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UPDATE: Fashionable Nonsense? - Comments

Kasterfin's Avatar Comment 1 by Kasterfin

If you want a definition of postmodernism, you shouldn't ask the postmodernists - they abjectly refuse to do something as 'lowly' as define themselves to anyone 'scientistic' enough to ask for something as concrete as a definition. One of the most important aspects of postmodernism, the idea of deconstruction, aims to show that every 'text' is utterly self-contradictory. This gives if not a definition, the idea of the 'postmodern attitude'

Basically, postmodernism is a symptom of relativism, and I have yet to see a single contribution it has made to any area in society (Sokal was right about that), aside from giving some overconfident people (some of them religious) a bit of a shakeup.

Postmodernism is also an embarrassment to philosophical naturalism - religious apologists like John Lennox sometimes trot out quotes from postmodernists about the meaninglessness of life in the 'postmodern condition'. We should focus on 'real' analytic philosophy - the sort that AC or Dan Dennett excel at - because it really has contributed a lot to society and helps to bolster confidence in atheistic, non-postmodernist view(s).

And if you need to spot a postmodern text, just look out for the inverted commas e.g. "science", "truth", "reason"

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:32:30 UTC | #637933

thatgingerscouser's Avatar Comment 2 by thatgingerscouser

As far as I'm aware, "post-modernism" is a phrase used to describe any endeavour in which something is made, said or done in a manner that satires or lampoons the very thing that has just been made, said or done. It's all a jolly great wheeze I'm sure, but some beardy academics take it rather seriously, which undermines the whole idea of it being, well, post-modern.

Personally, I'd rather study Monty Pythonism.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:36:47 UTC | #637935

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 3 by irate_atheist

Looks like a falsifiable theory to me, Richard. And thus far, no counter-data has been produced.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:39:34 UTC | #637937

JHJEFFERY's Avatar Comment 4 by JHJEFFERY

Postmodernism. n, A philosophy in search of an idea.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:41:46 UTC | #637938

RDfan's Avatar Comment 6 by RDfan

Po-Mo is "...being so open minded that your brain falls out."

There's a story - I paraphrase - about some people walking out of a Martin Heidegger lecture and one attendee says to the other: "Brilliant"; and the other responds: "Marvelous"; and the first speaker asks: "What did he say?"; and the other replies: "I have no idea." Thus is post-modernism. The art of making oneself un under-sTo+o"d".

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:51:06 UTC | #637943

thatgingerscouser's Avatar Comment 7 by thatgingerscouser

Isn't post-structuralism summit to do with architecture? Like they all got together, every architect in the world, and agreed to design nothing particularly beautiful anywhere in the world ever again... for any price.

I believe this meeting took place in the late 1950s.

Personally, I'd rather study Monty Pythonism.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:58:55 UTC | #637948

Jay G's Avatar Comment 8 by Jay G

I saw a clip from an interview with Jacques Derrida in which he criticized the "American" students because they would have the audacity to ask him to expand on or elaborate his ideas. He said that in Europe (read France) no student would dare to ask a professor to elaborate on what he had said.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 15:04:57 UTC | #637951

Kasterfin's Avatar Comment 9 by Kasterfin

Comment Removed by Author

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 15:15:47 UTC | #637954

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 10 by Schrodinger's Cat

Critical theory. The only theory that's never had critical theory applied to it.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 15:30:56 UTC | #637963

malreux's Avatar Comment 11 by malreux

Personally, I think a good dose of naturalism is the required antidote to too much literary-critical / postmodern guff. However vague the term 'naturalism' may be, it prioritises that which is in principle soluble. Presumably, postmodernists just aren't interested in that kind of thing. Fair play, everyone has a game they prefer, its just some games are so successful at predicting and explaining the world that it would be a miracle if they weren't (aprox) true.

Incidentally, 'structuralism' also refers to a view of (the ontology of) mathematics and physics that I quite like!

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 15:43:23 UTC | #637964

malreux's Avatar Comment 12 by malreux

PS I personally subscribe to a less innocuous view regarding interpreting texts - that is, 'all texts consist of (at least) symbols, a key, and an interpretation'. So it can be important to highlight that the meaning of a text is highly contextual. Useful point to relay to biblical literalists!

