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.

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

  1. Following Searle, you focus on postmodern’s rejection/relativisation of reason and science. That seems to be what “gets you going”… But there’s more to this than that. The word “postmodern” certainly begs the question: “Post” to what?? What is “modern” perspective or worldview?

    If I were asked to provide a nutshell view of Western thought I’d say that in the West, the Greco-Roman worldview sank the deepest roots, centuries before Christianity appeared. Even the so-called “Christian Middle Ages” were never purely Christian. In fact I think the Medieval West was always schizophrenic in terms of worldviews, with Greco-Roman influence in a both symbiotic and parasitic relation with Judeo-Christian influence.

    What about the Renaissance? Well in my view, the Renaissance was not just a passing artistic or architectural fad, but more profoundly, an attempt by some Westerners to escape Judeo-Christian influence and develop an alternative worldview, that is to recreate a civilisation based on Greco-Roman thinking (just the concept of “Renaissance” (or Rebirth) does beg the question, rebirth of what?). But with the rise of science (and it’s growing prestige) in the West the GREAT prestige enjoyed by Greco-Roman philosophers for so many centuries began to erode. Some of those who’d jumped on the Renaissance train came to realize they’d bet on the wrong horse. Another alternative to the Judeo-Christian worldview was needed.

    The Enlightenment (or modern) worldview was then the next step. Now all worldviews have to answer the basic question: Where is Truth? Where do you find the deepest, most secure wisdom? For the Renaissance the answer was Greco-Roman philosophical thinking, but the founders of the Enlightenment rejected that and turned to Science, empirical science of course. This set up the stage for the prestige of science being exploited for ideological purposes. At that point you get ideologues like Carl Sagan, spouting propaganda along the lines of “Science alone can and will eventually solve all, or almost all, of our genuine problems”…

    Now in beginning mostly in the 20th century, postmoderns have appeared. Postmoderns rejected the modern/Enlightenment answer to the question: Where is Truth? For postmoderns, Sciences is no more than a Western belief system, it is NOT Truth in any absolute sense. In postmoderns’ view, the only “truth” left is that of the individual and his desires or urges. This takes us squarely to a situation the CS Lewis presciently described in his Abolition of Man.

    But just to be VERY clear regarding the modern/Enlightenment worldview, when a belief system attempts to become an coherent answer to ” all, of our genuine problems” then it has become a religion as this is the most basic problem for religions, making sense of human existence. Thus positing that “Science” should provide these answers is of course a direct outcome of the Enlightenment worldview. Any coherent Christian has to be VERY careful about buying into such a worldview. That said, Christianity HAS had a very positive contribution to the development of science. For further reading on this specific issue I highly recommend:

    HOOYKAAS, Reijer (1972) Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. Scottish Academic Press Edinburgh 162 p.

    JAKI, Stanley L. (1974/1986) Science and Creation. Academic Press New York 367 p.

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  2. It baffles me too, as a very analytical objective oriented thinker why people like to deny the objective and embrace “anything goes”. I’ve come to conclude that much of it isn’t actually about seeking factual knowledge, but what is convenient for one to believe. The radical liberals do it all the time! Denying the reality of the detriments of “any family is a real family” broken homes, or that biology determines one’s gender instead of just choosing whatever you want to be as just some examples. The whole victimhood narratives of many minorities and radial feminists and the LGBT community and double standards defy logic and objective reasoning and basically are hypocrisy. They accuse us of having “alternative facts”, but often times, what people accuse you of is a projection on what they themselves are insecure and guilty of… ;) I lot of people in society today have created a whole “I’m entitled to do what ever I want consequence free” attitude no matter who it hurts, like calling addictions a “disease” and the addict a “victim”, or believing “the kids will bounce back” from divorce and other selfish choices….

    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/

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  3. Post modems are almost worthless to talk to if they aren’t open to thought.
    As was alluded. On the gay issue, besides the Christian issue on the topic. I am more annoyed that I am supposed or even care what they do sexually, why should I care if they live their own life don’t push their view on me. Find the churches and groups that agree with what they want or hear and don’t blame the rest of us for their problems.
    This can be true of so many things they believe on the left. Facts are only convenient and science is talked about in trying to prove climate change. But try to bring up science during abortion or gay topics and now you are getting out of control

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  4. “Perspectivism is the idea that our knowledge of reality is never “unmediated,” that it is always mediated by a point of view, –”

    According to this definition of perspectivism, do you think that perspectivism is true or untrue? And why?

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