Edit for the moderators (and anyone who cares)

What I have here is a suspicion, actually shared by a number of important intellectuals and other less known people, thus not exactly a 'personal philosophy', but a real inquiry. I have given lots of references for that. My question is why most people don't seem to agree, or even see, that point of view, since it looks so clear to many of us, and also if any respected intellectuals have addressed the question or not. This is totally different than just asking if I'm right or wrong, as you imply. As some have noted, this close is looking arbitrary and political, more than anything else.

In a recent decision from the Brazilian Committee for Biosafety regarding the approval or not of a certain transgenic seed, I've read the delegates votes and their reasoning. Actually, the only one who presented any reasoning was the only vote against the approval. In three pages, the delegate presented a list of reasons why he thought that seed wasn't safe enough for mass production. All other delegates (about ten) just voted in favor of approval, without at least arguing why they thought the other delegate was wrong. You don't need to do this in Postmodern times. "Each one has its own truth", so what's the point in debating? Postmodernists don't see any sense in trying to reach consensus. I'm not sure if the ten delegates received any money to help them decide their votes (what is probable), the biggest problem is that they're allowed to vote without explaining their reasoning (what's scandalous, since there were strong reasons to vote against the approval). This "death of reason" is the utmost tragic consequence of Postmodernism.

That Postmodernism is indeed harmful to the Left is something very few people have noticed in its early days, but now in Trump's era it's becoming more and more evident.

The number of critics against Postmodernism is not only huge, but many also come from very respected intellectuals. When Derrida earned an honorary degree in Cambridge, for instance, some of them (including Barry Smith, Hans Albert, David Malet Armstrong, Ruth Barcan Marcus, Willard Van Orman Quine, Peter Simons, René Thom, among others) signed a letter of protest, where we can read (emphasis mine on this and next quotes):

Many French philosophers see in M. Derrida only cause for silent embarrassment, his antics having contributed significantly to the widespread impression that contemporary French philosophy is little more than an object of ridicule.

(...) Many have been willing to give M. Derrida the benefit of the doubt, insisting that language of such depth and difficulty of interpretation must hide deep and subtle thoughts indeed.

When the effort is made to penetrate it, however, it becomes clear, to us at least, that, where coherent assertions are being made at all, these are either false or trivial.

Academic status based on what seems to us to be little more than semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship is not, we submit, sufficient grounds for the awarding of an honorary degree in a distinguished university.

And consider Chomsky's point of view (video, transcription):

It's all very inflated, you know a lot of prestige and so on – it has a terrible effect in the Third World [this part just can't be stressed enough]. In the First World, rich countries, it doesn't really matter that much. So if a lot of nonsense goes on in the Paris cafés or Yale comparative literature department – well, okay. On the other hand in the Third World, popular movements really need serious intellectuals to participate. And if they're all ranting postmodernist absurdities... well, they're gone. I've seen real examples – could give them to you.

But – so there is that category. And it’s considered very left wing, very advanced. Well, some of what appears in it, actually makes sense. But when you reproduce it in monosyllables [legible text], it turns out to be truisms. So yes, it is perfectly true that when you look at scientists in the West, they’re mostly men. And it’s perfectly true that women have had a hard time breaking into the scientific fields. And it’s perfectly true that there are institutional factors determining how science proceeds that reflect power structures. I mean ALL of this can be described literally in monosyllables, and it turns out to be truisms when you look at it. On the other hand, you don’t get to be a respected intellectual by presenting truisms in monosyllables.

Consider how Postmodernism has been used by the Right-wing recently (examples here, here, here, here and here), despite most still seeming to believe it's a "Left-wing movement". Of course, that's nothing new. Consider, for instance, Benito Mussolini's quote:

If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, we Fascists conclude that we have the right to create our own ideology and to enforce it with all the energy of which we are capable.

Or this one from the great historian, Eric Hobsbawm:

Nevertheless, in some ways I had lost touch with many of the currents of French culture and theoretical discussion after the 1960s, and, although any admirer of Queneau and Perec cannot but be sympathetic to the French intellectual tradition of playing games with language, as French thinkers increasingly moved into the territory of ‘postmodernism’ I found them uninteresting, incomprehensible, and in any case of not much use to historians. Even their puns failed to grip.

Better yet, we can go back a few centuries and recall Schopenhauer's words:

If a man is capable of thinking anything at all, he is also always able to express it in clear, intelligible, and unambiguous terms. Those writers who construct difficult, obscure, involved, and equivocal sentences, most certainly do not know aright what it is that they want to say: they have only a dull consciousness of it, which is still in the stage of struggle to shape itself as thought. Often, indeed, their desire is to conceal from themselves and others that they really have nothing at all to say.

