Philosophy after Postmodernism: Civilized Values and the Scope of Knowledge

Philosophy after Postmodernism: Civilized Values and the Scope of Knowledge

Philosophy after Postmodernism: Civilized Values and the Scope of Knowledge

Philosophy after Postmodernism: Civilized Values and the Scope of Knowledge


This book formulates a new approach to philosophy which, instead of simply rejecting postmodern thought, tries to assimilate some of its main features. Paul Crowther identifies conceptual links between value, knowledge, personal identity and civilization, understood as a process of cumulative advance.


Postmodernity, perspectivalism and supermodernism

Every age has its special vanity. In the case of 'postmodernity' this takes the form of an emphatic relativism (in all spheres of knowledge and value) which posits itself as a radical break with the foundationalist and utopian traditions of the modern intellectual world. I will analyse this relativism in detail as the present work progresses. Suffice it to say that it centres on the general notion that there is no perspective-free analysis of knowledge and value; or, to put it another way, that there is no theoretical framework which is not, in some way, fatally tainted by the particular nature of its socio-cultural origins and by the complexities of signification as such. All that we have are cognitive perspectives whose validity does not outreach the interests and prejudices of those who formulate them. Indeed, the very claim that there is a more general foundation to knowledge should itself be taken to be no more than the expression of a perspective based on white, male, middle-class, western, dominant-class interests. A number of related notions constellate around this central viewpoint - for example, the supposed 'ex-centricity' of the self and the primacy of signification in all cognitive contexts. And there are also many associated negative notions - such as the use of the terms 'metaphysics', 'high culture', and (even) 'modernist' itself, as terms of intellectual abuse.

Relativism of this kind has, unfortunately, become something of a dogma, especially in social and cultural theory and discussions of the arts. Derrida, Foucault, Lacan or whoever are taken to have 'shown' the bankruptcy of foundationalist theories. This dogmatic acceptance is powerfully consolidated by the congruence between some of its key elements and broader tendencies in contemporary society. The information and media revolutions, and the speed of societal change consequent upon them, for example, might seem of themselves to 'deconstruct' the fixity of cognitive categories and of personal and social identity. Radical technoscientific change seems to go hand in hand with 'epistemological breaks' and the like.

Now there is a genuine parallel of sorts involved here - and I shall consider it later on. However, I would claim that, in fact, contemporary relativism does not mark a break with modernist foundationalism, but is, rather, an unrecognized and one-sided emphasis on hitherto neglected aspects of it.

This claim can be provisionally justified as follows. There are, indeed, many different cognitive perspectives which can be taken upon reality, but even

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