PPS I think all humanities undergrads should have to undergo thorough training in classical logic and metaphysics - a good rule-of-thumb theory of truth tends to dampen enthusiasm for French postmodernism!

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 15:48:52 UTC | #637967

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 13 by Steve Zara

The most beautiful ideas are simple, because truth tends to be simple. Look at the structure of the double helix. It's so clear why it's the shape it is, and why the base pairing is necessary. That simple shape explains so much.

Some ideas are said to be frighteningly complex, such as Relativity, but they really aren't. Working out what happens may be complicated, and the implications may be extraordinary, but the fundamental ideas are equisitely simple and beautiful.

I have deep skepticism of academic pursuits which build complexity on complexity. As far as I am concerned, Sokal demolished critical theory. How anyone had the nerve to publish anything afterwards is beyond me.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 15:55:09 UTC | #637969

edmundjessie's Avatar Comment 14 by edmundjessie

As far as i'm concerned, if someone can't say something clearly then there's a good chance it's because they haven't really got anything worth saying at all. Verbose, post-modernist 'theory' is a particular pet peeve of mine, alongside certain forms of modern art and poetry which i equate it to for having ill-defined rule sets that even it's proponents probably do not understand.

The problem is, like dealing with the religious, it's almost impossible to make people with fuzzy thinking see sense. When the emperor's got no clothes on, often the only thing you can do is point and laugh at his small impotent willy and hope he realises he's got no clothes on for himself.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:07:54 UTC | #637974

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 15 by God fearing Atheist

Like Richard, I'm looking forward to being enlightened.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:18:50 UTC | #637976

Andrew B.'s Avatar Comment 16 by Andrew B.

Nietzsche put it better than I can:

“Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity. For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom: the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water.”

Keep this quote handy when "reading" "post-modernists" and "sophisticated" religious "thinkers."

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:24:18 UTC | #637978

Bumpy's Avatar Comment 17 by Bumpy

I think this sums it up ...

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:29:20 UTC | #637980

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 18 by Neodarwinian

I was under the impression that except for a few holdouts, such as Bay Area dweebs, that the post anything craze was basically over. As I have said before, these people are a much larger threat to science than any creationist could ever be.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:29:56 UTC | #637981

Ballardian's Avatar Comment 19 by Ballardian

I am very flattered to be singled out in this way, though I feel slightly meek about my post being shoved into the limelight like this. I would have thought harder about it if I knew this would happen.

It's ironic that Richard seems to doubt whether postmodernism means anything, because to communicate this idea he uses an online discussion thread, quoting a comment that I made on a news story under an online alias, leaving me in the situation of being in indirect communication with one of the world's most famous science professors, through digital means, in a realm where no one knows anything about me outside of what I type.

It's a very postmodern situation.

If you're looking for a strong, testable definition you're bound to be disappointed. But the term "postmodernism" is very useful in the arts. You'll find various definitions for, say, classical music (some people think the term "classical" does more harm than good) or "tragedy" or "rock 'n roll", but you couldn't easily dispute the usefulness of these words, even if what I consider to be tragic could be entirely different from what the person next to me considers tragic. Postmodernism needs to be seen in these terms, I think.

I would stop short of labelling anyone who espouses the terms you mention, Richard, as a "charlatan". Whatever you think of their ideas, they are generally sincere and not out simply to fool everyone.

To take a popular example, the TV programme The Office is a postmodern comedy. It shows the folly of reality by parodying "reality" television, while going back on established sitcom rules, such as a laughter track and a problem/resolution structure running through each episode. Go back to watching a regular sitcom after watching The Office, with all the fake staging and canned laughter, and you'll almost feel your mind stepping backwards.

The universe won't implode without the concept of postmodernism, but it seems obvious to me that it suggests itself in almost every aspect of our lives. Lyotard defined postmodernism as "incredulity toward meta-narratives,” which is as good a definition as any.

Structuralism and post-structuralism are harder to define and are very controversial even in English studies. However I brought them up in my original post because the writers who propound these ideas were tremendously influential and cannot be ignored as part of a university syllabus. Even if their ideas are hogwash they can't be ignored. If you want to know what the terms mean then you'll have to read the writers. A book has recently been released called Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960 which provides an accessible and interesting account of the things we are discussing.