I have pointed out some other critics elsewhere. But what really bugs me is how many philosophers (and philosophy students) insist in seeing nothing wrong with it. The question is: why? Haven't they thought enough about it, and just assume that such a great and fashionable movement "must be right"? They see in it an opportunity for their own individuality and lack of interest in the "greater good"? Have they thought enough, and really believe Postmodernism is the way to the "greater good"? Are they far enough from the "third-world" so as not to see what's going on there? Had any philosopher published his honest views on this point?

PS: All these questions apply not only to philosophers and philosophy students, but also to the users and moderators on this site.

Note: Six hours after the question was posted, with 400 views (a personal record), it had 3 votes for closing. Like I said, the Right hates questions about the reality of facts, accepting only questions that allow the students to display the endless hours of reading about texts that not always are useful to society. What a shame! (For comparison, this other question, related, had only 95 views in 3 days...)


As you can see from the personal account below, one doesn't have to write (or think) like postmodernists to realize that there's something utterly wrong in "philosophy" courses (and this site). I wouldn't wonder if all moderators here are Caucasian Western men, full of bias against anyone else (and still defending Postmodernism...).

So, fairly early in my career as a PhD student I learned that certain ways of doing philosophy are acceptable, while others are not. Likewise, certain topics count as legitimate philosophy, and others do not. These disciplinary boundaries, by and large, are not up for debate.

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    There is an air of rhetorical to your questions, the implied answer being that no, they did not think enough. And they seem to be about psychology of philosophers rather than philosophy, with presuppositions that do not exactly apply to your audience. You are kind of forcing an open door, most users on this site are from English speaking countries, where analytic philosophy is prevalent, and there are scarce discussions of continental poststructuralism (which you identify with "postmodernism") here. We do however discourage promotion of political and personal agendas.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 19:47
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    @Conifold. No. Actually I'm in doubt if they are liars or gullible. I know it's hard to extract an honest answer from a liar, but maybe some philosopher have already done that, and that's what I'm looking for. From what you speak "most users on this site are from English speaking countries", your answer seem to be "they're far enough from the 'third-world'". But from the references I've cited, you don't need to speak Portuguese or Spanish to see what's going on, do you?
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 19:52
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    I think the problem here is that people keep disagreeing with you, but you keep making new questions asking the same thing.
    – Canyon
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 0:07
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    The answer to your question "why most people don't seem to agree, or even see, that point of view" is obviously that by definition anyone who disagrees with your point of view is either an idiot or a racist or a fascist and deserves nothing but contempt and ridicule. don't you know that already?
    – nir
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 13:36
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    Indeed, you should contemplate your last question in the comfort of your personal echo chamber of ideas. Come back here when you can treat people who disagree with you with minimal respect.
    – nir
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


Most folks you are pointing out on the right, from Mussolini's notion that each race has its own truth to Karl Rove's dismissal of 'fact-based people' are not really post-modernists, they are relativists in a degenerate way which is actually based in the realpolitik of how easy intellectual manipulation is for a cult of power in an atmosphere with too many sources of information. This idea has been around at least since Machiavelli, and does not rely on any reduction of essentialism at all as its basis. So it really isn't post-modern in origin or content.

Blaming this on post-modernism is just pretense, both by the people doing it, and by the folks taking them at their word. Which just proves their point, you are being successfully manipulated by their lies.

More general notes in reaction to the comments:

(Sorry to be a little bit ranting.)

The relativism of the current era is not a consequence of the loss of a single standard rooted in an essentialist base. That shallow reading of the problem of meaning appeals to a process that was already doing fine on its own.

Our failure to really converge on decisive shared structures is a result of a fearful, despondent modern pattern that remains essentialist to its very core, and pays lip service to the impropriety of essentialism only when it chooses not to be challenged so that it can take individualism as an essential value. Since individual choice independent of immersive context is exactly the wrong thing to value, in a post-modern view, since it is pretty much a complete illusion, This is not post-modernism. People just use post-modernist language, without its content, as a mask for its own insecurity.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user2953
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 13:56

I admittedly lack a solid grounding in philosophy and likely some problems with postmodernist thought escape me. I am however one of those leftists who has no huge, general problem with all of postmodernists thought so I'll try to answer.

