There is a lot of hate for postmodernism on YouTube. Is this hate justified? Or is it just becuase postmodernism makes people uncomfortable. I guess what I am asking is "does postmodernism have any powerful critiques against it?"
Here are three reasons (there may be more):
- The Analytic/Continental divide (some might say feud - see here for example): At the beginning of the 20th Century, two schools (or more accurately, two opposing styles) of writing in philosophy emerged: The Analytic style which was popular mostly in English speaking countries, and the Continental style, which consisted mostly of French and German philosophers. Postmodernism fell under the Continental style, and hence was often ridiculed by English speaking academics and students. A famous confrontation within this overall feud was the Searle/Derrida dispute.
- The Science Wars: Postmodernism was associated with the strong programme whose adherents held that science is a social construct, i.e. scientific truth is determined by sociological and cultural considerations, in the same way that political systems or religious beliefs are. Obviously this didn't sit well with many scientists or scientifically-inclined philosophers, who opposed and ridiculed the strong programme and postmodernism in general. See the the Sokal affair.
- Postmodernist philosophers are notorious for writing in a difficult to read, idiosyncratic style, and are frequently accused of deliberate obscurantism. See this post and answers within.
Additional, unsourced reason: Postmodernism is associated with the left, especially the radical left. So it gets a lot of hate from right wingers.
I'll try to offer a brief sketch that moves from what I take to be "overarching" (more inclusive) complaints to more specific ones. Please keep in mind that I am, personally, very dissatisfied by most of Postmodern thought; I'm not trying to hide that fact or pretend to distance myself from judgment.
Postmodernism, at its most basic level, is a critique of Modernism. This critique is motivated by a dissatisfaction with philosophical Liberalism, which amounts to a distaste for capitalism and an appreciation of individualism, among other things. It's obvious that people who consider these "Enlightenment values" to be good (useful, respectable, fair, successful) will already, at this relatively nascent stage, be suspicious of Postmodernism. This suspicion is not unique to "right-wingers" or what the average American calls "Republicans" because this critique flows from Classical Liberals, Libertarians, many Democrats and everyone who is opposed to most of contemporary Progressivism.
Related to this is the Postmodernist's attitude toward science and rationality. Social constructivism, a distaste for "totalizing statements", and skepticism about objectivity, indifference, and progress are very important features here. To be frank, I think a lot of this stems from misunderstanding what these terms mean and what role they play in scientific investigations. "Objectivity" is parsed as "unchanging, universal truths", "indifference" is considered an anti-human (or life-negating) emotion, "individualism" is thought to be identical to selfishness and opposed to solidarity, and rationality is seen as an oppressive tool of the patriarchy. To be fair, I really do think that the concept of objectivity is horribly inflated and mis-used by scientists and lay people, but there are alternatives! We can all be fallibilists about knowledge (even the kind that arises out of empirical and formal efforts) without being skeptical about science and rationality.
Another feature is relativism and subjectivism. This is related to constructivism and probably stems from it. Moral judgments are relative to cultural practices and reality itself is sometimes considered as having no residue of perception-independent stuff. Gender fluidity might not be related but the attitude is similar: since gender is a social construct, we can find ourselves anywhere along a spectrum. However, there are alternatives here as well: instead of becoming relativists, we can become fictionalists about morality and gender. As I mentioned earlier, many of these attitudes are the result of misunderstandings ... ones that might possibly arise as a result of not exploring the intellectual landscape very thoroughly.
Please don't take this as a complete critique of Postmodernism. I can't clarify all of my attitudes and arguments here, and it's obvious that adherents will categorize these things differently.
I think a lot of this "hate" could arise from an intuition about the fundamental incongruity of saying there is no such thing as justified true belief, and ascribing any truth value to that judgement. Perhaps the "hate" is motivated by a kind of will to show that if that is what postmodernism purports to say, and also say about itself, that it is true, then it is fundamentally dissatisfying to someone if what they care about is finding out what is true. Postmodernism could appear to make a mockery of all pursuit of truth, through problematising the term "truth" as its kind of reason for being (at least, that is how it could appear).