Lastly, I wouldn't say any of this stuff (structuralism, post structuralism, postmodernism even) is very fashionable. It's under attack more often than it's defended nowadays. Witness how the word "relativist" is summoned in seemingly every argument, and always referring to a vague, ghostly figure. "A relativist would say..." "I'm by no means a relativist..." "Those damn relativists..." But where the hell are they? Where are these relativists? I'm sure they must exist, but they can't number more than a dozen, and they certainly don't seem to contribute to public discussions very often.

I should stress again that I am far from an authority on any of this stuff (see I can't be that postmodernist - I admit to an authority), having only been an undergraduate last year. So if anyone wishes to take issue with my post, please bear in mind that attacking me is the equivalent of pushing over prams in the street. You would have to be cruel and heartless to do it.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:34:03 UTC | #637983

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 20 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 14 by edmundjessie

As far as i'm concerned, if someone can't say something clearly then there's a good chance it's because they haven't really got anything worth saying at all.

I agree with Steve that Sokal demolished postmodernism's ivory tower. The reason why the convoluted semantics of postmodernism seem meaningless is quite simply that they are.

Postmodernism was only ever a cabal of mutual intellectual masturbation and back slapping by a bunch of pseudo-thinkers who couldn't be bothered with real thinking so they devised a code of intellectual bamboozlement to cover their complete absence of any genuine intellectual position.

Or, more bluntly as my mate Stan would say...."Postmodernists have their head so far up their ass it's stuck in their neck "

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:40:48 UTC | #637985

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 21 by Neodarwinian

@ Ballardian

Yes, I am dissapointed by your " definition. " I will be cruel and heartless. Here is your pram pushed over; postmodernism sucks.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:41:37 UTC | #637986

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 22 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 19 by Ballardian

To take a popular example, the TV programme The Office is a postmodern comedy.

Only because it is defined as such by postmodernism. Great....but what has one actually gained by 'knowing' this when postmodern definitions are ( almost by definition of postmodernism itself ) as artificial and socially relativistic as the society they critique ? It's all just meaningless hyperbole. Postmodernism reminds me of those football commentators who can waffle for hours about a match that the rest of us saw too. Do we need someone to philosophise for 2 hours on why Rooney missed the shot ? It's just waffle between the adverts........and doesn't change the final score one iota.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:57:36 UTC | #637990

josephor's Avatar Comment 23 by josephor

If you want a definition of postmodernism try this for size :

Neooldfashionism. aka bullshit.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 16:59:46 UTC | #637992

green and dying's Avatar Comment 24 by green and dying

I picked up a book on postmodernism in a shop and there were a few pages at the beginning defining it. Reading that made me feel like I didn't speak English. Or that I was stupid. None of it meant anything to me.

I don't know whether postmodernism is actually a reasonable concept because I don't know what it is but why is it impossible to write about it without being irritating and pretentious? I'm on the Wikipedia page for it now and it's the same. "It involves the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place." If that actually means something surely it's possible to explain it in a way that isn't so irritating?

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 17:05:21 UTC | #637995

Iain Mott's Avatar Comment 25 by Iain Mott

I hate not knowing what something means. Fortunately OUP publish these 'very short introductions' for those not interested enough to read a full length treatise, but although the quality varies enormously, they can often do a reasonable job summing up the subject at hand and recommend further reading. The amazon website states the following regarding their 'Critical Theory' book:

In its essence, Critical Theory is Western Marxist thought with the emphasis moved from the liberation of the working class to broader issues of individual agency. Critical Theory emerged in the 1920s from the work of the Frankfurt School, the circle of German-Jewish academics who sought to diagnose--and, if at all possible, cure--the ills of society, particularly fascism and capitalism. In this book, Stephen Eric Bronner provides sketches of famous and less famous representatives of the critical tradition (such as George Lukács and Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and Jurgen Habermas) as well as many of its seminal texts and empirical investigations. Though they shared a Marxist bent, the Frankfurt School's scholars came from a variety of fields--philosophy, economics, psychoanalysis, and even music--and they initially sought not only to do interdisciplinary work but also to combine theory with practice, criticism with empirical data. Forced by the rise of Hitler to flee to the United States, by the late 1930s the Frankfurt School left behind the emphasis on empiricism, beginning instead to specialize in philosophical inquiry into the nature of social control, which combined the work of Hegel, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche.

