Saturday, April 5, 2008

Postmodernism T-Shirt

As I was leaving the CSU library today, I saw this printed on a T-shirt:

WHAT POSTMODERNISM MEANS:

What a thing means to you may not be what it means to me, or it may not even mean what we think it means at all. It is mean to exalt one meaning at the exclusion of all other possible meanings when it would be more meaningful to just take the mean of all possible meanings. Know what I mean?

This possesses just the right amount of meaninglessness! I found it amusing.

38 comments:

Kevin Winters said...

And yet, with the exception of Rorty, you can't find anything remotely similar to this in the 'patron Saints' of so-called postmodernism. Nietzsche, with his extensive training in the classics, held to a virtue-based ethics and epistemology, hence his unending arguments and colorful diatribes against codified knowledge and ethics. Though he would deny that all 'knowledge' per se could be codified, he certainly wouldn't say it is all relative and up-for-grabs.

Foucault, while only partially concerned with power, focused most of his work on how the self is constructed in societies, in a manner not too dissimilar to Charles Taylor's argument in _Sources of the Self_, though he himself didn't quite see it that way (see pg. 99). The many formulations of the self throughout history, currently dominated by the Protestant ethic (in Taylor's sense), is undeniable and its relation to our values and notion of the Good (a regime, in Foucault's sense) is similarly undeniable.

Derrida said on many occasions that there are good and bad readings, including of his own work. The problem, of course, is that critics see deconstruction as a theory of meaning when it is actually an open-ended practice geared to finding that which is implicit, yet certainly present, in a text, despite the text's implicit (sometimes explicit) claim that it is not. For Derrida, it is not that everything is equally meaningful or that meaning is relative to each individual, but that everything, in fact, is excessive in meaning; everything is so (potentially) meaningful, yet our practices only relate to one articulation, thereby covering over the other meanings that deconstruction aims to bring to light.

Lastly, my personal favorite, Heidegger is most certainly not a relativist and a rigorous notion of truth is central to his works from _Being and Time_ on, with even more emphasis in his later works. Though meaning is indeed relative to our practices, our practices are *essentially* related to bringing beings to light and, hence, are dependent on beings for their sustenance. I challenge anyone to find anything even remotely like what is on that shirt in Heidegger. I would also point out that Heidegger *greatly* influenced Foucault and Derrida (even to the point of both essentially saying that their work would not have emerged had it not been for Heidegger), yet is often not mentioned by your learned professors.

I'll say it again: yes, there are so-called postmodernists of the kind that are intimated on that shirt, but such simply *cannot* be extended to most of the primary thinkers that tend to be named (again, with the exception of Rorty, which is why most of the primary sources referenced are from him [see my comments on Groothuis' blog entry on Moreland's _Kingdom Triangle_]).

I just wish some of Moreland et al.'s students would finally get smart and stop blindly following the philosophical 'sins' of their academic 'fathers.'

Sarah Scott said...

Kevin,

The shirt is about cultural postmodernism. While certainly a philosophy, it is an excessively poor one. I do not claim that it has a connection to Derrida, Foucault, and the like, though due to the self-refuting incoherency that is relativism, I doubt many philosophers would don this title without putting up a fight. One would be unlikely to call themselves a relativist if relativism is equated with absurdity (it is) even if their worldview and writings suggest otherwise.

Kevin Winters said...

And yet many 'expert' Evangelical writers do make the connection to Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. My argument is certainly not that Derrida et al. didn't claim to be relativists (which is true), but that when one actually reads their works and includes the best literature available on their thought, the label of relativist is a philosophically irresponsible reading.

This is becoming less and less a surprise for me as I continue to look at the sources used by Groothuis et al. when they critique the above thinkers: there is little indication that they are actually familiar with the primary sources. The primary exception is Rorty, which is a good choice as he is almost the only one who is a relativist (some acquaintances of mine are willing to include Baudrillard in this category, but I am completely unfamiliar with his work). The secondary exception is Nietzsche, which is also a good choice as, with Kierkegaard, one of his primary tasks was to make things difficult, "philosophizing with a hammer," making it hard to pin down a particular view (though not impossible, I believe).

I'll repeat myself: relativism is a bankrupt philosophy (if it can be called a philosophy in the first place). Absurd, yes. Worthless, yes. Dangerous, yes. But it is philosophically irresponsible to continue to include at least Heidegger (and, I would add, Derrida, Foucault, and Nietzsche) in lists of supposed proponents of relativistic thinking. Evangelical 'experts' on postmodernism are simply ignorant and their explications of the views of these thinkers would not hold their weight outside Evangelical circles and among genuine experts on their thought. It's a shame that so many students who go through Talbot will never realize this, or even think it a possibility when the great gods of philosophy, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, and R. Scott Smith, are so sure in their expositions. Heck, if such great minds think thus-and-such is the case, who am I, the lowly student, to disagree? It's literally an abuse of the teacher/student relationship to feign knowledge of a matter, which is the greatest transgression of all in this whole debacle.

You want to search for truth? Then open your eyes and see their pandering of half-truths and faulty research for what it is. After that, by all means, disagree with Heidegger et al. Heaven knows that you will still have arguments against them without having to bring in the stereotypical straw men and facades (the cannon fodder of Evangelical critiques); the latter are not necessary and simply destroy any chance of those who are informed actually taking you seriously.

