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Postmodernism acts as a defense of the practice of thought

against what it sees as modern misconceptions with negative results.

The modern period holds many things as its highest principles that

postmoderns see as misjudgments such as: the universal rule of

reason, the emphasis on material progress though the application of

the scientific technologies and industrial capitalism. The postmodern

movement does not act as a direct departure from modernist ideals

but rather as a reflection and reevaluation of them. The postmoderns

believe the ideals of the moderns have had a shattering impact on

human thought because of their commodification of so many

humanistic outlets including that of thinking itself. The postmodern

philosophy acts as a method of bearing witness to the

“incommensurability” of human interaction resulting from the ideology

of the modern period and finding common grounds for the resolution of

this discrepancy (or what Lyotard calls “the differend”).

Postmodernism is not a departure from modernism, but rather a

defense and critique of it initiated to encourage and sustain

experimental thinking.

The modern period set up the principles that would be refuted by

the postmodernists. The modern period is an era that began in the late

sixteenth or early seventeenth century and has lasted up to the

present (Firat and Venkatesh 240). Some of the definitive figures of

this movement were: Descartes, Kant, Bacon, Locke and Smith (Firat

and Venkatesh 241). Descartes revolutionized the field of philosophy of

rationalism and also put man into a position practically on par with

God, justifying his existence on earth. The syllogism “I think therefore I

exist” puts man in a position where he is justified in his dominion over

the earth. And this justification is solidified in Descartes belief that God

has given the world to man prior to his placement on it. He says, “…

the perception of the infinite is somehow prior in me to the perception

of the finite, that is, my perception of God is prior to myself”

(Meditations, 31-46). This leads to the modern concept of rationality in

the fact that God has given man the world for a reason and has made

reason reasonable for just this reason. This is why 1+1=2 and cannot

be otherwise because mathematics is the definitive tool of logic that

has been given to us by God prior is to our existence.

Kant expanded upon this universal grounding of logic saying that

it was reflected by imperatives, which were expressed by consensus of

public opinion. For Kant this consensus will lead to either categorical

imperatives or hypothetical imperatives. The categorical imperative is

the only principle that can institute a moral imperative. This moral

imperative is an autonomous principle that is grounded in the objective

metaphysical realm, which governs all morality. A hypothetical

imperative is based on inclination and a desire for immediate worldly

satisfaction rather than conformity to universal morality. This is why

the categorical imperative is valued more than the hypothetical,

because it contains universal truth, which is autonomous to all people.

The emergence of the scientific method from Francis Bacon led

to a revolutionizing of the pursuit of knowledge, turning from the

contemplation of Aristotle et al. to the pursuit of simplicity and

practical knowledge. The pursuit of simplicity can be seen as the

rejection of conventional philosophy for what Bacon calls “natural

philosophy”. This means that mans knowledge is limited to nature and

the natural and can only assume a relationship with objects.

John Locke accepted the view of man being limited to his

experience with nature and united this with God in his philosophy of

empiricism, which is so monumental to modernity. Although

empiricism is united in God it does not accept the concept of a priori

knowledge but rather that all men are born “tabula rasa” and must

come to understand their actions through experience. Once they have

come to understand themselves and their actions they can control

themselves rationally in a justified manner. Locke is also seen as a

monumental figure in modernity because of his emphasis on property

as a means to measure ones worth: “God commanded, and his wants

forced him to labour. That was his property, which could not be taken

from him wherever he had fixed it. And hence subduing or cultivating

the earth, and having dominion, we are all joined together” (Second

Treatise, 15).

Another figurehead of the modernist movement is Adam Smith

who emphasized economic expanse as a means of attaining wealth for

a nation (Danford 674). This gave way to the concept of capitalism,

which is so monumental to the moderns. In contrast with this the

postmodern belief is that “modernism has failed in its quest for an

ethnically ordered, rationally constructed, technologically oriented,

seemingly progressive and relentlessly unifying order [Rosenaeu

1992]” (Firat and Venkatesh 240). It is for this reason that

postmodernists have held under scrutiny the modern concepts of the

universal rule of reason, material progress though the application of

the scientific technologies and industrial capitalism.

Postmodernists do not wish to create a break from modernism

but rather operate inside of it in a reflective and critical manner.

Lyotard makes this obvious when he says, “What, then, is the

postmodern? It is undoubtedly part of the modern. All that has been

received only yesterday…must be suspected” (What is Postmodernism

115). He is saying that the duty of the postmodernist is to interpret

modern philosophy. This process is put in order to maintain the

legitimacy of human thought. The problem with the current state of

modernity for postmodernists is that “[b]y privledging science and

technology over cultural and symbolic representations, it has become

suspicious of pluralism, looking askance at alternate or contradictory

viewpoints [Said 1979]” (Firat and Venkatesh 240). This is to say, since

the moderns believe in the fundamental rationality of man they refuse

to believe that anything that challenges the uniformity of the universe,

can be true. This emphasis on pluralism and contradiction in the

postmodern can be seen in Lyotard’s acceptance of an apparently

heterogeneous structure of the universe. It is in this stance that he

refutes the modernist conception that “there is no reality unless

testified by a consensus between partners over a certain knowledge

and certain commitments” (What is Postmodernism? 113). He says this

because he believes that “[t]here are no procedures, defined by a

protocol unaminously approved and renewable on demand, for

establishing in general the reality of an idea. For example, even in

physics, there exists no such protocol for establishing the reality of the

universe, because the universe is the object of an idea” (The Differend

120). This is to say that universally no common ground for reality can
be set up because of the multiplicity of opinions regarding it, and even