It seems, however, that the term 'postmodernism' and the like can be deployed at any time or under any circumstance. Our friend Ballardian states 'Anyway, what I mean by it [Critical Theory] is the school of criticism including structuralism, post-structuralism, postmodernism and so on, which appeared around the 1960s.' The question that I'd like to pose is 'Should we prioritise in education that which we cannot clearly identify?'

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 17:12:42 UTC | #637997

mirandaceleste's Avatar Comment 26 by mirandaceleste

1) What Steve said.

2) This Peter Medawar quote pretty much says it all-

In all territories of thought which science or philosophy can lay claim to, including those upon which literature has also a proper claim, no one who has something original or important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood; people who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief.

3) After six years (four undergraduate, two graduate) of studying English Literature (plus literary theory and literary criticism), I finally realized that the vast majority of the theory and criticism that I'd spent so much time reading, analyzing, and writing about was absolute obscurantist nonsense written by charlatans and frauds. English departments at American universities (and perhaps elsewhere, I'm not sure) are dominated by theory of the postmodernist/poststructuralist/Marxist/Feminist variety, and that is incredibly frustrating and dangerous and so very depressing on so many levels.

4) Jay G: I know that interview well. I watched it in a graduate school seminar on literary theory (taught by a professor who adored Derrida). I can't remember the name of the documentary itself, but I was able to find the clip you're referring to here. The relevant part starts at 1:30 and goes to the end. He speaks primarily in French, but uses English in places where he implies and/or asserts that there aren't French words that can properly describe these "very American" (said with disdain) ideas. I went ahead and transcribed the video's subtitles. It's worth a read because what he says in the clip is a good example of this fashionable nonsense. The translation/subtitles seem to me to be a bit incorrect/sloppy in places (hilariously so at one point), and (even though my French is certainly far from perfect) I've noted those places in the transcription that I'll paste below (along with a few brief comments- I just can't help myself):

(The context: at the beginning of the clip, the American journalist reminds Derrida that when they met before he told her that it was "very American" of her to give him a topic and just ask him to speak. And she asks him why that was a "very American" thing to do. Over a minute later, he finally starts to answer her question.)

Derrida: I noticed in academic or social situations, that someone would ask someone else, a professor to a student, a student to a professor, or a student to a student, (he says this in English→) "Could you elaborate on these things? Could you elaborate?" (He uses both English and French here→) "Here's a word and go and work." (Back to French→) From the mention of just one word: "please elaborate". Even now, (He uses English here→)during my office hours, they just come and say, "could you tell me more about this or that, could you elaborate? (Back to French→) This doesn't happen in France. (I think he says something else there that is left out of the subtitles, perhaps something like "further explain", as in "in France, you don't ask someone to further explain", but I'm not sure). You don't just say (he also uses a French phrase here that would translate to something like "someone doesn't just ask someone else"), "Could you elaborate?" I don't even know how to say it in French. (WTF? He says "Pouvez-vous elaborate" which translates directly into "Could you elaborate". He obviously just means that French is much too wonderful to be used in such a horribly vulgar manner. I mean, the nerve of someone asking him to explain a concept, idea, or argument! My god, the nerve!) I'm not saying it never happens, but it's much less frequent in France. It happens sometimes and this is "American" in the first abusive sense, but it happens is radio or televised interviews, with hurried, manipulative journalists (I would translate what he said there as "with hurried, utilitarian journalists, [and with] manipulative journalists"- the subtitles don't translate his "utilitaire" for some reason, and that's odd, because he despises what he refers to as "utilitarianism", and that's rather telling) who think that because someone is a philosopher, you can ask them to suddenly speak about Being. As if you can push a button and there's (he uses English here➝): a ready made discourse on being or love. No, I have nothing ready-made, okay? (Back to French➝) So, on the one hand there's the abusive use of the term "American" that refers to all the cinematic, journalistic, manipulative attitudes. And a more strict sense of the term "American" which refers to what happens in the university, when someone just asks someone to elaborate on something (he says "to elaborate" in English, so I'm not sure why the subtitles say "to elaborate on something" there). Voila. (And the most hilariously sloppy part of the translation: they translate his smug "voila" as "viola"!!)

