Postmodernity vs. Wisdom

A disagreement which might have been overheard in every humanities and social sciences faculty in every university in the advanced world, before disagreement was banned on grounds of progressive sensitivity:

Postmodern Relativist: The historical belief in absolute truth has caused all our wars, inequality, and prejudice. Therefore, absolutism must be rejected in order to overcome these harmful effects at last.

Rational Animal: But why do you think wars, inequality, and prejudice are necessarily harmful?

Postmodern Relativist: Why? Because, to begin with, these things are oppressive of minorities and women, and supportive of systemic elitism.

Rational Animal: But even if that’s true, according to what standard have you, as a relativist, determined that the oppression of minorities and women, and systemic elitism, are evils?

The problem of postmodernity is the problem of all sophistry, namely that it begins with a desired practical (specifically socio-political) outcome, which desired outcome is thus tacitly granted the status of absolute truth, and then employs human reason only as a means of providing convenient justifications for that predetermined goal. This is the very opposite of philosophy, which begins with reason and follows the logic of the thought process wherever it leads.

Any postmodern who tells you he has no such predetermined socio-political agenda, but is merely dispassionately disputing the legitimacy of objective truth claims, must be asked why, if this were in fact the case, such a dispassionate disputation would not in itself constitute an objective truth claim. Furthermore, he must be asked why, even on his own terms, it is not pragmatically beneficial to believe in absolute truth. His answer will likely be some variation on, “Because the historical belief in absolute truth has caused all our wars, inequality, and prejudice.”

And so on and so on, world without end, Socrates vs. Thrasymachus, the philosophers vs. the sophists, the U.S. founding fathers vs. John Dewey, the soul vs. the body, freedom vs. despotism, the individual vs. the collective, amen.

“Truth is what works,” say our pragmatic sophists. Ask them to define “working” — and then to justify that definition. 

There are many who claim to be relativists, and many of those, in turn, who claim to be postmoderns. In truth, there are no relativists, and postmodernity is mostly an overreaching misdescription of an intellectual trend that is merely one of modernity’s more self-deluded rationalizations.

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