Anonymous said...

"This is becoming less and less a surprise for me as I continue to look at the sources used by Groothuis et al. when they critique the above thinkers: there is little indication that they are actually familiar with the primary sources."

Well said. Notice that U. Oregon did not even register on the bottom-tier on Philosophical Gourmet. (Sarah will say this is an ad hominem attack and delete the mere citation of a well-known fact.)

Interestingly, his prooftexting shows an even greater ignorance of biblical literature. In other words, a lack of training leads one to make generalizations on topics about which they are ignorant. Ignorant generalizations are easy to critique--but trust me Kevin; this type of reasoning you correctly summarize carries no weight at academic institutions. Groothuis gets lumped together with W. Martin, B. Hinn, et al. Tough. If only he took his theory about Christian intellectualism to heart. I, for one, am embarrassed to be called a Christian (among my faculty)--and no longer identify with evangelicalism--because of Groothuis like images of shoddy evangelism that come to mind. Several people at Notre Dame came from Fundy backgrounds and most of us are ashamed, and see Groothuis as a paladin of ignortant fundamentalism cloaked in philosophy-lite. His attitude makes him the object of particular ridicule.

Former Fundamentalist, PhD Notre Dame (Philosophy)

Sarah Scott said...

Anonymous,

Your relentless tirade is getting quite old. Those are the most ridiculous and unfounded claims I've heard in a while and they do nothing but suggest that you have never heard Dr. Groothuis speak or teach and I doubt that you've read any of his books. If you had, your conclusion would not be so far off. The fact that you threw Benny Hinn in there shows me that you sir have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. PhDs (though you offer no proof of this) do not give people the licence to make false accusations and hurl unfounded criticisms.

I seriously advise you to give it up.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarah Scott said...

Anonymous,

I warned you to give it up. I own this blog and as such, I delete what I want to delete. Your non-argument naturally had no merit because it was almost entirely insults.

Goodbye.

Sarah Scott said...

Just FYI, I will not attack YOU (which is impossible since you are still an anonymous entity addicted to virtiol), but I will attack ridiculous arguments and insults.

Two closing remarks:

I am not a fundamentalist.

As of now, I am not impressed with the AAR. Your standard has holes.

Justin Geis said...

Sarah,

I'm impressed. When the crazies start coming out of the woodwork and attacking you, you know you're doing something right. Well done :)

Daniel said...

And by pronouncing that statement they are in fact pronouncing an absolute statement!

Kevin Winters said...

I don't care where Oregon scores on the Philosophical Gormet. What I do care about is Groothuis and Moreland's shoddy scholarship on so-called postmodernism. It is easilly demonstrated to be an *incredible* over-generalization where most of the figures mentioned are poorly understood and whose ideas are poorly demonstrated (a natural consequence given their apparent ignorance of primary sources).

I wish this was a rare occurrence, but it seems to be systematic (almost programmatic) in Evangelical works on postmodernism, or at least the prominent names like Moreland et al. This makes me sad for those who are duped by their pseudo-scholarship, especially their students who apparently don't see the need to actually test their philosophical gods.

I can't speak for Anonymous, but I imagine I've given enough specifics that a counter-argument could be given, if such evidence existed. But I have yet to find anyone able to give one without simply appealing to the (supposed) authority of Moreland et al.

Justin Geis said...

Hmmm...Kevin's writing style and attacks on the education of Dr. Groothuis sound remarkably similar to those of our anonymous poster...Coincidence?

Kevin Winters said...

Justin,

If you will just read the very first sentence of my previous response you will find that I did *not* attack Groothuis' education. If you will just read the second sentence of my previous response you will find that I did "attack" his scholarship on so-called postmodernism. The two, in this case, are not related in my mind. Dont' they teach kids to read these days?

Sarah Scott said...

Daniel,

Indeed!

Kevin Winters said...

It's a shame that proponents of so-called postmodernism have focused on the "there are no absolutes" aspect of many of the primary thinkers. They don't even get it right!

The problem, for Lyotard, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty (and Charles Taylor, though most who like his _Sources of the Self_ don't seem to know this, being ignorant of his other extensive work) is the universalizability of absolutes. Let's use a typical example: 2 + 2 = 4. None of the thinkers that I am familiar with (the above including, to a lesser degree [in familiarity, not in how much they would agree], Derrida and Foucault) would argue that this is arbitrary.

What would be argued, however, is that it is not universal in a very particular sense: 2 + 2 = 4 is intelligible only in the world of mathematics. This world is constituted by a particular way of articulating beings, namely through the concept of number; all other aspects of these beings are ignored or covered over, i.e. are irrelevant/insignificant in the world of the mathematician.

This lack of incommensurability between worlds can be demonstrated by comparing the world of mathematics with the world of the janitor. Within the world of mathematics limited aspects of the world are important, or, better put, significant. When counting objects, for example, it doesn't matter what objects they are: apples, oranges, disgruntled analytic philosophers, it doesn't matter. For the janitor, however, the realm of significant beings and practices are very different: for the mathematician numbers and practices for calculation are important; for the janitor desks, dust, grime, and the skills to know what to use to clean up what beings are important. One simply cannot do janitorial work with numbers and calculations; the Pythagorean Theorem never cleaned a spill on the floor nor could one, by following its calculations, even open a door or stand up.