Ugh.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 17:17:59 UTC | #638003

Ballardian's Avatar Comment 27 by Ballardian

Comment 21 by Neodarwinian

At least I tried. I also happen to think postmodernism "sucks" at least some of the time (I can't accept relativism and I am profoundly disturbed by the de-humanising effects of technology), but I can't deny that it's a part of how we live now. You're steeped in postmodernism whether you like it or not, quite frankly. I'd have more respect for your view if you removed your internet connection and avoided all art, culture and media. If you're going to reject postmodernism then do it right.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 17:23:35 UTC | #638007

Ballardian's Avatar Comment 28 by Ballardian

Comment 25 by Iain Mott

I'm not an authority. What you quote from the OUP introduction is more accurate. Mine was an attempt to define it within literary study and I did it badly.

Also, if anyone wants to see informative lectures relating to these topics, by someone who knows what they are talking about, I suggest looking up Rick Roderick on youtube. I think almost all of his available lectures are on there, and he is great at explaining these sometimes obscure ideas. He even makes sense of Derrida.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 17:29:57 UTC | #638008

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 29 by Richard Dawkins

but I can't deny that it's a part of how we live now.

How can you know that, when you can't even tell us what it means?

You're steeped in postmodernism whether you like it or not, quite frankly.

How do you know that, when you don't know what the word means? You might as well tell me I'm steeped in semolina.

I'd have more respect for your view if you removed your internet connection and avoided all art, culture and media. If you're going to reject postmodernism then do it right.

And I'd have more respect for your view if you would explain in what sense the Internet, and art, culture and media are 'postmodern'. Since you don't seem to know what 'postmodern' means, I don't see how you can make such a statement.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 17:38:53 UTC | #638012

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 30 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #637983 by Ballardian

This post of mine is unlike most of my responses to others’ pieces in that it shall have to be non–chronological. Sorry. I just need to start with Ballardian’s last paragraph before I move on to do the rest the normal way:

I am far from an authority on any of this stuff (see I can't be that postmodernist - I admit to an authority), having only been an undergraduate last year. So if anyone wishes to take issue with my post, please bear in mind that attacking me is the equivalent of pushing over prams in the street. You would have to be cruel and heartless to do it.

This is an effort to discourage us from providing a critique; but of the person or the ideas? I certainly don’t want to be personal, and Ballardian may be right to say there are better ways to defend postmodernism and the other ideas he here supports than those he knows how to provide. If I have understood him correctly, he has finished an undergraduate degree in his subject. In my experience that’s enough in pretty much any field to defend the core ideas of the subject. In any case, I refuse to be accused of, for example, a straw man fallacy should I refute the stuff Ballardian says rather than whatever some specific alternative “better” figures might offer; that would be the Courtier’s Reply all over again. I am also interested by the idea of postmodernism being at odds with authorities on knowledge of a subject. Since any subject containing truth has its experts, this smacks of relativism to me. I will thus push on under the much more sensible assumption that postmodernism et al should on this website be assessed by how well Ballardian et al (if there is an et al; could they please speak up?) defend it when they seek to.

This may seem weird, but I’m going to switch to addressing him in the second person for the chronological part.

feel slightly meek about my post being shoved into the limelight like this. I would have thought harder about it if I knew this would happen.

But you knew from many past experiences that your posts on this website lead to criticisms of what you post and/or calls for you to defend what you’ve said, and I think I’ve authored a few of those myself. I don’t see there to be a fundamental difference in Dawkins doing this, or it being the basis of a new thread, or both at once. I always try to think hard about what I write when posting here.

the term "postmodernism" is very useful in the arts.

What uses has it so far served in which arts? How did it do this?

You'll find various definitions for, classical music, "tragedy" or "rock 'n roll", but you couldn't easily dispute the usefulness of these words. Postmodernism needs to be seen in these terms.

