The psychological motivation of those who embrace postmodernism

Can a person be postmodern and a Christian? Not for long
Can a person be postmodern and a Christian? Not for long

Famous analytical philosopher John Searle has written a book “Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World”, explaining what’s factually wrong with postmodernism. In the introduction, he explains what postmodernism is, and what motivates people to accept postmodernism.

He writes:

[…][W]hen we act or think or talk in the following sorts of ways we take a lot for granted: when we hammer a nail, or order a takeout meal from a restaurant, or conduct a lab experiment, or wonder where to go on vacation, we take the following for granted: there exists a real world that is totally independent of human beings and of what they think or say about it, and statements about objects and states of affairs in that world are true or false depending on whether things in the world really are the way we say they are. So, for example, if in pondering my vacation plans I wonder whether Greece is hotter in the summer than Italy, I simply take it for granted that there exists a real world containing places like Greece and Italy and that they have various temperatures. Furthermore, if I read in a travel book that the average summer temperature in Greece is hotter than in Italy, I know that what the book says will be true if and only if it really is hotter on average in the summer in Greece than in Italy. This is because I take it for granted that such statements are true only if there is something independent of the statement in virtue of which, or because of which, it is true.

[…]These two Background presuppositions have long histories and various famous names. The first, that there is a real world existing independently of us, I like to call “external realism.” “Realism,” because it asserts the existence of the real world, and “external” to distinguish it from other sorts of realism-for example, realism about mathematical objects (mathematical realism) or realism about ethical facts (ethical realism). The second view, that a statement is true if things in the world are the way the statement says they are, and false otherwise, is called “the correspondence theory of truth.” This theory comes in a lot of different versions, but the basic idea is that statements are true if they correspond to, or describe, or fit, how things really are in the world, and false if they do not.

The “correspondence theory of truth” is the view of truth assumed in books of the Bible whose genre is such that that they were intended by the authors to be taken literally, (with allowances for symbolism, figures of speech, metaphors, hyperbole, etc.).

But what about the postmodernists, who seek to deny the objectivity of external reality?

More Searle:

Thinkers who wish to deny the correspondence theory of truth or the referential theory of thought and language typically find it embarrassing to have to concede external realism. Often they would rather not talk about it at all, or they have some more or less subtle reason for rejecting it. In fact, very few thinkers come right out and say that there is no such thing as a real world existing absolutely, objectively, and totally independently of us. Some do. Some come right out and say that the so-called real world is a “social construct.”

What is behind the denial of objective reality, and statements about external reality that are warranted by evidence?

It is not easy to get a fix on what drives contemporary antirealism, but if we had to pick out a thread that runs through the wide variety of arguments, it would be what is sometimes called “perspectivism.” Perspectivism is the idea that our knowledge of reality is never “unmediated,” that it is always mediated by a point of view, by a particular set of predilections, or, worse yet by sinister political motives, such as an allegiance to a political group or ideology. And because we can never have unmediated knowledge of the world, then perhaps there is no real world, or perhaps it is useless to even talk about it, or perhaps it is not even interesting.

Searle is going to refute anti-realism in the rest of the book, but here is his guess at what is motivating the anti-realists:

I have to confess, however, that I think there is a much deeper reason for the persistent appeal of all forms of antirealism, and this has become obvious in the twentieth century: it satisfies a basic urge to power. It just seems too disgusting, somehow, that we should have to be at the mercy of the “real world.” It seems too awful that our representations should have to be answerable to anything but us. This is why people who hold contemporary versions of antirealism and reject the correspondence theory of truth typically sneer at the opposing view. 

[…]I don’t think it is the argument that is actually driving the impulse to deny realism. I think that as a matter of contemporary cultural and intellectual history, the attacks on realism are not driven by arguments, because the arguments are more or less obviously feeble, for reasons I will explain in detail in a moment. Rather, as I suggested earlier, the motivation for denying realism is a kind of will to power, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. In universities, most notably in various humanities disciplines, it is assumed that, if there is no real world, then science is on the same footing as the humanities. They both deal with social constructs, not with independent realities. From this assumption, forms of postmodernism, deconstruction, and so on, are easily developed, having been completely turned loose from the tiresome moorings and constraints of having to confront the real world. If the real world is just an invention-a social construct designed to oppress the marginalized elements of society-then let’s get rid of the real world and construct the world we want. That, I think, is the real driving psychological force behind antirealism at the end of the twentieth century.

Now, I’ll go one step further than Searle.

