Tag Archives: Anti-Realism

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.

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.

Serial sexual relationships, multi-partner fertility, single motherhood and fatherlessness

A man leading a woman upward
A man leading a woman upward

Here’s an article from the policy journal National Affairs (editor is Yuval Levin) that has some statistics about single motherhood by choice. When you are reading the article, keep in mind that most people who lean left are so influenced by feminism that they seem to think that women trip and fall accidentally, and end up pregnant from random men. I don’t think that we should minimize the fact that most women freely choose the men who treat them badly.

Excerpt:

Pew Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys indicate that, on a range of measures, a very large share of fathers who do not live with their children have virtually no meaningful relationship with their non-custodial children. More than one-half report that they had not shared a meal with their non-custodial children in the last four weeks, while nearly two-thirds had not read to their children and a full three-quarters had not done homework with them. Moreover, these are self-reported figures, so the share of fathers with no relationship to their non-custodial children is most likely even higher.

When fathers form new romantic partnerships, their involvement with children from previous relationships declines. Jo Jones and William Mosher report that, while 39% of fathers in new romantic relationships had shared a meal with their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 62% of those not in a new romantic relationship had. While 55% of fathers in a new romantic relationship had spoken with their 5- to 18-year-old non-custodial children, 77% of those not in a new romantic relationship had.

In addition, men with less education are more likely to exhibit absent-father behavior. Whereas 70% of fathers with at least some college had talked to their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 59% of those with no more than a high-school degree had done so. While 74% of fathers with at least some college had played with their non-custodial child under 5 years old at least once in the past month, only 53% of those fathers with no more than a high-school degree had.

Multi-partner fertility is not only associated with father abandonment, it also adversely impacts child-maltreatment rates. Women attempting to balance work, the demands of new relationships, and the challenges of raising children are faced with a set of chronic stressors that often lead to child abuse and neglect. The shift from welfare to work increased these stresses. Partially as a result, between 1993 and 2005, the rate of overall abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and serious abuse, respectively, rose by 22%, 14%, 49%, and 34% for children living with single mothers. By contrast, for children living in two-parent households, child-abuse rates fell on each of the four measures (by 42%, 24%, 62%, and 37%, respectively). By 2005, the child-abuse rate was 2.9 per 1,000 for children living with married biological parents but 10.2 for those living with a single parent and no partner, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This disparity cannot be explained solely by socioeconomic status since the abuse rate for children in families of all kinds in the lowest socioeconomic group was still lower than that for children living in single-parent households.

Multi-partner fertility also increases child-abuse rates in a second way: the presence of non-biological fathers in the house. Child abuse in households with single mothers triples when they live with a man other than the child’s father. Child-maltreatment rates are actually lower in black than white households when the mother lives alone. But unfortunately, many men bring their job and other frustrations into the home, creating abusive situations. As a result, when a partner is present, the black rates on all three measures of child maltreatment — emotional, physical, and endangerment — are almost double the white rates. In addition, rates of intimate violence are over 12 times higher for single mothers than for married mothers.

Edin and Nelson ignore the subject of abusive behavior in men. Instead, despite the fathers’ caring attitudes, we are told, the mothers kick them out because they don’t earn sufficient income. And on the impact of multi-partner fertility on children, Doing the Best I Can offers one benign sentence: “Kids are amazingly resilient, but the rate of family change among children of unwed fathers has become so rapid, and now leads to such complicated family structures, that kids might have a hard time adjusting.”

Academic studies paint a much grimmer picture. After surveying the evidence, Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks concluded earlier this year,

[A] father’s absence increases antisocial behavior [among children], such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. These antisocial behaviors affect high school completion independent of a child’s verbal and math scores. Thus it appears that a father’s absence lowers children’s educational attainment…by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control.

The effects of growing up without both parents when it comes to aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls. Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan found in 2011 that the behavior of boys is far more dependent upon good parenting practices — spending time with a child, emotional closeness, and avoiding harsh discipline — than that of girls. Such parenting habits are far more common in two-parent families, which helps to explain why boys with absent fathers are more likely to be suspended and have other behavioral problems than boys who have both parents at home.

