Postmodern philosophy is therefore usefully regarded as a complex cluster concept that includes the following elements: an anti-(or post-) epistemological standpoint; anti-essentialism; antirealism; anti-foundationalism; opposition to transcendental arguments and transcendental standpoints; rejection of the picture of knowledge as accurate representation; rejection of truth as correspondence to reality; rejection of the very idea of canonical descriptions; rejection of final vocabularies, i.e., rejection of principles, distinctions, and categories that are thought to be unconditionally binding for all times, persons, and places; and a suspicion of metanarratives of the sort perhaps best illustrated by dialectical materialism... one often finds the following themes: a critique of the neutrality and sovereignty of reason -- included insistence on its pervasively gendered, historical, and ethnocentric character; a conception of the social construction of word-world mappings; a tendency to embrace historicism; a critique of any ultimate contrast between epistemology and sociology of knowledge; dissolution of an autonomous subject; insistence on the merely historical status of divisions of labor in knowledge acquisition and production; an ambivalence about the Enlightenment and its ideology.To be sure, this is a very large, technical rubric for what might be considered 'postmodern'. Many different thinkers might be thought to march under the banner of postmodernism: Dewey, Kuhn, Wittgenstein, Sellars, Davidson, Quine, Heidegger, Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, and Nussbaum. Thus, under this definition, one can be postmodern in some ways, but not in others. I, for example, am skeptical with Quine about foundationalism as an adequate account of how we can be justified in our beliefs, but I am not in the least ambivalent about Reason or the Enlightenment.
While there are many philosophical strands that might be considered "postmodern", we can reasonably ask what the heart of postmodernism is -- what makes a thinker a true-blue, full-blooded postmodernist? I understand postmodernism to be primarily a critical reaction to Enlightenment values, and its esteem for Reason as an impartial judge of facts. Postmodernists reject the optimistic view that the development of science and the cultivation of Reason improves human life, and rejects the notion of sustained progress towards an objective truth about the world through rational and scientific thinking.
This is a fine opportunity to begin a short series here at The Barefoot Bum on various postmodernist thinkers. I will try to give a fair and accurate overview of what I take to be their most important postmodern views -- perhaps you, dear reader, can make sense of the whirlwind of thought dubbed 'postmodernism'.
[Timmo is the proprietor of The Remarks of a Fish. This essay is original to The Barefoot Bum. --ed.]