Sunday, October 02, 2005

Postmodernism, modernism, and morality

Is postmodernism the force it's often said to be? Brett Kunkle quotes William Lane Craig, who says:
Frankly, I don'’t confront many students who are postmodernists. For all the faddish talk, I think it'’s a myth. Students aren'’t generally relativistic and pluralistic, except when it comes to ethics and religion. But that's not postmodernism, that's modernism. That's old-style verificationism, which says things that are verifiable through the five senses are factual, but everything else is just a matter of taste (including ethics and religion). I think it'’s a deceit of our age to say that modernism is dead.

Here we see the difference between postmodernism and modernism. Modernism relegates faith and immaterial notions to the area of subjective preference and private "religion," while embracing the physical world as the ultimate reality. It's often associated with philosophical materialism and humanism.

Postmodernism goes further than modernism: It rejects even knowledge of the physical world. According to postmodernism, we are simply not in a position to know anything objective about reality. Everything is socially constructed. Absolute truth doesn'’t exist. As Craig would say, it's relativism of everything, not just the area of ethics and religion.

Postmodernism is too ridiculous for most people, while modernism is a strong, influential worldview. Craig writes:
...Enlightenment rationalism is so deeply imbedded in Western intellectual life that these antirationalistic currents like Romanticism and postmodernism are doomed, it seems, to be mere passing fashions. After all, no one adopts a postmodernist view of literary texts when reading the labels on a medicine bottle or a box of rat poison...In the end, people turn out to be subjectivists only about ethics and religion, not about matters provable by science. But this is not postmodernism; this is nothing else than classic Enlightenment naturalism--it is the old modernism in a fashionable new guise.

Importantly, both modernism and postmodernism leave no foundation for morality.

The existence of morality, then, causes great tension for proponents of such views. The vast majority of atheists refuse to discard moral standards, instead attempting to manufacture some atheistic basis for them.

Notice that the atheist's "morality" hinges on a redefinition of what morality is. Atheists think they'’re holding on to a true morality by attempting to explain why human beings hold moral notions - "“This is why we act and believe the way we do."” They may present various theories, like utilitarianism - "This act will produce the most utility." But there's nothing normative about this.

We normally think of morality as some kind of standard to which we are held accountable. Morality isn't something like "Do this and the world will be a better, happier place." Morality is "This is objectively wrong."

And a naturalistic worldview provides absolutely no foundation for that sort of thing. So moral relativism - not a traditional, normative, objective morality - follows from modernist philosophy. But why, then, do most atheists make meaningful moral condemnations of Adolf Hitler? Virtually nobody is consistent in their moral relativism.

Update: I may be tired. I just noticed I wrote something very similar in this post. Check it out.

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