Brief Intro on Postmodernism as a Philosophy

I am still continuing my review of Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent, but I need to offer a few explanatory points on postmodernism as an academic philosophy.  For all of its problems, postmodernism has always suffered from detractors who really don’t know what it is.   Contra Evangelical apologetics manuals, postmodernism is not “the denial of absolute truths,” or literary and epistemological relativism.  The leading postmodernists–Derrida, for one–explicitly denied that.

Still, it’s hard to define in one sentence.  The following are aspects on approaches that postmodernism takes.

  1. Postmodernism (ala Lyotard) challenges that any one metanarrative from the Enlightenment should rule the world.  They are not necessarily saying, “Down with all metanarratives,” which is itself a metanarratives.  They are simply (and rightly) pointing to the power plays within Enlightement metanarratives
  2. Nothing Exists Outside the Text. Derrida is not saying all interpretations are equally relative.  This view says that all interpretations are conditioned.  Presuppositionalism 101.
  3. As in the case of the authors of Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent, another form of postmodernism is seeing “differance” (spelling intentional) as violence.  Any form of ambiguity means suspicion of violence.

3 comments on “Brief Intro on Postmodernism as a Philosophy

  1. Rhology says:

    Howdy Jacob!

    This view says that all interpretations are conditioned.

    Do they include the view that interpretations are conditioned in the list of interpretations are conditioned? Those kinds of things make me curious.


  2. Rhology says:

    Oops, meant:
    “in the list of interps THAT are conditioned?”

  3. tesla1389 says:

    Probably. There are several ways to look at that. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve read Derrida, and much of my reading of Derrida was filtered through Reformed scholars like James KA Smith. I think they would say something along the lines of:

    Saying all interpretations are conditioned is not the same thing as saying all interpretations are a) equally valid and b) epistemological relativism. I suppose one could then ask the question, “What makes an interpretation valid?”

    Here’s my take on it, though I wonder how many pomos would agree. I can fulfill the conditions of knowledge on my own. Sure, there are things influencing me: culture, history, the structure of the English language, but these influences do not invalidate my reading.

    Now, when we get to authoritative texts, the question shifts a bit. For example, I can read the bible and understand the words in it, but I as an individual do not have the authority to bind the entire church with my individualist reading. So, contra the Roman Catholic, I do not need the Pope to *understand* the facts of theology and bible. But I also do not have the authority to force my individualist reading on others outside the context of the church.

    I assume, given your background, you are a presuppositionalist, no? I am a Van Tillian of the old school: Dooyeweerd, Van Til, and Bahnsen (John Frame was my apologetics prof).

    I see guys like Derrida as proto-van Tillians. When Van til said people view all facts through a hermeneutical filter, he wasn’t saying that all views are relative (he was much to mean to say that!).

    Now, to be fair, James K Smith never quite convinced me that his view didn’t lead to literary relativism. Smith tried to anticipate that charge by some arcane quote from Dooyeweerd, but I’m not sure he succeeded.

    But that’s just one facet of postmodernism. Other’s are entirely different: power critiques, critiques of metanarrative, etc.

    Now, I am a mortal enemy of *political postmodernism* ala the European clime today.

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