The evidence also indicates that the outcomes are most negative when a man other than the biological father is present. Cassandra Dorius and Karen Guzzo found that “adolescents with a half-sibling with a different father are about 65 percent more likely to have used marijuana, uppers, inhalants, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, sedatives, or other drugs by the time of their 15th birthday than those who have only full siblings.” Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan reported in 2004 that, among fatherless boys, those who lived with stepfathers were at an even greater risk of incarceration than those who lived with a single mother.

I think in today’s society, there seems to be a lot of fear and trembling to speak about moral standards. And it seems to be especially true that men are not allowed to tell women about their moral obligations. I know that at least when I speak to young women, they are often very rebellious. The attitude I encounter most often is that they feel that they should be able to trust their feelings and act in the way that their feelings dictate. Any destructiveness that results – which I warned them about – is dismissed as “unexpected”.

I can clearly remember the first time this happened to me, when I was in high school. I was friends with a girl named Tara who would come over and speak to me before morning announcements. She would tell me about her stock car driving boyfriend. One day, she told me that she was moving in with him. I warned her against it, and listed off a bunch of statistics about how this would cause problems. She stopped coming to talk to me, and so did her best female friend. Well, a few years later I ran into her again at one of our local universities where I was an undergraduate. She filled me in on what had happened. He had cheated on her with her best friend in their house. He got her pregnant. She had an abortion. She knew better now, but back in high school I was easily dismissed, and all of her friends sided with her.

Whenever I try to produce evidence to say that something is likely to cause harm, the response is usually “well I know a person who broke the rules and nothing happened”. I produce statistics about some likely consequence of following your heart, and it’s dismissed because some Hollywood celebrity managed to escape the probabilities. “Don’t judge me!” they say. Happiness comes first, and the best way to decide how to be happy in the long-term is apparently to do what makes a person feel happy right now. But statistics are there to tell a story of how the world normally works – dismissing it all with individual cases is bad logic. There are consequences to following your feelings and dismissing moral obligations.

Serial sexual relationships, multi-partner fertility, single motherhood and fatherlessness

A man leading a woman upward
A man leading a woman upward

Here’s an article from the policy journal National Affairs (editor is Yuval Levin) that has some statistics about single motherhood by choice. When you are reading the article, keep in mind that most people who lean left are so influenced by feminism that they seem to think that women trip and fall accidentally, and end up pregnant from random men. I don’t think that we should minimize the fact that most women freely choose the men who treat them badly.

Excerpt:

Pew Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys indicate that, on a range of measures, a very large share of fathers who do not live with their children have virtually no meaningful relationship with their non-custodial children. More than one-half report that they had not shared a meal with their non-custodial children in the last four weeks, while nearly two-thirds had not read to their children and a full three-quarters had not done homework with them. Moreover, these are self-reported figures, so the share of fathers with no relationship to their non-custodial children is most likely even higher.

When fathers form new romantic partnerships, their involvement with children from previous relationships declines. Jo Jones and William Mosher report that, while 39% of fathers in new romantic relationships had shared a meal with their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 62% of those not in a new romantic relationship had. While 55% of fathers in a new romantic relationship had spoken with their 5- to 18-year-old non-custodial children, 77% of those not in a new romantic relationship had.

In addition, men with less education are more likely to exhibit absent-father behavior. Whereas 70% of fathers with at least some college had talked to their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 59% of those with no more than a high-school degree had done so. While 74% of fathers with at least some college had played with their non-custodial child under 5 years old at least once in the past month, only 53% of those fathers with no more than a high-school degree had.

