- Thomas W. Clark, Humanism and Postmodernism: A Reconciliation (via ludimagister)
The traditional philosophical project, that of establishing criteria for the true and the good, has always been subject to metaphilosophical criticism, but recently such criticism constitutes one of the dominant themes in what has come to be called the postmodern era. … Richard Rorty, the current leader of the metaphilosophical attack, believes that the traditional search for cognitive and ethical foundations is forlorn, or as he puts it in pragmatist terms, “has not paid off”. … There is no “Archimedean point” from which we can compare our views of the world to the world itself, no way to step out of our culturally limited perspective to see how things really are in themselves. Hence our conceptual schemes, our sciences, our rationalities, and our ethical beliefs all lack the absolute, objective grounding that the traditional philosophical project hoped to provide. Our choice among them becomes a matter of their relative utility for the purposes at hand, not a matter of discovering which of them reflects a true picture of the world.
Rorty is not new in this anti-foundationalism; in fact he claims merely to be the most recent exponent of a long anti-metaphysical, pragmatist tradition including James, Nietzche, Dewey, Wittgenstein, and later Foucault, Quine, Kuhn, Sellars, Davidson, and Derrida. … The common thread of this tradition is the attempt to cure us of our thirst for metaphysical essences and timeless certainties, to show how the secular fascination with the possibility of ahistorical absolutes simply repeats the religious quest for theological sanctuary. The mistaken impulse is the same: to seek a safe haven from the contingency and relativity of our lot in life, to contrive an escape, albeit only intellectual, from the messy if occasionally pleasurable business of getting by in the world. To suppose we might gain some absolute philosophical distance from our situation and thereby achieve an objective point of leverage is as deluded, these philosophers warn, as a belief in the Rapture or the Second Coming. … Freed from the futile attempt to transcend the perspective imposed upon us by being the limited creatures we are, philosophy becomes simply the historically contingent, most up-to-date effort to see generally “how things hang together”. Liberation from philosophy, at least as it has been traditionally conceived, is the logical next step for the culture that has presided over the death of God."