Making Sense of Morality: Introduction to Postmodernism

Various ethics terms
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Introduction to Postmodernism

Postmodernism is the last major kind of ethical views I will survey. Since it is post-modern, we will need to survey the modern era’s traits to which postmoderns are responding. In this essay, I will explore some of the historical and sociological factors leading to postmodernity, along with some key philosophical positions, too.

Historical, Sociological Influences

People date modernity’s beginning differently, but we can point to the rise of the Scientific Revolution with Gassendi’s and Hobbes’s influences in the 16th century, and the related scientific shifts then and in the 17th century. As a first trait, modernity was marked by a tendency to believe in the inevitability of progress from scientific discoveries, particularly from the theory of evolution. Due to this progress, humankind could get better and better.

Philosophical Influences

We already have seen major shifts in western history from universals to nominalism; from mind-body dualism to materialism, and with both of these, a turn to empiricism; and from the view that we can know reality directly to historicism. But, postmodernity is not a complete rejection of what developed during modernity. Even though we have seen the above mentioned sociological and historical shifts in mindsets in postmodernity, postmoderns continue the modern focus on nominalism with its rejection of universals with their essences. For instance, they focus on knowledge being tied to particular “forms of life” (or communities, social groups). We are so shaped by our situatedness (the various social, familial, historical, cultural factors that shape how we interpret and understand life) that we cannot gaze directly into reality from a universal standpoint. Moreover, they tend to reject an essential nature to all humans, leading some toward materialism.

For Further Reading

R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge, ch. 8

Professor of ethics, philosophy of religion @ Biola's MA Christian Apologetics. Interests: ethics, knowledge, nominalism, & how Christians have been naturalized