Explaining Postmodernism (Book Review)
by Harley Voogd
Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault by Steven R.C. Hicks (which is available for free here) is a well written and fairly easy to understand critique against the train wreck that is postmodernism.
I am not completely finished this book as I want to read through the philosophical sections slowly so that I can pick up everything. For me, this is not a book that can be read quickly as there is lots of new information that I don’t want to overlook.
Hicks blames Immanuel Kant for getting the whole thing started with his theory of perception. Kant opposed objectivism and reason because we people can never know reality apart from the mediator of our senses. The chair is red because the light reflects off of the chair and some colours are absorbed while others reflect into your eye which converts the info into electrical impulses and sends them to your brain and hopefully nothing goes wrong along the way. But is the chair really red? Really? Who knows? You certainly don’t, because according to Kant, you only live in your head. “The key point about Kant, to draw the analogy crudely, is that he prohibits knowledge of anything outside our skulls” (Hicks, pg. 41)
“Once reason is in principle severed from reality, one then enters a different philosophical universe all together.” (Hicks, pg. 41) There can not be absolute truth if reality exists apart from one’s perception of reality. I cannot declare that there are only two genders if that claim is solely based on my subjective perception of reality. If that claim is true it has to be objectively true regardless of my observation, or even my existence.
I agree that Kant went to far in limiting us to “our skulls,” but I would argue that we are indeed limited to the physical universe — our senses may show us what’s real objectively, but only within the universe we have access to. Kant criticized objectivity in defence of God. We can see what we see because God gave us the senses to see it, but that does not mean we are seeing things as they really are, but rather, only as how our God given senses allow for. We can take that too far and limit ourselves only to our heads, but we can also take objectivity too far when we deny that things exist beyond our ability to sense them. We can’t prove that God exists with the scientific method, but that doesn’t mean God does not exist. Postmodernists hold to the “limited to the skull” theory, not to defend God, but to attack any and all truth claims. But, as Hicks argues in the book, it is impossible to live in a world where nothing is objectively true.
After the first chapter, Hicks goes deeper into the philosophical background which produced postmodern thought. If you are not interested in all that, then I recommend reading at least the first chapter of this book. In it, Hicks gives a good overview of what postmodernism is as compared to modernism and pre-modernism (briefly illustrated in this chart, from pg. 15)….
So far, it’s a good book. And as I say, if you’re not interested in all the philosophy, at least read the first chapter. Perhaps when I’m finished reading the whole book I’ll update this review.