Descartes, Postmodernity, & the Return of ATP


The title says it all.  I have been absent from this blog for nearly a month.  I don’t think i want to quit for good, but since i have gotten out of the habit, it will take some work to get really rolling again.  I have a ton on my plate, including a conference i’m essentially organizing by myself, doing master’s work, ministry, and have a family.  I hope to call for papers through this website, so stay tuned.  For tonight, here is a post i wrote on another blog, and i think that it has some cool thoughts (even if some of the work is a bit sloppy): 

In class tonight my professor made an interesting observation regarding the “postmodern movement.”  His point was that postmodernism isn’t necessarily a “shift” but rather a strain, albeit a radical one, within modernity.

To illustrate this point he pointed us to one of Johnny-Dee’s favorite philosophers, Rene Descartes.  Descartes is widely believed to have ushered in the enlightenment/modernity with his famous rationalistic approach to understand reality.  He attemped to raze his entire belief system down in order to begin again on a sure foundation.  His famous dictum “I think, therefore i am,” came in part from the belief he had found an undeniably certain foundation to begin on, that of the belief that he couldn’t refute the fact that he was a thinking creature.  From this basic belief Descartes built from the ground up (hence his association with strong foundationalist epistemology).

While my professor readily affirmed that the postmodern person would find Descartes trust in his reason to find truth seriously misguided and naive at best, the postmodern actually bases this critique on the father of the Enlightenment’s methodology. 


Like Descartes, the consistent postmodern person use a “methodology of doubt” when evaluating truth.  That is to say that Descartes and the postmodern believe that it is doubtful whether anything their beliefs are true or can be justified. 

Their is an obvious difference between the two when it comes to applying this methodology.  Descartes answer is to begin again, hopeful that through reason he can find “something to believe in.”  The postmodern however takes this methodology to its extreme conclusion, believing that ultimately nothing, not even reason can save them from drowning in relativism. 

So while there are differences in application, the method in both camps is (roughly) the same.  Maybe the postmodern is more consistent, or maybe too cynical.  So while in some ways “postmodernism” is different in how it understands epistemology than modernity, they both are branches growing off the trunk of skepticism that fueled the “age of reason.”  So really instead of being a completely new monster or “shift,” maybe it is just a further outgrowth of the ideals of modernity.  It is, as it were, modernity on crack.

I’m sure many will disagree with my professor’s assessment.  This was only a comment he in passing; i’m sure he has much more to say than this.  I for one see alot of truth in what he says.  Any thoughts?


3 responses to “Descartes, Postmodernity, & the Return of ATP

  1. I think your prof is right. Bill Craig calls post-modernity “hyper-modernity.”

  2. Hey Chris,

    I think that the lesson postmodernity has taught us is that the modern worldview is an inadquate framework for understanding ourselves, our world, and other “ultimate” questions. The jury is still out as to whether or not pomo has left us with anything more useful than its predecessor, or whether it has really risen above its nemesis.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Doubt may be the vehicle of relativism for many people, but that doesn’t discount the validity or importance of doubt.

    In fact, it should be the foundation of all thinking. You only gave half of Descartes famous quote (as most people do):
    “Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum.
    (I doubt, therefore I think; I think therefore I am)”

    The human race has a bad history of behavior when “truths” are accepted without doubt and scrutiny of logic. You can’t begin a logical approach to any worldview by HOPING to find (or hoping to verify your own) set of morals.

    So you and your professor’s attempted taxonomy of skepticism seems moot from my vantage point. Doubt, modernity, or some vague umbrella-idea of “postmodernism” certainly seeks no answers to the “ultimate” questions. Rather, an honest gameplan of how to determine what we can know, and what must be abandoned to hope/faith/belief/an inability to know… is sought.

    You can’t criticize a logical process for not providing the endgame to a story which you can’t prove exists.

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