The French postmodernists of the 1960’s, seeking emancipation, questioned Reason.

What did they propose in place of reason, in their quest of emancipation?

I mean, romanticists proposed emotion and intuition in place of Reason, for instance, in their quest of freedom.

The existentialists (Sartre) opposed essentialism and proposed to live/act upon your own values that you find by yourself.

Nietzsche criticized Christian values and proposed to develop your "will to power".

  • Who knows? For the most part they wrote utterly impenetrable nonsense. Why do you care what they proposed? I suggest you take any post-modernist works infesting your library and throw them out of the nearest window, rubbing your palms against each other in a cliched manner to signify a job well done. Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 9:52
  • @MarcoOcram There is no need to insult a whole group of philosophers to answer the question.
    – user64708
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 12:13
  • 1
    @Frank I agree. Apologies- the mischievous iconoclast in me keeps popping its head out! Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 15:51
  • 1
    @BobaFit Nothing absurd at all. Everything is langage. Logic is just another langage. "Langages" are used in various social ways between humans. Where is the absurdity in that?
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:05
  • 1
    @MarcoOcram No worries :-) I also have my inner mischievous iconoclast :-)
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:05

1 Answer 1


It's important to start from the key point that post-modernism is based on conceptual relativism. That is, from the doctrine that concepts are not defined individually but within a language, that is, in relation to each other. That means that they have the needs and interests - the values - of the language users who construct them embedded in them.

So, for example, "civilization" meant Western or European civilization, including its values and priorities. So other civilizations could not be recognized and respected as such. Conquest and colonization could be justified as in the interest of those being conquered and colonized. The other interests at play (primarily economic) could be hidden or justified. The demand for equality and freedom, within such a system, could be seen as irrational and dismissed or ignored.

Post-modernists also held that people's abilities and values were largely formed by the society in which they grew up, including the ideas and language that they learned. The result was that many of them were unable to articulate their own needs and desires.

Post-modernism was primarily a critical movement and did not need to articulate alternatives, beyond the demand for recognition and equality. Arguably, it would have been inappropriate for anyone but those being emancipated to work out what happened next. But the critique of reason did not necessarily mean it had to be abandoned or replaced; all that was required was/is to revise it.

I'm not sure why you cite Sartre in this context. He was certainly not a post-modernist. His existentialism treated the individual subject as primary in contradiction with the post-modernists who saw the individual as socially determined.

  • I cite Sartre not as a postmodernist, it is an example of another school of thought (existentialism), which proposed something else in place of the thing it criticizes
    – Starckman
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 2:10
  • 1
    "all that was required was/is to revise it." Revise it with what? This is all my point. Descartes proposed the cartesian method. Locke proposed empiricism, Hume proposed a sceptic empiricism. Berkeley proposed an idealist empiricism. Kant made a synthesis of all these thoughts. The logicial empiricists refined empiricism. What did the postmodernists proposed in place of the Reason they criticized?
    – Starckman
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 2:29
  • 1
    @Starckman Maybe they didn't feel they had to propose something to replace Reason particularly. Maybe it was a change in focus. For them, language and structure are key to the human sciences. I don't know if we can go as far as saying that "language" would be their proposal "in place of" Reason. It's not a question of replacing "Reason", but more of understanding society, culture, ... through the prism of language and structures. Maybe "reason" is just another "language", or the result of a more primordial language.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 3:10
  • @Frank "It's not a question of replacing "Reason", but more of understanding society, culture, ... through the prism of language and structures." So the point they make is that Reason's capacity to understand the world is limited by us being stuck into structures, including societal structures and linguistic structures, right?
    – Starckman
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 3:32
  • And by pointing that fact, they emancipate even a little bit more? (They make us aware of that fact, therefore a bit less stuck in those structures)
    – Starckman
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 3:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .