Are French postmodernism (Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, etc.), and Critical Theory (Adorno, Marcuse, etc.), and their heirs such as gender and postcolonial studies (Butler, Saïd) related to idealism?

Are they idealist theories?

Because their theory is basically that any sociological phenomenon is boiled down to social/cultural construction, in other words that everything is about ideas.

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    Yes and no... Adorno, Marcuse are marxists; thus they obviously would not agree being called "idealists". But in a sense Marxism is a "transformation" of Hegel philosophy... Mar 8, 2023 at 12:02
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Don't really understand how Marxism which is a materialism could be influenced as it was by an idealist theory, which is hegelianism. I know it is still the case, but...
    – Starckman
    Mar 8, 2023 at 12:07
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    "say that there is no link between idealism and nominalism, anti-essentialism and anti-realism?" I'm not saying that... I'm not involved in the struggle between "-isms". What I'm saying is that most of the philosophers quoted above are "marxists-like" that mean that in principle they are inclined to materialism. Mar 8, 2023 at 13:59
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    @Starckman there are continuators of critical theory
    – Nikos M.
    Mar 8, 2023 at 14:10
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    French postmodernists and, as far as i understand it, critical theory have historical-materialist bases. In those works social and cultural constructions are ideas, but ideas held by people and determined by their material conditions of existences. For exemple, "race" is an idea, but not an idea that floats outside of a material context like a platonician Form. According to CT the idea of race was developped to justify the domination of European powers over colonized people, i.e. "it's ok to brutalize those people and take their lands because they are inferior"
    – armand
    Jun 18, 2023 at 11:15

1 Answer 1


Generally, I'd say there is a clear NO.

I'd like to differentiate between the -isms and technical terms and the gist and goal here, though.

Regarding the authors as idealists

As far as I am aware, both the French postmodernists and Critical Theory are explicit about material conditions forming thought, not the other way around. And yes, cultural upbringing is a material condition that produces materially dependent ideas. They are not and never "just ideas".

What they also have in common are two things:

  1. The goal/aspiration/reminder to lay bare what those material conditions (education, socioeconomic status, power, culture, language, you name it) are and how they influence the thinking
  2. That for rational decision making, this is only the first step and we need to deliberate ourselves from those conditions in a second step.

The main differences between individual philosophies are

  1. What they think the main material driver is
  2. Inhowfar they say we can only be descriptive about or see past material conditions since we cannot separate our thinking and being from our current conditions (like Foucault's episteme)
  3. Inhowfar we can overcome and actively change current conditions

None of them would ascribe to idealism and it would be an unfair oversimplification of all the authors named if we called them idealists IMHO.

Regarding similarities/alliances

We could say that those philosophies and idealism kind of have the same pragmatic goal: They want to make place for a deliberation from determinism.

While they describe and acknowledge material conditions and being, they (most of them, if not all of them at some point) try to make it possible for the individual and social thinking to be able to overcome and change those conditions.

Therefore, in a sense, they pursue a goal that they have in common with most modern (ie. Post-medieval) idealist philosophies.

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    Postmodernism and Critical Theory have given birth to the gender studies, which basically deny any influence of the biological/material; and again, all is about "construction" and "language", so... I know I repeat myself but...
    – Starckman
    Jun 18, 2023 at 12:15
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    @Starckman Firstly, I expanded a bit. Secondly, gender studies do not deny the biological, they just say that gender is not genetically determined and a social construct different from sex, and as such part of structures of language, power, etc. that need to be critically examined and can be subject to change. It is an empirical fact that social roles are heavily influenced not only by sex but also by cultural influences. Therefore, I smell a strawman here.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 18, 2023 at 12:20
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    "It is an empirical fact that social roles are heavily influenced not only by sex but also by cultural influences." Not sure that the gender studies limit themselves to saying that social roles are "heavily influenced by cultural influences"
    – Starckman
    Jun 18, 2023 at 12:23
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    @Starckman I am sure there are extremist forms. Lumping them all together won't help any serious discussion, though. You always need to judge individual positions separately, like with -isms, or you will necessarily be unfair to all but one.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 18, 2023 at 12:28
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    "gender studies, which basically deny any influence of the biological/material" It seems you haven't done any reading on the topic. Perhaps you might start here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 18, 2023 at 13:02

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