then schematic depictions grounded in physics can never be wholly

true since they are just representations of an object of thought and not

concrete knowledge. But the postmoderns take from modernism what

they see to be its redeeming values and attempt to reconcile them

with the future. They take the modern concepts of equal rights and

sensibility and take them out of a universal context in order to

accommodate the diversity of the universe. “…[P]ostmodernism

proposes…the construction of a cultural and philosophical space that is

both human and sensible. Instead of universalism in thought and

practice, it offers localisms and particularisms…Instead of single truth,

it acknowledges regimes of truth” (Firat and Venkatesh 244). Thus the

distinction between postmodern and modern is a rejection by the

former of the concept of single universal truth and the embracement of

heterogeneous truth. This distinction could not be made outside the

context of modernity and therefore “postmodernism cannot be

considered a break from modernism, but a radical extension and

maturing of it” (Firat and Venkatesh 244). It is obvious that

postmodernists are attempting to maintain the integrity of modernity,

and because of this do not depart from it, but rather build on it and

repair it.
Postmodernist believe that some of the principles of modernity

have compromised thought to the point of it becoming a commodity

akin to the commodification initiated by capitalism. Capitalism holds

that profit must be made in order for prosperity. This conforms to

Locke’s concept of “life, liberty, health and property” where all men

are endowed with the natural right to these things and should aspire to

attain them because God wants man to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

This objectification of the world is just what the postmoderns refute.

They refute it because it suggests that the path to happiness is

through the acquisition of material wealth and that this pursuit is

autonomously in accordance with moral duty. This is what some

postmoderns describe as “the narrative of emancipation”, because it

suggests that if man conforms to rationality in all aspects of life he will

attain transcendence or happiness (Lyotard and Brügger, 81). For

Lyotard this basis on autonomy is fundamentally unrealistic because “it

is the imprint left on the politics of the scientist and the trustee of

capital by a kind of flight of reality out of the metaphysical, religious,

and political certainties that the mind believed it held” (What is

Postmodernism? 113). This is to say that the foundation of modernism

in autonomy is most likely false and therefore unrealistic.

This concept is directly akin to the Nietzschian concept of the

actual and the apparent world. This is the theory that philosophers

have misrepresented the actual world as the “real” world because of

its apparent reliance on reason: “[T]he ‘real world’ has been

constructed out of the contradiction to the actual world: an apparent

world indeed, in so far as it is no more than a moral-optical illusion.”

(Twilight of The Idols 49). It is a moral optical illusion because it bases

morality in something that is not actual to man. This misconception is

the foundation of modern philosophy and is the grounding of Kantian

morality. For postmodernists this grounding of morality in the universal

has led to the superfluity and commodification of thought. Since the

moderns put an emphasis on property as a means of displaying self

worth a culture of “eclecticism” emerges which leads to the

commodification of thought. “Eclecticism is the degree zero of

contemporary general culture: one listens to reggae, watches a

western, eats MacDonald’s food for lunch and local cuisine for dinner,

wears Paris perfume in Tokyo and “retro” clothes in Hong Kong;

knowledge is a matter for TV games” (What is Postmodernism? 112).

This eclecticism results from a misinterpretation of the modernist

conception that wealth = happiness, because it seems like an attempt

to simplify the world. It conforms to the modernist pitfall of the over

simplification of the human condition and as a result knowledge

becomes a matter for “TV games”. This is to say that there is one and
only answer to a question, but for Lyotard there can be many

pluralizations of knowledge. But the current state of modernity

embraces “easy answers” far more than contradictory ones and as a

result of this thought will fall under the complicit state of


The postmoderns believe that man can no longer pursue the

Western ideal of autonomy. “The current times constitute a

postmodern epoch after the modern, characterized by the

untrustworthiness and decline of the grand narratives” (Lyotard and

Brügger 89). The grand narratives are all hitherto philosophy which has

described man in a heroic position over the world that will one day

attain his salvation. For the postmoderns the problem with the modern

period is that it is based on a priori concepts which cannot be

accounted for and fails to recognize the importance of language in

determining the human condition: “The advance of capitalism into

language leads to its invalidation…” (Lyotard and Brügger 87). This is

to say that since mans relationship to the world is determined by

language and not metaphysical sources he can no longer justify

himself in a modern context. This lack of adherence to the importance

of language, for Lyotard results in the “differend”. The “differend”

results when the plaintiff is divested of the means to argue and for that
reason becomes a victim (The Differend 121). This is related to

modernism because under the false pretense of capitalism “they

presuppose – that the laborer or his or her representative has had and

will have to speak of his or her work as though it were the temporary

cession of a commodity, the “service,” which he or she putatively

owns” (The Differend 122). In this case the plaintiff will not be able to

make claims of his innocence because his livelihood is subjected the

dehumanization of the court. Postmodernism is a call to bear witness

to the effects of language on our human behaviour.

Postmodernism acts as a defense of modernism in that it

protects its values of thinking. The modern period produced many of

the points of refutation for postmoderns, which would be challenged,

as well as some points that postmoderns would defend. Specifically the

modern concept of capitalism has had a lasting impact on modernity

and the postmoderns because of its commodification of things like:

labor and thought. The postmoderns believe that reality is based on

language games rather than being grounded in universal morality, this

is the fundamental break from modernity. It is the postmodern belief

that the ignorance of the importance of language will lead to the

“differend”, a conflict of interest, which is irreconcilable in the modern

sense. It can be seen that postmodernism is a method of upholding the

modern tradition while reevaluating to ensure the integrity of human