Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Postmodernity on Endless Trial

Everyone gets the Kolakowski reference, right?

Recent publications aside, take for example ThinkTank's linking to Keith DeRose's recent assessment, or if you prefer disembowellment, of postmodernity. Though long, the time spent reading it can save much time spent reading nonsense. In fact, that's why he wrote it.

Also referenced is another professional philosopher, Bruce Benson's post on postmodernity which is a good first read as it cautions against hasty, misinformed dismissals of the phenomenon - the type of dismissal which DeRose's article very successfully avoids.

Or take yet another professional philospher, Diogenes Allen, who describes what he terms the "Cartesian light-switch." Descartes' all-or-nothing philosophy insisted that any knowledge not based on absolute certainty was worthless. And because Descartes thought he could establish such certainty, the light switch of absolute knowledge was flipped on (i.e. Enlightenment). Swinging to the opposite pole, many postmodernists claim that because Descartes was wrong (which he was), the only possible solution is to flip the light-switch of knowledge completely off.

Funny, in summer months in the Ford Focus when I turn on the air conditioner full-blast my wife says
"You know, there is a middle setting."
And she's right. The espistemological light does not have to be on or off. There's a dimmer switch, called humility, that can carefully consider our claims to knowledge without putting us completely in the dark.

Sure there will be those who continue to claim absolute Cartesian knowledge. They give rise to postmodernists who insist on no knowledge at all (except of course for the startlingly ambitious claim to know that we have no knowledge). Between them are those who neither claim purely objective knowledge nor deny it completely.

Among them are Yale historian Donald Kagan who in a major 2005 address (which I got via DeRose) writes
"Historians... know that the current fad of skepticism and relativism is as old as the Sophists of ancient Greece and had a great revival with the Pyrrhonism of the 16th century. On both occasions their paradoxical and self-contradictory glamour yielded in time to common sense and the massive evidence that some searches are more objective, some things truer than others, however elusive perfect objectivity and truth may be."
Meanwhile, I'm quite content to let the all-or-nothing epistemological extremists duke it out.

Similar to the entertainment lineup at the Tropicana, it is a contest I'm not too interested in scoring tickets for.