See my review of S. Hicks critique of postmodernism. Links in article to book. Here: https://ruminations.blog/2017/07/08/review-hicks-postmodernism/
It seems that postmodernists disguise as Left (with themes like diversity, etc), but are actually favoring the Right. Why? When they attack modern science (examples here, here, here and here), they are attacking the only force strong enough to counterbalance organized monotheism. They are defending the same obscurantism (be almost impossible to read and understand seems to be a rule - examples here, here and here) that made organized monotheism thrive. Also, when they say "each one has its own truth" (examples here, here, here and here), they are dividing people, and this is good to who's in power now. "Unity makes strength" is a Left motto, and postmodernism goes straight against it. Chomsky's critics are in that line, and Chomsky is anything but rightist.
Now, if many critics come from the Right political wing, then they are 1) part of the plot, or 2) equally fooled.
@Not_Here asked for references, so here is the first. The core of Noam Chomsky's critic against what is called Postmodernism:
I've dipped into what they write out of curiosity, but not very far, for reasons already mentioned: what I find is extremely pretentious, but on examination, a lot of it is simply illiterate, based on extraordinary misreading of texts that I know well (sometimes, that I have written), argument that is appalling in its casual lack of elementary self-criticism, lots of statements that are trivial (though dressed up in complicated verbiage) or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish.
And I almost forgot, the clearest critique of all:
I can't really speak for its philosophy at all, though it is often feminist, or relativistic, etc.. Postmodern art, post conceptual art, can at least appear to be lazy and tasteless, especially in its desire to shock or surprise.
In literature there are many definitions of it, which doesn't get us very far in saying why people dislike it. So e.g. Calinescu says it's difficult to distinguish it from popular culture, because post modernists want public acclaim. This sort of thing gets talked up especially by Marxists. So Eagleton thinks that the movement claims or appears to have abolished all alienation in one stroke, closing us off from realising quite how bad things are.
I do really like some writers who are broadly speaking postmodern, but this status is usually contested either by themselves or the critics.
Postmodern philosophy is -broadly- characterised by a skepticism towards all-encompassing metanarratives. From my point of view, its detractors grossly exagerate and misrepresent its claims and purposes, and most of them have not made the slightest intellectual effort in order to understand. Most of the accusations of absolute relativism, nihilism and rejection of science are plainly wrong. Let's take the example of Derrida : In an interview book with French historian Elisabeth Roudinesco (**De quoi demain ? **) he explicitely states that he was frustrated by the french intellectual life of his youth with Sartre and Merleau-Ponty at Ecole Normale Supérieure because he felt that epistemology was overlooked.
Also, when mentionning the Sokal affair, one often omits Derrida's response, and swiftly considers that the verdict of "debunking" is irrevoccable.