People, from the Fall, have had the desire to step into the place of God. It’s true that we creatures exist in a universe created and designed by God. But, there is a way to work around the fact that God made the universe and the laws that the universe runs on, including logic, mathematics and natural laws. And that way is to deny logic, mathematics and natural laws. Postmodernists simply deny that there is any way to construct rational arguments and support the premises with evidence from the real world. That way, they imagine, they are free to escape a God-designed world, including a God-designed specification for how they ought to live. The postmoderns deny the reliable methods of knowing about the God-created reality because logic and evidence can be used to point to God’s existence, God’s character, and God’s actions in history.

And that’s why there is this effort to make reality “optional” and perspectival. Everyone can be their own God, and escape any accountability to the real God – the God who is easily discovered through the use of logic and evidence. I believe that this is also behind the rise of atheists, who feign allegiance to logic and science, but then express “skepticism” about the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, objective morality, the minimal facts concerning the historical Jesus, and other undeniables.

14 thoughts on “The psychological motivation of those who embrace postmodernism”

  1. Postmodernism is the focus of my book series, Flight From the Absolute. This series looks at the core doctrine of this worldview and some of their real-world repercussions. One issue that immediately affect Evangelicals attempting to communicate the Gospel is the fact that Postmoderns HATE with a vengeance that there is an OBECTIVE Truth out there as well as the idea that I might one day have to account to SomeOne for my attitudes and behaviour. As a result, the temptation Evangelicals face in this day is to compromise and not to say the unpleasant things that ARE part of the Gospel. God helps us…

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  2. There is that uncomfortable fact that Christianity makes so much sense. And the morals and principle do work as proven continually, along with all the points you made about physical evidence for God.

    It is far more comfortable for them to listen to the lies of the deceiver, than to have live with care for others first before ones own desires

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  3. Philosophers today are arguing that ethics among animals (and, thus, people) arose as being the best way to prosper their group. Thus, they say, creatures that followed the rules that made for a better society passed the genetic code for such on to their offspring.

    They cite monkey groups (?) prosper when the leader gives some slack to others and will be overthrown if they don’t. Thus, the good ethics gene prospers.

    Seems like a strained look for a reason not to acknowledge a higher power.

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  4. They love to cite animals as a basis till they are confronted by how nature works.
    By the standard of nature such as a lion I could look at all a rich old person has. Beat then up, kick them from their home taking their wives and killing kids I don’t want. And live in their old home as they wander homeless till they die

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  5. Postmodernism – perspectivism – will to power – Searle is holding Nietzsche correctly responsible for postmodernism. Which is why I wish Peterson didn’t lionize Nietzsche so much. In addition, the so-called ‘white nationalists’ and various Right Wing intellectuals at sites like countercurrents . com have nothing but contempt for social justice warriors denial of science, while relying heavily on Nietzschean postmodernism themselves to create a kind of Wotanist mythology for their movement.

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      1. I’m not just talking about evolution. White Nationalists aren’t monolithic – some profess atheism, some Christianity, others wish to see a return to a net-pagan volk – a tribal, folk religion. Postmodernism and paganism go hand in hand because paganism involves gods over specific tribes and groups of people – what’s true for the Aztecs isn’t true for the Greeks, for example. The universalism of monotheism was a direct denial of paganism and postmodernism is the fruit of the return of paganism. The social justice warriors are at war with the ‘pagan’ white nationalists but their worldview shares tribalism in common. Christian ‘white nationalists’ can argue more coherently against SJWs since they are appealing to a correspondence theory of truth. Their flaws and defects lie elsewhere – the racial component of their theology. Of course, the real problem of postmodernism lies in Protestantism itself – the decentralization of authority to ‘tribal’ denominationalism. Protestantism was a return to a pagan individualism that has led to the postmodern morass we now find ourselves in.

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  6. Great post and great to see Nancy Pearcey responding. I love her books!
    I believe that the electronic connectivity via computers, social media, video games (especially), iPhones, movies, and TV has really allowed this disconnection with reality to flourish over the past generation or two. I am a physician and I see these ‘video-game kids’ (it’s an actual well described syndrome) all the time who have to be drugged to keep them calm. It’s frightening how disconnected they are with reality, and I think that you are right that they gain a sense of power and control from their video games, etc.
    Sadly, reality eventually smacks them in the face and they can either adapt and change to the actual way that God created the world, or live very miserable and despairing lives. Many commit suicide. I see this almost every day in my work.
    Much of this denial of reality is coming from universities, of course as well. It’s what you might expect from the fake world that the professors live in.
    I’ve read some of Sarle’s books on mind and consciousness – interesting that he’s an atheist.
    One last thing: it’s quite convenient that denial of the real world and the consequent escape from any sense of “ought” or acknowledgment of God’s design allows unrestricted access to the one thing that seems to be sacred for many of these folks: free sex.
    Of course, they don’t realize how they are killing their souls. Reality always wins in the end. Accept this when you’re young and life can be quite exhilarating and joyful.

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