Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Death of Philosophy

The notion of Postmodernism being dead amuses me. This is probably because of my perspective on the issue, which is ironically what I'm about to write about. Pardon for not meaning.

Nietzsche spoke of the death of God, and began a redefinition of morality, values, metaphysics and truly, of Philosophy itself. He spoke of the Will to Power within each person, and how each person must construct their meaning in life intentionally, for it is the nature of man to do this. Nietzsche emphasized subjectivity in light of the death of traditional systems of meaning, saying that our meaning comes not from a metanarrative, but from ourselves.

Sartre, nauseated by the very nature of reality, spoke of nothingness. He parodied/succeeded Heidegger's "Being and Time" by writing his own piece, "Being and Nothingness." Truly, Sartre was part of the Postmodern tradition begun by Nietzsche, speaking of the void in place of an absolute meaning for reality, and talking extensively about freedom. Indeed, Sartre spoke of our freedom defining and condemning us, that we will be part of the nothingness of reality if we do not exercise it. Again, the emphasis on subjectivity continues.

Derrida, the great deconstructionist, spoke of the constructed nature of literature and of philosophy itself. He continued the tradition of Nietzsche, emphasizing that man makes their own meaning, but promoted awareness in this process to a level Nietzsche never reached, speaking of knowledge as a construct, and encouraging the awareness of the multivalent pieces of it. Again, one is encouraged to enter into themselves for knowledge, and to have their own meaning.

Foucault took Derrida's deconstruction, Nietzsche's death of God, and Sartre's freedom to an entirely new level. Deconstruction was applied to not only philosophy and literature, but to history and to culture, leading to a profound skepticism not only in truth claims, but in the structure of constructed systems themselves. The death of God lead to the death of Man, with not only the notion of God being meaningless and dead, but the nature of Man being a construct, neither good nor evil, and on a downward spiral to destruction, finally starkly opposing the Enlightenment's humanism. And finally, Foucault, like all in the Postmodern tradition, emphasized entirely man's freedom and autonomy, encouraging people to create their own meaning to their existence.

It is in light of this that I come to what exactly Postmodernism, pioneered by the Philosophers of our era and inundating our culture, exactly is. But first, an addendum.

Philosophy, as a contemporary discipline, is dying. For it to survive, it must cease to be an ivory tower of theoretical knowledge, and it must expand to what it originally was: critical thought and the pursuit of wisdom in all areas of life. Ancient Philosophers spoke of all areas of life, not merely metaphysical or cognitive or epistemological dilemmas. For Philosophy to survive, it must expand back to its' original purpose. Otherwise, its' death will come from its' profound irrelevance, a side-effect of the death of God. In other words, Philosophy is stagnant because it has detached itself from the sciences, from spirituality, from practicality, and from the moment.

Postmodernism is a symptom of this detachment. The Enlightenment saw the beginning of this death, creating a separation between disciplines and extolling the natural sciences, empirical knowledge and the mind of man, rationality itself, to being the salvation of the world from the darkness of medieval religion. When religious institution failed, man looked to itself, its' own rationality. Religion hence fell in line with modern times or rejected it, meaning that it also fell in line, but a little slower.

Make no mistake, the modern Church is as much a product of the Enlightenment as it is of the Scriptures it claims as foundation. The very way that Scripture is read and regarded is a product of man's change in thought and nature. Foucault recognized this as an episteme, or a dominant framework that characterizes how man thinks in a particular period of history.

Postmodernism is, quite simply, a subjective focus on one's own perspective, or a profound self-centered nature. This both is and is likely not what the Philosophers of our era intended when they became skeptical of absolute truths. Though there can be no doubt about the focus on freedom and self-determination, the Postmodern Philosopher becomes dark or, at best, cynical regarding humanity, whereas the lay-person influenced by this culture often becomes pretentious, fashionable, jaded, and ineptly selfish.

Just as the Modern Philosopher had the best intentions, as did the Ancient Philosopher, the lay-person that does not engage in critical thought misses the point. This would not be a problem if it was not so detrimental. However, the inevitable conclusion to this is that Philosophy should die and we should live in the darkness and void it formerly inhabited happily ignorant, or every person should engage in Philosophy. One is the way of Philosophy's death, the other is the way of its' rebirth.

Rebirth can only happen with a redefinition, and indeed with a monumental shift with regards to how we approach the world. In other words, Postmodernism was an inevitable byproduct of the Enlightenment, and whatever Postmodernism becomes is also a natural byproduct in the evolution of thought.

Postmodernism, however, is far from dead. To prove this, I need only cite the everyday person, centered into their own concerns, their own selfishness and their own needs at all times. In other words, I could cite myself. When I am not considered in a situation or conversation, I become angry, and feel that I have been unfairly treated. When I am ignored or generalized into a category, I am hurt, and that hurt consumes me, to the point of emotional turmoil. This is my brand of being subjective, and there are others.

Some manipulate conversation to center around themselves constantly, seeking affirmation while simultaneously loathing their own existence, looking for some kind of purpose to salve their wounds.

Some judge anyone they can against their own exacting standards, being quick of tongue enough to uphold these judgments due to exhausting or aggravating those they judge, or because they have become so detached from the reality of anyone but themselves that they actually begin to construct an ideal of who they are in their own mind, molding it how they see fit.

Some hide behind humility, stating how much they fail and how badly they do, and direct attention to themselves that way.

Some are merely pretentious, utilizing whatever social constructs around them to gain as much affirmation as possible, for the world is about them.

Some can healthily express their views, because they have enough self-awareness to know their own limitations, and their self-centered nature has brought them to conclusions about themselves. Fortunately for people on this particular path, this often leads away from being self-centered, as they have already judged others, they have already been pretentious and sought attention, and they begin to recognize something very important: meaning is not merely a construct of oneself, it extends beyond them to others, to the rest of reality. In other words, the Postmodern, if they journey through their own movement, becomes something else entirely. Some might call this getting over themselves.

What Postmodernism would idolize I would say should be recognized and dealt with accordingly. Subjectivity and self-centeredness are not negative traits if they are kept balanced. Unfortunately, reactionary movements are seldom, if ever balanced. They react against abuses and create additional abuses, types of arrogance or oppression or ignorance that flow out of the incomplete nature of a reaction.

Postmodernism is poor as an overriding Philosophy, but as a movement, as something to be considered as part of the world around us and a recognition of some very important things, it is invaluable. It cannot be dead, though it will transform, and will hopefully transform into a positive movement by destroying the structuralist trap, Foundationalist methodology, the notion that a system must stand alone, and cannot be a snapshot of a much larger picture. If it does not, then not only will Philosophy die, but there will be a much higher price to pay, as nothing we do: intellectual, spiritual, physical, emotional, is merely an isolated act. To cease to critically think, we will merely ride the currents that those that do create.

We are not creators of our own meaning, we need others, we require relationships, and we form them whether we want to or not. Furthermore, our own perspective does not even come close to representing reality, and never will unless we acknowledge that there are others, that there is truth in the person so unlike you.

Do not let Philosophy die. Think, as best you can, and never stop engaging others in that thinking.

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