The natural counter-argument that is probably emerging as you read the above is something like this: "But without, for example, the law of excluded middle, the janitor couldn't do his work!" The natural counter to this counter-argument is, "No, it isn't!!" Why not?

Merleau-Ponty was way ahead of his time. In two of his better known works, _The Structure of Behavior_ (1942) and _Phenomenology of Perception_ (1945), he discusses some fascinating psychological disorders. For example, visual apraxic patients have the stunning capacities to see and accurately describe an object in great detail, but is entirely incapable of picking it up and using it, like putting the square peg into the square hole despite his knowing full well that they are the same shape and size! Then we have some aphasic patients who are the exact opposite: they cannot accurately describe objects nor can the draw them, like when asked to draw the orientation of a triangle sitting right in front of them, yet they can pick it up and use it. Another example that is particularly pertinent is patients who, when stung by a misquito, are able to immediately and very accurately slap the area where they were stung but are entirely incapable of pointing to that spot (another case of aphasia).

Just in case you are thinking that this is just postmodern mumbo jumbo, similar cases have been presented and led to conclusions as I will give below by the decidedly non-postmodern Andy Clark (e.g., "Visual Experience and Motor Action: Are the Bonds Too Tight?" in _The Philosophical Review_ 110/4, 495-519) and A. David Milner and Melvyn A. Goodale (e.g., _The Visual Brain in Action_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)). These are well-document cases and the work on them is extensive.

What cases like these demonstrate (see Shaun Gallagher, _How the Body Shapes the Mind_ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005) for an extended argument) is that there are two (usually coordinated, for normal people) modes of embodiment: the more abstract (Gallagher calls it the "body image") and the more concrete ("body schema"). For those who have an intact body image, but not a body schema, pointing and accurately describing objects and their uses is entirely possible, but taking them up and using them is not. For those who have an intact body schema but not a body image, they can effortlessly use items in concrete context, but are incapable of giving accurate descriptions (we’re talking *seriously* wrong descriptions), yet can reach out and grab them, the hand naturally forming to the right size and in a way coherent with their intention (to pick it up and drink from it or to throw it at someone). It is clear in cases like the above that those who have a deficient body image are also deficient in their abstract capacities, like mimicry or play acting actions that they can otherwise effortlessly perform in a practical context; they must make the mimicry as a concrete fact before they can perform it or even, and this is fascinating, before it becomes intelligible to them! Incredible stuff.

Since it seems clear, using the above examples, that the visual/abstract and motile/practical/concrete aspects of action primarily rest on two different (but usually related) substrates, then the two worlds are incommensurable (even if united in a normal individual). While it is true that those who lack the body schema (apraxia) are capable of performing similar movements as others whose body schema is intact, e.g., reaching and grabbing a cup, it is decidedly harder, requiring complete concentration (it can be easily interrupted and then they must start again with locating their limbs and consciously moving them) and constant visual confirmation as they move.

Since the world of the janitor is decidedly more body-schema-focused, it is practically incommensurable with the world of mathematics. Hence it cannot be subsumed under the abstract attitude. This also means that, for the aphasic patient, the law of excluded middle doesn't in fact play a role; our implicit body-schema has no need of such an abstraction and, in the case of the apraxic, it is obvious that if we had only the use of the abstract attitude our ability to get about in the world would be greatly diminished and even our mental life would be decidedly changed (not for the better).

As this is long enough already (and sleep is a precious commodity), I won't go into how this fits in with Heidegger's understanding of being-in-the-world, or Derrida's "hyper-realism" (to borrow from John Caputo), or Foucault's critique of regimes (as a student of Pierre Bourdieu who was strongly influenced by Merleau-Ponty, a connection certainly exists), or Nietzsche's virtue ethics and virtue epistemology (oh, that would be a great paper!). But, if you look at the research (most of which isn't from those dastardly postmoderns), it seems clear that "absolute truths" like 2 + 2 = 4 and the law of excluded middle are not universal and there are modes of being--e.g., the body schema, or our implicit embodied grasp of the world--that do not require it and, in fact, is severely diminished when such abstractions become the prime guiding factors.

Well, look at that, a so-called postmodern giving arguments (oh, and pointing to another postmodern who uses these exact same arguments) and pointing to empirical psychological findings (that is used by the other postmodern)! Hell has indeed frozen over. ;o)

G’night.

Kevin Winters said...

I have wondered about the possibility of plagiarism, though Groothuis seems to be good about referencing the quotes he got from secondary sources. But I do think it is true that most Evangelicals are simply using the same secondary sources, again, without going to the primary sources. I expect to see a pattern as I continue to look at the sources used in the "best" Evangelical works on so-called postmodernism.

From what you've written so far, I wouldn't go as far you do in denouncing supposed 'sins' of Evangelical writers on postmodernism. But I do consider the betrayal of the teacher-student relationship to be...I can't quite think of the right word. Heinous or despicable seem way too vitriolic... But certainly a transgression of the trust that students put in their teachers.

Sarah Scott said...

There is some funny business going on here, and by that I mean it appears as though this blog has an infestation of bitter trolls.

