Monday, February 18, 2008

The Problem with Postmodernism

I'm slated to give a talk to the Bend (Oregon) Apologetics Guild toward the beginning of next month. My topic is "Postmodernism," which is the spirit of the age in our culture. I hope to address postmodernism as a worldview and philosophy, dealing with its distinctive facets such as...

Denial of objective or absolute truth

Suspicion/rejection of metanarratives

Textual deconstruction

Since not all of my readers will be able to attend that March 5 luncheon lecture, I thought I'd process some of what I'll say here.

As a philosophical system, postmodernism has largely failed the test of close scrutiny by critical thinkers. That is, philosophers have nearly unanimously found postmodernism's central claims to suffer basic fatal flaws. For the most part, they are self-refuting or self-referentially absurd. I've discussed this type of problem before, particularly in relation to scientism and empiricism. But here let me give a couple of examples of the self-refuting nature of postmodernism's epistemological (truth/knowledge) claims. To say that
There is no such thing as truth
is to make a truth claim. The easy rejoinder is, "Oh! Is that true?" If the statement itself were deemed true, then it provides a glaring exception (right out of the gate) to the claim being made. Of course, today's postmodernist has caught on to this, and I hope you don't hear anyone in your particular circle making such a silly statement. But my bringing it up does not represent a straw-man argument, a caricature of the postmodern position. Because no matter how much more rhetorical complexity is added to the claim, it always remains self-refuting. How about this one?
If there does exist objective truth out there, we are prevented from ascertaining it by the vagaries and biases of our culture and language.
Sound better? Unfortunately, this statement suffers the same problem. It is, after all, a claim about objective truth--truth out there. And the obvious question now becomes, 'How did this particular person (the one making the claim) cut through the vagaries and biases of his own culture and language to discover this truth about the truth out there?'

I could go on--and it's really rather fun to spot the absurdity of these sorts of claims. But I'll leave some of the fun for you. So be watching and listening for postmodern claims about the nature of truth and knowledge. They all share a common fatal flaw...they are self-referentially absurd. Though postmodernism is alive and well on the street, it has already reached the dustbin of failed philosophies as far as philosophers themselves are concerned.

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