it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth.  Indeed.

We should avoid sharing the truth in an arrogant way, but there is nothing inherently arrogant about believing something is true.  In fact, if you don’t think something is true then by definition you don’t believe it.  Truth is that which corresponds to reality, so we should be able to back up our truth claims with fact and reasons. 

Seeking the truth presupposes that there is truth to be found.  And there is.  I found it . . . or rather, Him.

23 thoughts on “The paradox of postmodernism”

  1. Maybe some first year grad students sitting around a table late at night with a couple beers may make the claim that postmodernism means that all truth is relative, but no serious proponent of the philosophy would ever say such an obviously silly and self-contradictory thing.

    There are plenty of reasons to criticize postmodernism and its failures. But you should do so with a little intellectual honesty, I think. Straw men are easy to knock down.

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  2. Thanks for accusing me of being intellectually dishonest (always helps keep me humble), but I stand by my post. I have seen and heard plenty of people make those claims. They don’t seem to notice that while they think there are no absolutes that they can’t seem to go three sentences without making an absolute statement.

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  3. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Again, you may have heard someone who doesn’t know squat about postmodernism saying something stupid OR perhaps you misunderstood what they were saying. But in either case, that isn’t postmodernism, not by a long shot.

    Neil, I called you intellectually dishonest because I assumed you actually knew that a claim that “there is no absolute truth” is not authentically postmodernist and is just a silly caricature. Apparently, however, you didn’t know that, so I withdraw the statement and I’ll just suggest that you’re woefully misinformed instead. 🙂

    For a good treatment of real (as opposed to cartoon-like) postmodernism and its problems, see Toulmin’s “Cosmopolis”.

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  4. So now I am intellectually dishonest OR stupid – OK, that is much better! In that case, this may not be the blog for you.

    We live in a postmodern culture. Countless people – self-described Christians included – will claim that truth is relative. Perhaps they are being bad postmoderns and need to read your book recommendation.

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  5. No, misinformed doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Wow…a bit sensitive today, eh Neil? 🙂

    “Perhaps they [postmodern Christians] are being bad postmoderns and need to read your book recommendation.”

    If that’s what some are actually claiming, then I couldn’t agree with you more.

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  6. I was deliberately exaggerating with the “stupid” comment. I was more irritatated at being called a liar for stating what I think is the philosophical equivalent of “the sky is blue.”

    In 1992 a survey showed that 52% of committed Christian kids denied the existence of absolute truth. Roughly ten years later, it had risen to 91%. The figure is higher for non-Christians. I think that qualifies as “some.”

    I have heard of other surveys as well and have encountered many people on blogs, including my own, that seem to have a tough time with the absolute truth concept. And virtually everything I have read about the state of higher education supports that.

    More here from a WSJ article – http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110005335.

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  7. Well, Neil, before we go off too far, I’d like to point out that this:

    “In a nutshell, a key element of postmodern thought is that truth is relative – i.e., there are no absolutes. ”

    is wrong. That is not postmodernism. That is all I’ve been saying. If you want to argue against an ideology of “absolute moral relativism” (for lack of a better phrase — even typing that makes my fingers hurt) feel free and I’ll be glad to help, but don’t call it postmodernism, because it isn’t. Again…that’s all I’m saying.

    If 91% of Christian kids don’t believe in an absolute truth, obviously they need some serious education, but that doesn’t make them “postmodernists.” They need educating, we don’t do them any favors by educating them about things that are completely wrong, such as the notion that postmodernism states that there is no absolute truth.

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  8. Postmodern? But Neil, Ayn Rand decried the same problem (and, as I recall, much the same way) in the 1950s in Atlas Shrugged. (For those who have read it, I’m referring to the conversation between the Wet Nurse and Hank Rearden.)

    That said, it is the hallmark of those who do not believe in either civilisation or humanity.

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  9. I would have to say that there are a lot of people out there who believe they are postmodernist and also believe that there is no absolute truth. But there are a lot of people out there who believe they are Christians and think Jesus was just a wise teacher. It may come down to what your definition of “is” is.
    Postmodernist or not, the idea that there is no absolute truth has a lot of people (I was going to say young people but some of them are not so young anymore) confused.

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  10. Alan – I just did a quick Google and found lots of stuff like this.

    “Stanley Grenz in A Primer on Postmodernism: [Postmodernism] affirms that whatever we accept as truth and even the way we envision truth are dependent on the community in which we participate . . . There is no absolute truth: rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate.”

    So there are at least a couple folks out there who agree with the simple premise above. If you want to continue to insist that I am lying and/or grossly misinformed, you’ll need to do it somewhere else. I get weary of proving the same point over and over.