Any charge of plagarism here is ridiculous.

This kind of talk is inappropriate for my blog, or on any blog. If you disagree with someone's method or thoughts, go write an essay about it and publish it somewhere. Ranting on an obscure blog about respectable people is rude, off topic, suggests an inferiority complex, and I'm tired of it. So, as far as my blog is concerned, this is over.

A helpful tip: if you want to engage in dialogue here, then show that your argument is on topic and worthy of such dialogue.

Kevin Winters said...

My comments have been on target for this post: my first comment responded directly to the fact that the supposed aptitude of the "Postmodernism T-Shirt" is ill applied to the primary thinkers that are thought to be the "patron Saints" of so-called postmodernism (defended in my second post).

My third post was a repudiation of Anonymous' attack against Groothuis' education, immediately refocusing my issue on his work (a fact missed by Justin, hence my fourth post). I couldn't care less where Groothuis was educated; I do care (quite a bit) about shoddy scholarship and when someone presents themselves as an 'expert' when their work seems to show otherwise.

My last post was directly relevant to an issue *brought up by another commentator*: the question of absolutes. In line with what I've said before this, I then presented a somewhat extended argument for why absolutes, like 2 + 2 = 4, are not universal in human experience. Rather, they play one part, important though it is, along with a mode of being--the body schema--that has no need of mathematical abstractions or laws of logic to do what it does. In fact, in cases where the body schema is compromised and people must rely on abstractions as the ground of their actions, their mental and practical capacities are severely limited. Hence, as my argument goes, the "absolutes" are relative to their given worlds (i.e. mathematics) and are not universalizable across other aspects of the human mode of being.

Beyond this, I have only said that I have thought about the possibility of plagiarism, but *immediately* said that I don't think such is the case with Groothuis. Following this I again refocused on my prior claim: that Groothuis is not familiar with the primary sources (something initially argued on his blog; I can copy-and-paste that here if you want to discuss it).

None of the above is trolling: I have presented my ideas with appropriate qualifications (no character assassinations) and presented an extended argument for an ill-understood argument given by so-called postmodernists *that was brought up by another commentator*. Admittedly, I got a little sarcastic at the end of my last post, but nothing remotely like trolling.

As said before, I won't speak for Anonymous and, as should be obvious from what I've said above, I do not entirely agree with his assertions and, I will add, with the manner in which he brings up his issues.

Naturally, this is your blog and you have the absolute right to ignore me or delete my comments, but they *are* on topic and completely relevant.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daniel said...

Kevin,

As a person who is a seeker of truth, in all the things I study I intend on finding the best possible consensus on a matter, whatever it may be.

It seems to me your general thesis (negate the long-windedness) is that we as evangelicals need to view the primary sources of these supposed "postmodernists" to find out what they are truly saying.

I will take you up on this challenge (one day when I'm done with school and have more time), not relying on a biased evangelical scholarship but seeking out for myself what these thinkers are truly saying for themselves. No one likes a straw man, especially me.

That being said, I would caution you in the area of referring to William Lane Craig, Doug Groothuis, and JP Moreland as "pseudo-scholarship". These gentlemen have all contributed immensely to Christian apologetics (of which the postmodernism debate is a part). Whether or not you agree with them on this issue is a different story, but please do not dismiss their worthy and respectable apologetic and philosophical scholarship, of which Christianity is blessed to have.

Kevin Winters said...

Daniel,

I'm sorry that I do not share your high view of Moreland et al.'s scholarship. From what I have heard, they are *excellent* teachers that genuinely care for their students, for which they should certainly be applauded. As it relates to so-called postmodernism, however, it is pseudo-scholarship in a very literal sense: it parades as scholarship while it rests on faulty understanding and, if I am right about the issue of secondary sources, ignorance. Lest I be yet again called a troll, let me make my case from my preliminary studies so far (forgive me in advance for being thorough...sorry, "long-winded"). In order to cut down on my apparently excessive exhalation capacities, I'll just focus on Groothuis' _Truth Decay_ (though the following closely mirrors the other sources I've looked at so far).

In _Truth Decay_ the two most cited thinkers are Richard Rorty and Friedrich Nietzsche. Groothius has six sources on Rorty, four of which are primary sources, including the *only* primary source that Moreland gives as 'further reading' in _Kingdom Triangle_, _Contingency, Iron, and Solidarity _ (perhaps another indication that 'postmodernism' is really equivalent to 'Rortyism'?). As I've said elsewhere, this is a good choice of people to focus on because, out of the lot, Rorty is practically the only one who is a relativist.

For Nietzsche, Groothuis has 7 references. Of those, 5 of them are primary sources, one of which he gives the wrong title for: he has "Truth and the Extra-Moral Sense" whereas the real title is "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense." The other sources are Irving Zeitlin's _Nietzsche: A Reexamination_, which has not gotten the greatest reviews nor is it cited by Nietzsche scholars in at least a cursory search through a few databases in the field, and James Collins' _God in Modern Philosophy_, which I haven't had the chance to look into yet.

The other figures Groothuis refers to are where things get particularly interesting. For Derrida we have 4 sources, only one (_Of Grammatology_) is a primary source. For the others we have two primary sources that are merely *cited* in two antagonistic sources and one quote in a reference I have yet to look into, so I cannot vouch one way or the other on it.