Let me include it here :
"Le Monde asks for my comments on Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s book Impostures intellectuelles, although they consider that I am much less badly treated in it than some other French thinkers. Here is my response: This is all rather sad, don’t you think? For poor Sokal, to begin with. His name remains linked to a hoax—”the Sokal hoax,” as they say in the United States—and not to scientific work. Sad too because the chance of serious reflection seems to have been ruined, at least in a broad public forum that deserves better. It would have been interesting to make a scrupulous study of the so-called scientific “metaphors”—their role, their status, their effects in the discourses that are under attack. Not only in the case of “the French”! and not only in the case of these French writers! That would have required that a certain number of difficult discourses be read seriously, in terms of their theoretical effects and strategies. That was not done. As to my modest “case,” since you make a point of mentioning that I was “much less badly treated” than some others, this is even more ridiculous, not to say weird. In the United States, at the beginning of the imposture, after Sokal had sent his hoax article to Social Text, I was initially one of the favorite targets, particularly in the newspapers (there’s a lot I could say about this). Because they had to do their utmost, at any cost, on the spot, to discredit what is considered the exorbitant and cumbersome “credit” of a foreign professor. And the entire operation was based on the few words of an off-the-cuff response in a conference that took place more than thirty years ago (in 1966!), and in which I was picking up the terms of a question that had been asked by Jean Hyppolite.1 Nothing else, absolutely nothing! And what is more, my response was not easy to attack. Plenty of scientists pointed this out to the practical joker in publications that are available in the United States, and Sokal and Bricmont seem to recognize this now in the French version of their book—though what contortions this involves. If this brief remark had been open to question, something I would willingly have agreed to consider, that would still have had to be demonstrated and its consequences for my lecture discussed. This was not done. I am always sparing and prudent in the use of scientific references, and I have written about this issue on more than one occasion. Explicitly. The numerous places where I do speak, and speak precisely, about the un-decidable, for instance, or even about Godel’s theorem, have not been referenced or visited by the censors. There is every reason to think that they have not read what they should have read to measure the extent of these difficulties. Presumably they couldn’t. At any rate they haven’t done it.One of the falsifications that most shocked me consists in their saying now that they have never had anything against me (cf. Liberation, October 19, 1997: “Fleury and Limet accuse us of unjustly attacking Derrida. But no such attack exists”). Now they are hastily classifying me on the list of authors they spared (“Famous thinkers like Althusser, Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault are mainly absent from our book”). This article in Liberation is a translation of an article in the Times Literary Supplement, where my name, and only mine, was opportunely omitted from the same list. In fact this is the sole difference between the two versions. So in France, Sokal and Bricmont added my name to the list of honorable philosophers at the last minute, as a response to embarrassing objections. Context and tactics obligeni More opportunism! These people aren’t serious. As for the “relativism” they are supposed to be worried about—well, even if this word has a rigorous philosophical meaning, there’s not a trace of it in my writing. Nor of a critique of Reason and the Enlightenment. Quite the contrary. But what I do take more seriously is the wider context—the American context and the political context—that we can’t begin to approach here, given the limits of space: and also the theoretical issues that have been so badly dealt with. These debates have a complex history: libraries full of epistemological works! Before setting up a contrast between the savants, the experts, and the others, they divide up the field of science itself. And the field of philosophical thought. Sometimes, for fun, I also take seriously the symptoms of a campaign, or even of a hunt, in which badly trained horsemen sometimes have trouble identifying the prey. And initially the field. What interest is involved for those who launched this operation in a particular academic world and, often very close to that, in publishing or the press? For instance, a news weekly printed two images of me (a photo and a caricature) to illustrate a whole “dossier” in which my name did not appear once! Is that serious? Is it decent? In whose interest was it to go for a quick practical joke rather than taking part in the work which, sadly, it replaced? This work has been going on for a long time and will continue elsewhere and differently, I hope, and with dignity: at the level of the issues involved."
This doesn't strike me as an unreasonable response. It is very appealing to dismiss Derrida, as his writings are nortoriously purposefully difficult, as he aims to carry a meta-reflection on writing. (If any french speakers read this, I encourage them to listen to the France Culture Radio interviews of Derrida)
I understand the frustration linked to postmodernism, but I think that the hate it gets far exceeds the healthy criticism it deserves.This is mostly due to the continental/analytic feud.
I would like to conclude by commenting on the main issue of some of analytic philosophy and the associated positivism, mainly that it cannot be self-justified. The assuption that, since all valuable knowledge comes from science, philospohy must either become a science (of some sort) or die is itself non-scientific. Carnap's declaration (which I've used several time) that "Metaphysicians are musicians with musical talent" is not a scientific fact, despite its rhetorical appeal.
From my point of view, philosophy is not a cumulative knowledge, but a dialectic tool, and the insight of postmodernism shouldn't be so easily dismissed.