Modernism v. Postmodernism, Absolute v. Relative Truth

The article @mitchellmckain shared is very good. Having @Jay313 ’s source would also be great.

[Edit: Jay mentioned Stanford’s Plato. The article is here:

I just failed to notice.]


If I may add to this. Within the scope of textual understanding, there is an insurmountable task of getting into the head of the writer. “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” The written words are still broadly on a kind of spectrum understandable, and can be determined to be in varying degrees of correctness or correspondence to an objectively shared world.

Precisely. So the task is rejected.
Once something is published, that is made public by any means, it becomes subject to subjective reception. It will never be under the control of the author again.


I got this from a university philosophy course. The logical positivists rebelled against metaphysical claims and found in scientific instrumentalism a way to restrict meaningfulness to what measurable. But while this works ok in science, it doesn’t work so well in the wider arena of thought. So when the logical positivists sought to create a language and system of thought that restricted itself to what is measurable they found they couldn’t even adequately describe the work of science in this way. So they abandoned the effort and the philosophy was thus considered by most to be a failure.

This goes back to my definition of objective as that which is the same for everyone, and subjective as that which is not the same for everyone. So the idea is that I am rejecting the idea that reality only consists of that which is the same for everyone. I see strong pragmatic reasons for this belief (in a subjective aspect to reality itself) because otherwise any belief about reality leads one to think that everyone who believes differently must be out of touch with reality. I find this particularly offensive in encounters between cultures where a person from one culture decides that all the things believed by the people of that other culture are not real, but just nonsense and superstition. It basically makes them incapable of learning anything from people different from themselves and that looks foolish and even tragic to me.

  1. good.
  2. sure… but I am skeptical of the conclusions I have seen. It looks very subjective to me and if the point is simply to suggest other possibilities then no problem, but it should be understood this subjectivity means I cannot be expected to accept those conclusions.
  3. more? sure. The point however is that we don’t have to restrict ourselves to dismantling everything.
  4. The communists (like my father) liked to analyze history in terms of economic forces. Physicists look at the world in terms of mathematical relationships. So the point is that however useful these perspectives may be (including the postmodern tendency to look at things in terms of power relations and hegemony), they must not be confused with the whole of reality. I am reminded of that scene in the movie “Arrival” where the she points out the problem with using Mahjong to communicate with the aliens, to which the general responds “if all you give them is a hammer then everything is a nail.”
  5. Again the point is that only tearing things down seems pointless and even a little cowardly to me.

Long ago I stopped trying to figure why people act the way they do, or how their actions relate to a providential God.

Irony noted. :wink:

I would agree that only focusing on objective facts and Logical Positivism excludes a large chunk of the human experience. We are subjective and emotional beings, and those features need to be a part of our understanding of who we are and how we interact with reality. The important bit, IMHO, is to correctly identify what is objective and subjective, and then proceed from there.


Of course it also notes almost immediately that we should not identify its progenitors with what we think of as determinism today. From your linked source, thank you.

But if we want to understand these philosophers correctly, we should be careful not to assimilate ancient theories of freedom and determinism too quickly to the problem of free will and determinism in contemporary philosophy, which asks whether causal determinism is compatible with the sort of freedom—or alternatively, with the sort of control over our actions—that is necessary for moral responsibility.

Almost every idea has its progenitors but that doesn’t mean that no theory or movement has a beginning, it simply doesn’t have a beginning from n0thing.


Yes, you’re right on the last score, but the “it” in my sentence referred to the “worldview” of Modernism as a whole, not just Logical Positivism. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I was commenting on the fact that Schaeffer and a whole host of Christian apologists spent decades railing against Modernism as anti-Christian philosophy. Suddenly one day they all woke up and realized Modernism was long gone, so they went to war with Postmodernism and, like Orwell’s 1984, insisted they’d always been at war with Postmodernism.

Just my off-the-cuff attempt. As the first line of the SEP article says, “That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism.”

Judging by that statement, yes, you are. (I hope you don’t find that disappointing. haha)

Interesting article, thanks. I think the existence of the list itself points out the problem with trying to define Postmodernism. It’s an amorphous thing. As your article said:

Importantly, the term postmodernism refers to a broad range of artists, academic critics, philosophers, and social scientists that Christopher Butler (2003:2) has only half-jokingly alluded to as like “a loosely constituted and quarrelsome political party.”