Wittgenstein made clear how this is achieved; it’s with family resemblance concepts. Can you show postmodernism to be one of these?

they are generally sincere and not out simply to fool everyone.

Admittedly a distinction is worth drawing (though for some things and not others) between the deliberately deceptive and the self–delusional who drag others down with them. A third class is those who are right, and lumping together the first two in contradistinction to this one is understandable. Do you think they are actually right, or do you instead think they fall into one of the first two categories?

The Office is a postmodern comedy.

Just to clarify, does this apply to the UK original, the US remake or both? (For all I know there are versions in other nations as well, but this is getting complicated enough as it is.) I’ve only seen the UK version to know how true are any assessments you go on to make of it, and often an original and its remakes are very different; this may include whether they count as postmodern.

It shows the folly of reality by parodying "reality" television, while going back on established sitcom rules, such as a laughter track and a problem/resolution structure running through each episode.

If you think including laughter tracks is a gold standard in pre–Office sitcoms, you’ve not seen enough of them. Resolving a problem at the end of the episode occurs in percentages of episodes in a sitcom which vary from show to show, but they’re seldom 0 or 100.

Go back to watching a regular sitcom after watching The Office, with all the fake staging and canned laughter, and you'll almost feel your mind stepping backwards.

Firstly, it’s not as if The Office has less fake staging than other sitcoms. Secondly, if your analysis focuses on sitcoms with canned laughter it is rather incomplete. Thirdly, I have never noted the effects you describe.

Lyotard defined postmodernism as "incredulity toward meta-narratives,” which is as good a definition as any.

While you finished your post with a paragraph which I discussed at the start of mine in which you conceded you couldn’t defend postmodernism et al to the best extent of anyone, here you admit to giving as good a formulation as any, so presumably we need only tear down this one. Which sets of claims count as meta–narratives? Is the modern evolutionary synthesis, or the Standard Model of Particle Physics, a meta–narrative about which postmodernists are incredulous? While all non–tautological ideas in principle warrant some doubt, in practice any automatic incredulity towards all “meta–narratives” risks being relativist or something as nonsensical if that concept is sufficiently broad. Could you explain how, if at all, it is not so broad?

the writers who propound these ideas were tremendously influential and cannot be ignored as part of a university syllabus.

Influential in what ways? Where, with whom? Is it the writers or their ideas which we cannot ignore in university syllabuses? In which subjects, incidentally?

If you want to know what the terms mean then you'll have to read the writers.

It’s always incredibly hard if not impossible to track down these terms’ meaning, isn’t it? It is good to contrast this with what Dawkins said above:

‘Lamarckism’ means the view evolution proceeds through the principle of use and disuse, followed by inheritance of acquired characteristics. Group selectionism is the theory natural selection chooses between units larger than the individual organism. Mutationism means that evolution proceeds by mutation alone, without natural selection. Physicists, chemists, astronomers, geologists, historians, linguists, economists, legal theorists and moral philosophers would give corresponding explanations of their various ‘isms’. I have never yet encountered a concise or clear definition or explanation of ‘post modernism’ or ‘post structuralism’. I look forward to a convincing disproof of the working hypothesis that these phrases mean nothing at all. See what real clarity is like? If this were my field, I’d be ashamed if I couldn’t define these terms in a sentence.

A book has recently been released called Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960 which provides an accessible and interesting account of the things we are discussing.

As I said, we shouldn’t have to read an entire book just to know what a word means. Further, does it not worry you that your subject is best summarised as thinking the impossible?

I wouldn't say this stuff is fashionable. Witness how the word "relativist" is summoned in seemingly every argument, and always referring to a vague, ghostly figure. But where are they? I'm sure they exist, but they can't number more than a dozen, and they certainly don't seem to contribute to public discussions very often.

12 in the whole world? Or out of how many academics of relevance? 12 % more like. “Public discussion” is a bit vague; when Dawkins et al have critiqued relativism at length, such as in one chapter of A Devil’s Chaplain or the books Dawkins mentioned here, numerous specific examples of these people are named, cited as examples, quoted and replied to; they are not kept vague or ghostly.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 17:40:36 UTC | #638013