Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, Multicultural Politics

By Satya P. Mohanty | Go to book overview

6 ON SITUATING OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE

The various poststructuralist theses I have examined in the preceding chapters and the general positions (such as cultural relativism or liberal pluralism) that are seen as vaguely implied or entailed by them constitute one strand of contemporary postmodernism. The other is the version of pragmatism Richard Rorty has developed and popularized. Rorty's postmodernist pragmatism is seen as complementing the poststructuralists' positions because it originates in a thorough critique of epistemological foundationalism, and because it rejects the image of philosophy as an ahistorical discipline that searches for the absolute ground of all human knowledge.

This chapter examines the sources of antifoundationalism in modern thought and shows what critiques of foundationalism tell us about one of the issues I have been discussing in these pages from the beginning-- the "social situatedness," of knowledge. If knowledge is seen not as grounded in ahistorical truths but as socially situated, that is because the justification of knowledge is understood as a social affair. The rejection of foundationalism does not necessarily lead to postmodernist positions such as relativism or skepticism about objectivity, however. Indeed, as I show in this chapter, the strongest position to which a thoroughgoing antifoundationalism leads is postpositivist realism, not any version of postmodernism.

First, I identify the key components of the case against foundationalism, and by following part of the trajectory of Rorty's impressive account in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, I show how they do not

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