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  11. My theory on why post-modernists promote this idea is that deep down inside, they know there is such a thing as absolute truth. But if there is, then how they live their life has to change, so they are forced to deny what truth points to, what truth is.

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  12. Agreed. It is a house of cards designed to pretend that sin isn’t sin.

    P.S. Great blog, Lone Drifter! The DNA pieces were excellent. I was just thinking about that concept the other day.

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  13. I’m working on a pointless, semantical argument to make while ignoring the whole point of the post, and the best way to condescendingly mock the writer.

    When I work out the kinks, I’ll be back.

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  14. I actually don’t know the definition of postmodernism, but Moe of the Simpsons defined it as “Weird for the sake of being weird.”

    Anyway, I think there are many who believe in an absolute truth, but that it is unknowable by us. But I think it’s practically the same thing as not believing in it at all.

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  15. I agree with TheLoneDrifter, but don’t think that one needs to be Christian to believe in absolute truth. Misogyny and racism were no less damaging for having occurred prior to the modern era; Jews are no less dead for having been around when it was deemed acceptable to exterminate them. All one needs to believe is that human suffering is not dependent upon context – that heaping one indignity upon another does not cancel them out.

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  16. No, one does not have to be a Christian to believe in absolute truth. However, that belief is either phony or miguided if they are not. Ignore with me for a moment the overwhelming amount of “scientific data” (actually propaganda) that points to evolution. If you were to completely ignore a creation/evolution argument, you would be forced to admit that God is real and Christianity the same. Now introduce all of that propaganda. Objectively compare it to real, hard science conducted by creationists. I think you get my drift.

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  17. TheLoneDrifter:

    I disagree. I do not see how you get from non-evolution to Christianity. Why not Judiasm? Islam? Why not just read the Odyssey and conclude that there’s more than one diety?

    I’ve yet to hear a coherent, scientific argument against evolution. All I’ve heard is, “It’s really unlikely that it all happened this way,” which isn’t science, but bad math. (Consider that the chances of me being here, typing this, as I am with my genes, is infintesimal – some one in trillions; such is the same problem we have whenever we work backwards and ask the probability of events happening just this way.) I’ve also heard nonsense about it violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which betrays both a lack of understanding about thermo and the universe (if such were the case, the entire universe would degrade down to nothing). Of course, Ann Coulter betrayed her liberal artist education by making points about not seeing the rejects of evolution (clearly having missed everything from sterile offspring to four-legged humans).

    I’m not trying to be completely mean, but NO, I don’t get your drift, because I’ve never seen good creationsist science. Never seen a good explanation for carbon dating, those pesky fossils of early humans, mutation of bacteria and viruses, spontaneous abortion, and the like.

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  18. I have yet to hear a coherent, scientific argument FOR evolution. Unless you define “scientific” in a way to exclude some of the evidence.

    Sorry Neil, not the place for this argument so I won’t continue it.

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  19. With regard to the truth, I find that there are many attractive ideas. First I don’t like to quote from some other authority to arrive at a truth. While being well read is important, at least in my opinion, the ability to analyze and synthesize from others is a vastly underated skill.

    One of my concepts about truth may not be popular with some, but I think that truth sometimes comes to an idea by consensus. That does give truth a temporary quality, and means that it does change from time to time, but we live in a world which is constantly changing, and perceptions about right and wrong or truths and non-truths may depend greatly on the terrain where one finds themself standing.

    I do believe that there are some universal truth, and to break my rule about quoting, most would call this “Natural Law”, while others refer to it as Universal Imperatives. My own personal belief is there are only a few of these, but they are vital to an individual and to a society as they provide a framework for both to face the challenges of life.

    I also am skeptical about those who claim to have a monopoly on the truth. While it perhaps would lead to more peace of mind if I could be dogmatic and say this is the truth, I also believe it would cause me to be exclusive, and from my own sense of truth, truths which lead to one person or one set of ideas inherently being better than another can be dangerous.

    One of the quotes from the Bible which I do enjoy, and it is not a favorite I’m sure among many are the words of Pilate, “What is truth”. I’m not sure of the reason that the writer of that Gospel included the statement in it, but that he did is signficant. Many believe he was stating this in mockery, others believe he was waxing philosophical.

    The other statement regarding truth which I love are the words of Our Lord, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”. Perhaps a comment could be added, the pursuit of it shall make you miserable.

    I hope that those who disagree with my thoughts don’t see this as a form of heresy. I don’t believe that our Lord ever berated someone for being skeptical, or for wrestling with concepts.

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  20. Hi Voice – I don’t find that to be heretical. One of my favorite verses is Acts 17:11 – “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

    This theme occurs other places in the Bible as well – i.e., truth exists, you should seek it and you should use facts and reason to determine if you have found it.

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