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Postmodern philosophy

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Postmodern philosophy is an eclectic and elusive movement characterized by the postmodern criticism and analysis of Western philosophy. Beginning as a critique of Continental philosophy, it was heavily influenced by phenomenology and existentialism, and by the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. It was also influenced to some degree by Ludwig Wittgenstein's later criticisms of analytic philosophy. Within postmodern philosophy, there are numerous interrelated fields, including deconstruction and several fields beginning with the prefix "post-", such as post-structuralism, post-Marxism, and post-feminism. In particular postmodern philosophy has spawned a huge literature of critical theory.

Postmodern philosophy is generally characterized by a skepticism toward the simple binary oppositions predominant in Western metaphysics and humanism, such as the expectation that the philosopher may cleanly isolate knowledge from ignorance, social progress from reversion, dominance from submission, or presence from absence. This is anti-foundationalism. To some critics, this skepticism appears similar to relativism or even nihilism. Defenders of post-modernism would argue that there is a distinct difference, however: while relativism and nihilism are generally viewed as an abandonment of meaning and authority, postmodern philosophy is generally viewed as an openness to meaning and authority from unexpected places, and that the ultimate source of authority is the "play" of the discourse itself. In addition, many view postmodern philosophy not as a purely abstract or logical argument, but as a historical occurrence.

This article is a part of the
History of Philosophy series.
Overview
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Ancient philosophy
Medieval philosophy
Renaissance Philosophy
17th century philosophy
18th century philosophy
19th Century Philosophy
20th Century Philosophy
Postmodern philosophy
Contemporary philosophy
Eastern philosophy

Table of contents
1 History of Postmodern Philosophy
2 Postmodernism and Post-Structuralism
3 Postmodernism versus Postmodernity
4 See also

History of Postmodern Philosophy

Early Influences in Postmodern Philosophy

Postmodern philosophy originated primarily in France during the 1960s and 1970s. However, it was greatly influenced by the writings of several earlier 20th century philosophers, including phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, existentialist Martin Heidegger, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, structuralist Roland Barthes, and logical positivist Ludwig Wittgenstein. Postmodern philosophy also drew from the world of the arts, particularly Marcel Duchamp and artists who practiced collage.

Early Postmodern Philosophers

The most influential early postmodern philosophers were Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida. Foucault approached postmodern philosophy from a historical perspective, building upon structuralism, but at the same time rejecting structuralism by re-historicizing and destabilizing the philosophical structures of Western thought. He also considered how knowledge is defined and changed by the operation of power.

The writings of Lyotard were largely concerned with the role of narrative in human culture, and particularly how that role has changed as we have left modernity and entered a "postindustrial" or postmodern condition. He argued that modern philosophies legitimized their truth-claims not (as they themselves claimed) on logical or empirical grounds, but rather on the grounds of accepted stories (or "metanarratives") about knowledge and the world -- what Wittgenstein termed "language-games." He further argued that in our postmodern condition, these metanarratives no longer work to legitimize truth-claims. He suggested that in the wake of the collapse of modern metanarratives, people are developing a new "language game" -- one that does not make claims to absolute truth but rather celebrates a world of ever-changing relationships (among people and between people and the world).

Derrida, to whom deconstruction is attributed, approached postmodern philosophy as a form of textual criticism. He criticized Western philosophy as privileging the concept of presence and logos, as opposed to absence and markings or writings. Derrida thus claimed to have deconstructed Western philosophy by arguing, for example, that the Western ideal of the present logos is undermined by the expression of that ideal in the form of markings by an absent author. Thus, to emphasize this paradox, Derrida reformalized human culture as a disjoint network of proliferating markings and writings, with the author being absent.

Though Derrida and Foucault are cited as postmodern philosophers, each has rejected many of the other's views. Like Lyotard, both are skeptical of absolute or universal truth-claims. Unlike Lyotard, however, they are (or seem) rather more pessimistic about the emancipatory claims of any new language-game; thus some would characterize them as post-structuralist rather than postmodernist.

Later postmodern philosophers

Postmodernism and Post-Structuralism

Postmodern philosophy is very similar to
post-structuralism; whether one considers the two identical or fundamentally different generally depends on how invested one is in the issues. People who are opposed to either postmodernism or poststructuralism often lump them together; advocates on the other hand make finer distinctions.

Postmodernism versus Postmodernity

Others who have written about postmodernity are the literary critic Fredric Jameson and the geographer David Harvey. They distinguish between postmodernity, which they use to describe an objective historical condition or situation, and postmodernism, which they use to describe a particular way of talking about postmodernity. They have further identified postmodernity with what the Marxist Ernest Mandel called "late capitalism," and have characterized postmodernism as the ideology of late capitalism.


See also