I think the first sentence gets the gist of it better than the list:

As an intellectual movement postmodernism was born as a challenge to several modernist themes that were first articulated during the Enlightenment. These include scientific positivism, the inevitability of human progress, and the potential of human reason to address any essential truth of physical and social conditions and thereby make them amenable to rational control (Boyne and Rattansi 1990).

Postmodernism is against Scientism, the Myth of Progress, and the idea that science and logic eventually will solve all of humanity’s problems. As often as Christian apologists rail against the Enlightenment (and its brainchild of Modernism), one would think they would appreciate the postmodern critique of those things. But no. Somehow they’re stuck on this idea that Christianity is a philosophy(!) that must be proven better than all other systems. It’s exhausting.

Is it difficult or impossible to recognize that human beings are limited creatures? I hope not.

The filter is the same as it always has been. YEC’s lived reality is dysfunctional nonsense, but I’m not bound in any way by their warped notion of “truth” or “reality.” Can you or I change their minds with a parade of scientific, “objective” evidence? Not in my experience. Does that make YEC postmodern?

Again, Postmodernism was opposed to the Enlightenment project.

Fair enough. The argument about free will certainly has an ancient history. I was thinking more of guys like Jerry Coyne, who are materialist determinists. IOW, they believe in materialism and deny free will. Everything – even our individual decisions – is determined by what went before, like falling dominos.

He’s wrong. Try to stay on topic or open a new thread to discuss ancient Roman & Greek historiography. I’d be glad to discuss it another time.

I was just spouting off the top of my head after a couple of cocktails last night. haha

Yes, and that’s a postmodern perspective. What @Christy was saying is there’s no such thing as an objective “view from nowhere.” Everyone is culturally situated, and it’s dang near impossible to escape those limitations. Also postmodern.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner.


It has been some decades since I read Schaeffer, but I seem to recall that existentialism was his biggest target.

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Oh goody, my favorite event. I’ll drink to that.

Personally I’d only made faint hearted attempts to understand it up until we read Penner together with Kendel. His take has largely informed mine. But frankly, I don’t really care who is in what camp or who makes the best case; where the ideas of PoMo are concerned, I just like seeing where they take me.


Exactly. It isn’t that truth just is whatever you like and yours is as good as anyone else’s. Rather the idea, as I take it, is that everyone’s attempt at truth is subject to the same perils and difficulties
as well as conditioned by his or her background culture, education and experience. But it does no good to imagine truth as something finished and static as if made of marble, since no one has access to that anyhow.

That doesn’t mean we can only ever discuss emperical matters. But as we begin to discuss truth, reality and wisdom we have to recognize the need not to clobber people with arguments but rather to invite them to sample our intuitions. Some will, some won’t. Of those who will, some will find value in it, some won’t. What was MIke’s expression? Oh yeah, the trick is to be someone who can sample other people’s intuition and wisdom and be enriched by it.


That too, but his main target was Modernism. I can’t recall which book it was (maybe several?), but he sketched out the history of philosophy and art (philosophy influencing culture) and traced the dissolution of “reason” from the Impressionists to Pollock. The funny thing is, he swiped that analysis without credit from someone else.

Right. But let’s take an example. Some folks believe they have access to absolute truth in “God’s Word” – the Bible. Is what the Bible says about the physical universe absolute truth? No, it’s ancient science. Is what the Bible says about morality absolute truth? Then explain Deut. 21:18-21 (KJV, of course):

Kill your rebellious children. Okay. Is that absolute truth? You tell me.

No, and neither is the solution just or the least bit wise, at least in any imaginable circumstance.

Perhaps in harder times when survival required all hands on deck and any bad actors could be ruinous for the community it might be expedient though.


Pomos: reason determines no knowledge

Aufklarer: reason determines all knowledge

How’s that?

You’ll have to reply in complete sentences if you expect a reply. (Maybe even a paragraph or two. Gasp!) As it is, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe if you interacted with what I said I’d have a clue where to start:

Do you have other info that disputes this? Summarize and provide a link, if you do. Otherwise, I don’t have time to chase down breadcrumbs and try to figure out what you’re trying to say.

Just use the quote feature and type your reply underneath.

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I thought it was pretty clear that they were succinct summaries of the two schools.

This was the comment @Jay313 was replying to. I’m not sure why he felt the need to correct my understanding of postmodernism and the Enlightenment. That they are distinct from one another. I would have thought he knew me better than that by now. Starting to feel like I am wasting my time.

This reminds me of the time my Oxford comma had Jay thinking I said Heidegger was a new age mystic.

Something which he should have known better then as well.

I lengthened the lines on your equal signs – now it is clear they are statements.

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