Chapter 10. Postmodernism : Pragmatism
Section 1. Postmodernism

During the Twentieth Century the advanced technological societies of the West and some in the East experienced a decline in the number of people who practiced their religion regularly and accepted a morality based upon Natural Law Theory.  There was a decline in the belief that:

1.         there is a single reality and that humans can have knowledge of it.

2.         there is objective truth

3.         there are absolutes 

This decline can be attributed to a number of factors:

1.         the increase in information about other cultures and their various practices, beliefs and values,

2.         advances in what science and technology could provide for humans in improvements in their basic living along with an appreciation for material goods,

3.         the spreading influence of ideas from the existentialist and pragmatist movements

4.         the spread of democratic ideals 

Post-Modernism then refers to a complex set of philosophical presumptions, most of which reject modern philosophical systems that promoted the idea of rationality, positive science, advance of humankind and promotion of liberal values.  The post modern critiques did not replace the idea and ideals and values of the modern period with any alternate system. So , postmodernism is more often characterized by its opposition to modernism with its ambivalence or rejection of the Enlightenment and its ideology. It thus derives from an anti-epistemological standpoint; anti-realism; opposition to transcendent arguments; rejection of truth theories; rejection of categorical analyses; a critique of reason itself as a positive guide for the life of humans.

If Post-Modernism is represented in any positive manner it might might be characterized by gendered, historical, and ethno-centric definitions of truth, as well as an insistence on the social construction of world views. However, the basic postmodernist movement is unfortunately but inextricably bound to factionalism and centrisms of all sorts and supportive of primitive tribal, clan , and ethnic groupings and validations for all beliefs..

In the Post Modern view there are no absolutes of any kind and there are no universal truths nor universal criteria for beauty and nor are there universal principles of the GOOD.  Thus, there is a return of relativism in the sphere of morality.  With that return there is also the threat of chaos which relativism spawns.  As reaction to this trend there is an increase in the numbers of people returning to religion and religious principles as the foundation for their moral lives.  The fastest growing religion in the world is Islam.  Islam is increasing in its population through a birth rate higher than average and through conversions.  Islamic fundamentalism is growing in the number of adherents.  Fundamentalists of Islam and of Christianity and Judaism are all declaring their condemnation of the current state of moral decline and the rise of relativism and materialism. 

In moral theory there have developed a number of traditions that extol alternatives to the teleological and deontological approaches based upon reason and the belief that universal principles can be reached through the exercise of reason.   In contrast to the theories of modernism there are a number of traditions in moral theory that have features typical of the relativism of the postmodern period.

These are the three Post Modernist theories or movements that have impacted on ethical theorizing to be examined in the remaining chapters of this work.

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Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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