Finally, for Foucault we have six references given, only two of which are primary sources. For the others we have one work, the *very* important _Order of Things_, merely cited in Stanley Grenz's oft-used _A Primer on Postmodernism_, and _The Subject and Power_ quoted in Kenneth Gergen's _The Saturated Self_. The other two sources are a 5-page _Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy_ entry on Foucault, offered as "a good summary of Foucault's thought" (_Truth Decay_, pg. 99; honestly, of all that is out there, a 5 page encyclopedia article is the best summary he can provide?), and a journal article that is antagonistic to Foucault.

So, beyond Rorty, who actually *is* a relativist, and Nietzsche, whose task, very similar to Kierkegaard's, is to make things difficult (thus intentionally making himself harder to understand), Groothuis seems to rely almost exclusively on secondary sources, often enough merely *cited* in sources that are often antagonistic to the views of those he is arguing against. It would be like critiquing Christianity and its primary thinkers (Aquinas, Aristotle, the Reformers) by relying mostly on secondary sources and sources that are antagonistic to Christianity as a whole, a critique often leveled against Hutchins and his lot (yes, that is a comparison and the evidence is above)!

Honestly, from this point, does it look like Groothuis is well read on these figures? Granted, one cannot always cite all the works that influence one's understanding, but when the majority of references that *could* have influenced ones understanding (some of which are seen as central to the thinkers we are discussing) are largely taken from secondary sources, doesn't that make you think?

So, in line with Sarah's request and apparently contrary to my postmodern sensibilities, I have presented an argument in a decent amount of detail, thus warranting a response, yes?

Sarah Scott said...

Kevin,

I did not call you a troll. I simply implied that there was likely trolling going on regarding the multiple anonymous comments that were nothing more than personal attacks.

I do not live for this blog. Therefore, I only respond as time allows and as I feel compelled. Your comments require a bit more than what current time allows.

So Kevin, rather than try to charge brilliant people who have contributed immensely to Christian thought and to thought in general with "pseudo-scholarship", why don't you offer your working definition of postmodernism? This might help clear up the reason why we have a chronic disagreement. That is perhaps worth pursuing, not the credibility of certain scholars' methods.

Kevin Winters said...

Sarah,

Thank you very much for clarifying that for me; it is very appreciated.

I'm certainly open for your approach. In my mind the term postmodern is defunct, useless. It's initial use by Lyotard in relation to meta-narratives was useful: it was clear, could be localized, and could therefore be addressed. Since then it has become an almost derogatory term that is essentially tied to relativism. Furthermore, in line with what I've written above, the authors that are often mentioned in discussions of postmodernism (Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Heidegger, Lyotard, Bachelard) are so varied that the term no longer has any particular referent; it is a 'view' that cannot be attributed to anyone in particular which makes addressing it in any philosophically responsible way impossible.

In their favor, from my initial reading so far, it seems like Evangelical discussions of postmodernism can be localized with Rorty and Rorty's (mis)understandings of Heidegger, Nietzsche, and others (i.e. postmodernism = Rortyism). But if this is the case then Groothuis et al. must revise their lists of 'prominent postmodernists' to perhaps one or two figures (a friend of mine is convinced that Bachelard is a relativist, but I haven't read anything of his so I cannot vouch for that). And if my extended argument given above is correct and Groothuis et al. really are rather ignorant of these thinkers, then they wouldn't be the wiser to this claim that postmodernism, as they understand it, really only refers to a few of the names that they so often drop. Nor, I would add, would their students be any the wiser since they are given the same spiel by culturally revered (almost worshipped) professors.

I do believe I can give an account for your professors' problem, though, that is well beyond saying they are stupid (which I don’t believe) or willfully ignorant (which I might believe, but I’m still trying to give them the benefit of the doubt until my investigation is more thorough). In my own studies I've read a number of the first critiques of Heidegger, primarily his _Being and Time_, but also some of his later works. I've also had the chance to read a number of 'proponents' of his thought who are trying to ‘defend’ it to the best of their understanding. In both cases, almost universally, both opponent and proponent simply get Heidegger wrong. Almost every major idea they present is simply wrong, but with enough kernel of truth that they could be believable given the state of Heideggerian studies at the time! But, as often happens, these misunderstandings, perpetuated by proponent and opponent alike (so why would we question them?), become the mainstream (mis)understandings of Heidegger. This, then, is naturally perpetuated through the school systems that your professors got their degrees in. So we have Francis Schaeffer's horrible rendering of Heidegger in his work (can be found in _The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy_, but don’t remember if it is in _The God Who is There_ or _Escape From Reason_ or both) or R. Scott Smith's claim (in _Truth and the New Kind of Christian_) that Heidegger is a linguistic relativist (along with the later Wittgenstein?). The fact, though, that these understandings of Heidegger are in the earliest literature seems, to me, to aptly tie the latter as the source of the former.

Returning to the definition of postmodernism, the term itself has had diminished use in academic literature (e.g., see David Ley, “Forgetting Postmodernism?: Recuperating a Social History of Local Knowledge,” Progress in Human Geography 27/5 (2003), 537-560). I believe this is because it has become a useless term and the wider academic community realizes this...except for Evangelicals and the cultural relativists who have misunderstood the primary thinkers.

