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Postmodern philosophy

Postmodern philosophy, originally an outgrowth of Continental philosophy, is the postmodern criticism and analysis of Western philosophy. It is heavily influenced by existentialism and post-structuralism, and by the philosophers Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the later Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is generally characterized by a skepticism toward stable metaphysics and humanism, and particularly the philosophical view originating in the Enlightenment that the West makes progress through the accumulation of stable, positive knowledge. Instead of the Enlightenment preoccupations toward progress, rationality, consensus, humanity, and the meaning of life, postmodern philosophers are more concerned with the philosophical implications of such things as difference, schizophrenia, pluralism, becoming a cyborg, and the meaning of death and absence.

Although many critics characterize postmodern philosophy as a form of nihilism, postmodern philosophers themselves generally see their philosophy as a liberatory philosophy. Some people have identified postmodern philosophy with relativism, although postmodern philosophy makes more, and more specific, claims than relativism (most importantly, most postmodern philosophers locate postmodernity historically; it is not a purely abstract or logical argument).

Table of contents
1 History of Postmodern Philosophy
2 Postmodernism and Post-Structuralism
3 Postmodernism versus Postmodernity
4 See also

History of Postmodern Philosophy

Early Influences in Postmodern Philosopy

Postmodern philosophy originated primarily in France during the 1960s and 1970s. However, it was greatly influenced by the writings of several earlier 20th Century philosophers, including phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, existentialist Martin Heidegger, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, structuralist Roland Barthes, and logical positivist Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Early Postmodern Philosophers

The most influential early postmodern philosophers were Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida. Foucault approached postmodern philosophy from a historical perspective, building upon structuralism, but at the same time rejecting structuralism by re-historicizing and destabilizing the philosophical structures of Western thought. He also considered how knowledge is defined and changed by the operation of power.

The writings of Lyotard were largely concerned with the role of narrative in human culture, and particularly how that role has changed as we have left modernity and entered a "postindustrial" or postmodern condition. He argued that modern philosophies legitimized their truth-claims not (as they themselves claimed) on logical or empirical grounds, but rather on the grounds of accepted stories (or "metanarratives") about knowledge and the world -- what Wittgenstein termed "language-games." He further argued that in our postmodern condition, these metanarratives no longer work to legitimize truth-claims. He suggested that in the wake of the collapse of modern metanarratives, people are developing a new "language game" -- one that does not make claims to absolute truth but rather celebrates a world of ever-changing relationships (among people and between people and the world).

Derrida, to whom deconstruction is attributed, approached postmodern philosophy as a form of textual criticism. He criticized Western philosophy as privileging the concept of presence and logos, as opposed to absence and markings or writings. Derrida thus deconstructed Western philosophy by showing, for example, how the Western ideal of the present logos is undermined by the expression of that ideal in the form of markings by an absent author. Thus, to emphasize this paradox, Derrida reformalized human culture as a disjoint network of proliferating markings and writings, with the author being absent.

Though Derrida and Foucault are cited as postmodern philosophers, each has rejected many of the other's views. Like Lyotard, both are skeptical of absolute or universal truth-claims. Unlike Lyotard, however, they are (or seem) rather more pessimistic about the emancipatory claims of any new language-game; thus some would characterize them as post-structuralist rather than postmodernist.

Later postmodern philosophers

Postmodernism and Post-Structuralism

Postmodern philosophy is very similar to
post-structuralism; whether one considers the two identical or fundamentally different generally depends on how invested one is in the issues. People who are opposed to either postmodernism or poststructuralism often lump them together; advocates on the other hand make finer distinctions.

Postmodernism versus Postmodernity

Others who have written about postmodernity are the literary critic Fredric Jameson and the geographer David Harvey. They distinguish between postmodernity, which they use to describe an objective historical condition or situation, and postmodernism, which they use to describe a particular way of talking about postmodernity. They have further identified postmodernity with what the Marxist Ernest Mandel called "late capitalism," and have characterized postmodernism as the ideology of late capitalism.

See also