The way I see it, postmodernism is at it's core not the ideology that "anything goes" (though I'm sure you can point me to thinkers who preach just that!), but the acknowledgment of some conclusions/observations:

These can be useful starting points to analyze relationships of power with the goal of dismantling them, and I think this is why many leftists find some postmodernist philosophy useful. These can also be useful starting points to argue in defence, or obfuscation, of systems of power, I'm sure!

I see some postmodernist thought as an add-on to or continuation of critical theory (Adorno etc ...) and communist conceptions of ideology (Althusser ...). Maybe follow the advice of a certain Hegel scholar: "Pick up what's useful, discard the rest" (Bruce Lee).

  • Scientists already knew that: meaning of words is not fixed, it evolves with time (anyone who translate old texts or travel inside a big country -- or different countries with the same language, like Spanish in Latin America -- can notice that); truth itself is unattainable, but we have different levels of confidence in theories (that's what you do when you enter an airplane or elevator). Nobody needed unreadable texts to "discover" this.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 14:30
  • Now it's simply false that, say, if Newton was black his laws would be different. Or that if Darwin was a woman natural selection would work differently. This passage you cited is awesome: Clarke (1874) was really a scientist? What he said was the result of scientific experiments? Or was he just a charlatan? So why negate science (or equate it with religion) because of its charlatans?
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 14:30
  • If our society was able to "pick up what's useful, discard the rest", there wouldn't be so many criticisms on the problems that Postmodernism is causing to our educational system.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 14:33

Reason, not logic; logic can be a type of positivism that ignores the concrete reality which is the life of the people. Logic can be a place to hide from the real. It is all so simple, the principle of non-contradiction, just like math; but try to apply to it to people! Capitalism is full of contradictions, and so the life of the people is full of contradictions, so you are often in the excluded middle here when you deal with these topics on the level of the concrete.

A book by George Lukacs, a warning, the title: "The Destruction of Reason", not The Destruction of Logic!

Lukacs' book can be hard to find in English. It's not a perfect book, it has problems (dogmatic, vulgar Marxism at times) nevertheless it is still well worth reading. **

Habermas also stressed the importance of reason, many philosophers have done so. We should listen to them.

What is reason? Look it up in a good dictionary, whatever you want to do. It will not be precise, we don't want it to be too precise when we are working, actually working, and helping to solve the problems of people in the real world.

Reason is more subtle than logic, not as neat, but not silly either. You can say that logic is a part of reason, but it is not the whole of reason. We would like humanity to become more reasonable over time.

Where does postmodernism come in? As a false consciousness of the people, perhaps. We are on a slightly different level here.* The level of the sociology of knowledge, how did people get this idea, and so on. Most of them don't think too much about it, and this is why it is so sly. They pick the word up from the mass media, wherever it is.

(I don't care what philosophers think about postmodernism, because philosophers can take care of themselves. Many of them find that the field can actually be liberating, or they are on their way to exploring post-post-modernism. This is what philosophers do. This is de jure, now back to de facto.)

This postmodernism can devolve into plain silliness when it gets to the level of the masses. Don't worry, I think this too shall pass. I think not long from now, 5-10 years, humanity will become more focused. I won't repeat what I've written elsewhere to explain why I think this is (Rodrigo's End of history question).

I don't think Rodrigo will be satisfied with this, but what can I do?

*Note I first talk of working with people, then go to how the people think, the latter is sociology of knowledge.

** Adorno hurt the sales of Lukacs' book by slamming it in Die Monat, a journal founded by the U.S. Army in W Germany, which was sponsored by the CIA.

NB I don't mean to insult the logicians. They may argue that they are more interested in helping the scientists, and the computer scientists today, and by this they help people indirectly.

No insult intended to the post-structuralists either, they may argue they are trying to protect us from totalitarianism. They have a right to make that argument.

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    Philosophers should do what philosophers do. Anyway I think philosophy is on to post post modernism now
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 20:41
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    Maybe he is, but I'm too tired to answer. And I need to eat my dinner.
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 20:42
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    You mean in "death of logic" in the first paragraph? I'll edit it. You don't need to "repeat what you've written elsewhere", a link would do, if you can. I agree that philosophers take care of themselves, but a few books can leak to other areas, until they dominate the "social landscape" as Postmodernism is doing now. So I think some philosophers' help out of this nightmarish obscurantism would be valuable. And thanks for the links!
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 20:51
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    User056 I care what everyone says, but let me eat! Lol.
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 21:04
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    @Rodrigo I didn't really mean death of logic. I don't think I did. Let me think about it. I haven't been out today and I need to get out in the sun for a bit. Take care.
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 22:48

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