This is why I think Evangelicals should actually look into the primary sources. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it was Millard Erikson who presented three ways of addressing postmodernism (I'm struggling to remember who it was and where they said it). These, again if I remember correctly, are (1) ignore them, (2) completely accept them, or (3) absolutely combat them. As I am very strongly in agreement that relativism is a useless, incoherent, and even dangerous philosophy, I want to propose a fourth way: to correct the misunderstandings that these so-called postmodernists have of their primary thinkers, like Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault. Even more, the literature is readily available! Heidegger has *never* been more accessible than he is now with the works of Hubert Dreyfus, Taylor Carman, Charles Taylor, Mark Wrathall, Thomas Sheehan, Julian Young, and many others. Almost all the above (I'm not as sure about Young) have also become well versed in analytic thought and have interacted with it in many different publications (I should say that I think the analytic-continental distinction is also practically useless, though not as useless as “postmodernism”; see Simon Critchley’s _Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction_ for an illuminating discussion of the ‘divide’ and its source). There is no excuse for the ignorance that is present, from Evangelical or self-proclaimed postmodernist alike.

In this way I can probably be seen as an unlikely co-combatant of relativism. It just so happens that I have to put into question the scholarship of many respected Evangelical thinkers in the process.

Daniel said...

Kevin,

I'm not your enemy here. Like I said, given enough time after I grauate I will search for the truth, whatever that may be. I simply don't have the time right now, as you are devoting your thesis to this commendable project.

You raise an interesting critique of evangelical philosophers in regards to primary sources and I will keep this in mind during my own study. But I still hold to my original plea that you not debase the entirety of these scholars works on this one issue. W. Craig alone is doing marvelous things for the Christian truth claims in the marketplace of ideas. At the very least, all I am asking, is that you show a little more respect to these individuals as tact is a necessary component in notable and worthy academic dialogue. I'm sure they would show the same respect to you, albeit disagree with more knowledge of the subject than me. Let's keep the main thing the main thing and strive for a charitable understanding of each other's positions--- as we are all searching for the truth.

Sarah Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Scott said...

Kevin,

I honestly could not extrapolate much of a working definition of postmodernism from what you gave me.

I can break down this disagreement simply:

You seem to define postmodernism as a word which means nothing and is therefore useless. It is not necessarily related to relativism.

I define postmodernism thusly:
While the definition is quite broad, postmodernism is a philosophy of life that uses subjectivity as a frame of reference and strives to avoid knowledge claims. It does not typically systematize its arguments, if any coherent argument at all is present.

Here we differ.

Kevin Winters said...

Sarah,

Yes, I thought I was obvious that I believe there is no "working definition" of postmodernism that applies to any particular thinker, or even any set of thinkers, with the possible exception of Rorty. But let's look at your definition:

"postmodernism is a philosophy of life"

This is the most accurate aspect of your definition. To avoid being long-winded, let me focus on the thinker that I am most familiar with, Heidegger, who is an apt thinker given his importance (if not centrality) to the thought of Derrida, Foucault, Rorty, Baudrillard, etc.

Heidegger himself says that being-in-the-world (Dasein), the kind of being that we as humans have, "may be considered purely as life [or as pure life]" (_Being and Time_, H246/290). This means, in short, that man exists in such a way that he is open to beings, that beings matter to him in his practical coping with things in the world. So, again, this is the most accurate part of the definition, but after this *everything* goes to pot.

"that uses subjectivity as a frame of reference"

Heidegger does not accept the subject/object bifurcation, so the above does not apply to his thought at all. Man, as being-in-the-world, is always 'outside itself,' is constituted by his temporally dynamic relation to beings ("The Principle of Identity" [1957]). Without such beings, man would not be; he is *essentially* related to beings/being as part of his being. With this understanding Heidegger is *not* positing a subjective 'inner' life that is related to the world, but man as ecstatically and essentially related to beings and being.

This is explicit in the very begining of _Being and Time_: the reason for discussing man's mode of being is because man is that being that we know that understands being; we use the "is," we speak of things and understand one another; etc. If it is true that man understands beings, indeed is *the* being that asks the question of being, then we must understand what it is about man's mode of being that gives him access to beings. From this ground, which is not in 'subjectivity' but is explicitly guided by our relation to beings, Heidegger then goes on to describe human experience which, from _Being and Time_ on, shows itself as essentially related to beings/being.

So, for Heidegger the very category by which you are describing so-called postmodernism is fundamentally wrong. Because it is my thesis that Derrida and Foucault depend on Heidegger and similarly reject the subject-object biffurcation, then I would also argue (though with less rigour) that they would similarly not fit this part of your definition, which takes away two of the most prominent 'postmodernists' that Evangelicals name before going into the postmodernism = hardcore relativism claim.

But I can account for why you think this is central. Beyond the obvious Rortyan example, Sartre is one of the primary thinkers through which people (unfortunately) understand so-called existentialism. In his "brilliant misreading of _Being and Time_" (to quote Hubert Dreyfus), _Being and Nothingness_, Sartre does make subjectivity the ground of his thought. So so-called postmodernists and their critics simply assume that Sartre (and Rorty) are right in their interpretations. Hence, yet again, there is an over-dependence on secondary sources that give rise to the horrible over-generalizations of both proponent and opponent alike.