Multi-partner fertility is not only associated with father abandonment, it also adversely impacts child-maltreatment rates. Women attempting to balance work, the demands of new relationships, and the challenges of raising children are faced with a set of chronic stressors that often lead to child abuse and neglect. The shift from welfare to work increased these stresses. Partially as a result, between 1993 and 2005, the rate of overall abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and serious abuse, respectively, rose by 22%, 14%, 49%, and 34% for children living with single mothers. By contrast, for children living in two-parent households, child-abuse rates fell on each of the four measures (by 42%, 24%, 62%, and 37%, respectively). By 2005, the child-abuse rate was 2.9 per 1,000 for children living with married biological parents but 10.2 for those living with a single parent and no partner, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This disparity cannot be explained solely by socioeconomic status since the abuse rate for children in families of all kinds in the lowest socioeconomic group was still lower than that for children living in single-parent households.

Multi-partner fertility also increases child-abuse rates in a second way: the presence of non-biological fathers in the house. Child abuse in households with single mothers triples when they live with a man other than the child’s father. Child-maltreatment rates are actually lower in black than white households when the mother lives alone. But unfortunately, many men bring their job and other frustrations into the home, creating abusive situations. As a result, when a partner is present, the black rates on all three measures of child maltreatment — emotional, physical, and endangerment — are almost double the white rates. In addition, rates of intimate violence are over 12 times higher for single mothers than for married mothers.

Edin and Nelson ignore the subject of abusive behavior in men. Instead, despite the fathers’ caring attitudes, we are told, the mothers kick them out because they don’t earn sufficient income. And on the impact of multi-partner fertility on children, Doing the Best I Can offers one benign sentence: “Kids are amazingly resilient, but the rate of family change among children of unwed fathers has become so rapid, and now leads to such complicated family structures, that kids might have a hard time adjusting.”

Academic studies paint a much grimmer picture. After surveying the evidence, Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks concluded earlier this year,

[A] father’s absence increases antisocial behavior [among children], such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. These antisocial behaviors affect high school completion independent of a child’s verbal and math scores. Thus it appears that a father’s absence lowers children’s educational attainment…by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control.

The effects of growing up without both parents when it comes to aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls. Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan found in 2011 that the behavior of boys is far more dependent upon good parenting practices — spending time with a child, emotional closeness, and avoiding harsh discipline — than that of girls. Such parenting habits are far more common in two-parent families, which helps to explain why boys with absent fathers are more likely to be suspended and have other behavioral problems than boys who have both parents at home.

The evidence also indicates that the outcomes are most negative when a man other than the biological father is present. Cassandra Dorius and Karen Guzzo found that “adolescents with a half-sibling with a different father are about 65 percent more likely to have used marijuana, uppers, inhalants, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, sedatives, or other drugs by the time of their 15th birthday than those who have only full siblings.” Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan reported in 2004 that, among fatherless boys, those who lived with stepfathers were at an even greater risk of incarceration than those who lived with a single mother.

I think in today’s society, there seems to be a lot of fear and trembling to speak about moral standards. And it seems to be especially true that men are not allowed to tell women about their moral obligations. I know that at least when I speak to young women, they are often very rebellious. The attitude I encounter most often is that they feel that they should be able to trust their feelings and act in the way that their feelings dictate. Any destructiveness that results – which I warned them about – is dismissed as “unexpected”.

I can clearly remember the first time this happened to me, when I was in high school. I was friends with a girl named Tara who would come over and speak to me before morning announcements. She would tell me about her stock car driving boyfriend. One day, she told me that she was moving in with him. I warned her against it, and listed off a bunch of statistics about how this would cause problems. She stopped coming to talk to me, and so did her best female friend. Well, a few years later I ran into her again at one of our local universities where I was an undergraduate. She filled me in on what had happened. He had cheated on her with her best friend in their house. He got her pregnant. She had an abortion. She knew better now, but back in high school I was easily dismissed, and all of her friends sided with her.

Whenever I try to produce evidence to say that something is likely to cause harm, the response is usually “well I know a person who broke the rules and nothing happened”. I produce statistics about some likely consequence of following your heart, and it’s dismissed because some Hollywood celebrity managed to escape the probabilities. “Don’t judge me!” they say. Happiness comes first, and the best way to decide how to be happy in the long-term is apparently to do what makes a person feel happy right now. But statistics are there to tell a story of how the world normally works – dismissing it all with individual cases is bad logic. There are consequences to following your feelings and dismissing moral obligations.