"and strives to avoid knowledge claims"

I have no clue where you get this one. For Heidegger, being-in-the-world is that which makes knowledge possible in the first place. He is not rejecting knowledge, let alone "avoid[ing]" it, but is giving an account for how knowledge is possible. His entire oeuvre is an extended explication for how it is that we *genuinely* understand beings and being; how it is that beings are intelligible, meaningful, can be truthfully known. Even before _Being and Time_ and *especially* in his later work, "truth" is a central aspect such that his later work (his earlier as well, but more emphasized in the later) would be absolutely unintelligible without the claim that we have a genuine/truthful understanding of being/beings.

"It does not typically systematize its arguments"

For Heidegger, systematization is a natural aspect of our lives and we cannot escape it. But all systematizations are suspect for a few reasons. First, systematization *tends* to assume the completeness of one's understanding and thus *could* itself stifle future understanding. Heidegger thinks this is what has happened to the question of being: the meaning of being has come to mean one of three things where we have endless ink spilled trying to defend these understandings, so no fundamental questioning can happen. We (meaning Western philosophy in general) have forgotten the question of being because we have reduced it to one of three meanings that we assume must be right and, moreover, we assume that the right understanding *must* be one of these options and no others. But notice that I said "tends" and "could" above; it is not necessary, but it is a real danger.

Second, beings are essentially excessive; a chalkboard erasure can *be* many things, depending on the world in which I appropriate it. It can *be* a chalkboard erasure, it can *be* a door stop, it can *be* a bookmark, it can *be* a weapon, etc. Because the erasure can come to light in these various ways and because none of them are commensurable (see my post above; one cannot clean a desk with the Pythagorean Theorem nor can one use an erasure with mathematical principles), any systematization will be inadequate. In other words, it is false (yes, this is a truth claim) to think that we can find one all-encompassing system (i.e. mathematics, physics, substance-property metaphysics) because beings essentially exceed any given systematization (see also my argument above about the different substrates of the concrete body schema and the abstract body image). Put one more way, beings are *so* real that they essentially exceed our understanding (this is found particularly in Heidegger's later thought).

The above completely rejects the 'social constructionism' that so many Evangelical authors think is central to so-called postmodernism. Heidegger is not a relativist and, again, I would extend similar views to Derrida and Foucault, so (I would argue) neither are they.

"if any coherent argument at all is present"

Every work of Heidegger has arguments. _Being and Time_ is full of them. Furthermore, they are coherent and can be understood and addressed; they have been in numberless works on Heidegger's thought. Everything I've given above has arguments in it: for why we must address man's mode of being, for why systematization is essentially impossible, not because we are essentially subjective, but because beings are essentially excessive, etc.

I'm sorry, but your definition is not merely "broad," but fundamentally inadequate. Please, tell me, what so-called "postmodern" authors have you read that brings you to this definition? Even better, could you please give me a list of what "postmodern" works you've read? It would be great if you could also give me how many times you've read them so we can see exactly how much effort you've put into actually understanding them.

Anonymous said...

"Even better, could you please give me a list of what "postmodern" works you've read? It would be great if you could also give me how many times you've read them so we can see exactly how much effort you've put into actually understanding them."

I've read Truth Decay two times, and JP Moreland said that it was the BEST treatment on postmodernism ever. So I've spent a good 6 hours reading it each time, I've talked a lot with people that have read it, too.

Samuel

Kevin Winters said...

Samuel,

So no actual primary sources? And you are relying on a book that uses primarily secondary sources, many of which merely cite the primary sources?

Kevin Winters said...

Daniel,

I've been thinking long and hard about how to respond to your plea. I think I will just leave it at this: I am not as impressed as you are with the scholarship of Craig or Groothuis, only slightly more impressed with Moreland's strictly philosophical works, though not his theological works. I'm sorry, but I think we will just have to disagree on this matter.

Daniel said...

Kevin,

Alas, but fair enough.

Samuel,

Wow...

Anonymous said...

Daniel,

Thanks for being impressed, but I have other friends who have also read Truth Decay on more than one occassion. I have some friends who have also read the new Kingdom Triangle by Dr. J.P. Moreland also. And we talk about Postmodernity a lot, so we're pretty well versed. But like you I am busy in school and haven't read the "primary" sources (whatever that means).

1 topnotch book is better than 50 books that aren't the "best" according to Moreland.

Together we can change the tide.

Samuel

Kevin Winters said...

Samuel,

A "primary source," in this case, is a work *by* a so-called postmodernist, not one simply *about* one. So it would be _The Order of Things_, _On Grammatology_, _Being and Time_, _Phenomenology of Perception_, _The Postmodern Condition_, etc. A similar scenario would be someone critiquing the Bible while *only* reading secondary sources *on* the Bible. It is not suggested and it is horrible scholarship.

Daniel said...

Samuel,

The "wow" I referred to was supposed to be sarcastic. Kevin has convinced me of the primary sources argument. I too, would encourage you (as I will) to read the primary sources to see what these authors are truly saying. It's only fair. It could be that your man Moreland is right, or it could be he's wrong.

Right now I am giving Moreland, Craig, Groothuis et al the benefit of the doubt given their superb (in my opinion) scholarship.

Anonymous said...

Daniel,
Why are you being sarcastic to me? I'm trying to read the best sources on postmodernism. Maybe when I go to Seminary I will learn more, but I'm only a sophomore in Bible College. I am sorry that I haven't read all the "primary" scourses like you have Daniel, but that I have relied on "secondary" sources. I guess I just trusted Professor Groothuis.

Well I guess I should appreciate being made ashamed, and that I haven't read a Postmodern scholar. But in reading your comments above, it didn't sound like you read one either, and that we are both equally ignorant of primary sources. So then why do you make fun of me?

Samuel

Kevin Winters said...

I just want to say that I do not look down on anyone for only reading the secondary sources. For most of us on a *large majority* of topics, that is what we are left with. However, for people who claim to be "experts" and to which people look to as paragons of scholarship, there *must* be a familiarity with the primary sources. This, however, seems to be lacking in Evangelical works on postmodernism.

Anonymous said...

Kevin:

Thank you for not insulting me like Daniel. It hurts to be called "and idiot" or to hear sarcastic remarks made about me just because I'm not a seminary student like him.

I had to read your comments a few times to understand what you are saying. You're saying that the standard evangelical works really are not examples of scholarship because they do not demonstrate a thourough knowledge of the topic at hand. And the best way to show this is by dealing with primary sources, and that you don't have the sense that Dr. Groothuis does this.

This is a fair argument, and you're probably write. It is sad, and I would not like to fall into this same trap.

But you should cut him a little slack because (like many of my professors) he is very busy with teaching, preaching, and sharing the Good News. So sometimes you can't always expect people to have read the "major" works all the time. Sometimes a dictionary article is all he has time for, and besides, the dictionary article was probably accurate.

Kevin: I was thinking about studying at BIOLA university for a Master's in philosophy/apologetics, but am having second thoughts. Where do you think I could find a master's degree that will teach me about philosophy in a good way.

Lastly, correct me if I am wrong. I thought we lived in an age of Postmodernism, and by virtue of being denizens in this age that we are postmodern. I thought that Groothuis was a postmodern scholar simply by virtue of his age.

Thank you so much for fighting for truth. You are blessed brother in Jesus and a great teacher.

PS. Where do you teach at? Is it at a Bible College or University?

Samuel

Kevin Winters said...

Daniel,

I would be willing to give him more slack of he wasn't so venerated and trusted by the Evangelical community and used as such an authority on matters that, from my understanding (finite and flawed as it inevitably is), he is rather ignorant of. The last statement will sounds strong and they are, but let me also clarify it.

Groothuis' ignorance comes from him likewise trusting his teachers: Moreland, Schaeffer, Erickson, etc. As I've said, this is natural for so many topics that so many of us are interested in but are incapable of spending the time on. But then Groothuis presents himself as an "expert" on postmodernism, which implies someone who is well-versed in the topic, so giving him slack shouldn’t be needed.

I've said this elsewhere, but don't think I have on this blog: there are indeed people who are 'postmodernists' in the sense used by Groothuis et al. And I would certainly agree that such *should* be challenged, with passion and understanding (not 'zeal without knowledge'). My objection is when thinkers like Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault are included in lists of postmodernists and either implied or argued to be relativists. For full disclosure, I am *much* more familiar with Heidegger than the latter and cannot present as strong a case for the latter two, but I am confident that they also escape the charge of relativism.

As for studying philosophy at Biola: what I've said shouldn't bias you against studying there; you’ll find similar problems in practically every program. Also, my not finding other Evangelical arguments not related to postmodernism (Kalam cosmological argument, Biblical inerrancy, etc.) cogent doesn't mean that you won't. I'm surely fallible, just as much as Groothuis et al. are. The only thing, and I would say this for *anyone* going into *any* program, is to be open to questioning your professors' and fellow students' ideas and (this is *incredibly* important) be willing to put the work into understanding the nature of those challenges so you can speak knowledgably about them. Challenging in this way is just as much a matter of respect for them (and certainly do it in a respectable manner; online mediums, unfortunately, sometimes requires more rhetorical flair [yeah soundbites!], for which I apologize) as it is a quest for truth.

Whether I am a "brother in Christ" is also debatable, particularly for Evangelicals. I am far from orthodox (I have absolutely no doubt Groothuis would call me a "cultist," but for so-called "counter-cultists" anyone who doesn't agree with them on everything is), though I do believe in Christ. But I am a seeker of truth and I value it very much.

Lastly, I do not teach anywhere (unfortunately; I *love* teaching). Actually, I am a Masters student in psychology with a philosophy bachelors and an intent to study either philosophy or philosophical psychology at the PhD level in the next two years. In my defense, I have been doing intensive study of Heidegger's thought almost constantly for the last five years, working through the major works of his earlier and later periods and now getting my hands on the lesser-known and newly published works. I've presented papers on his thought (or addressing a psychological issue through his thought) at a few conferences and his thought continues to guide my research. I am not an "expert," but do not think it hubris to say that I am rather knowledgeable and can hold up my end of the conversation with those who know more than I.

But there I go being long winded again. Apologies... :o)