Is Postmodernism Really to Blame for Post-Truth?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What is it

Postmodernism is often characterized by its rejection of concepts championed by the Enlightenment, like meaning, truth, reason, and knowledge. Some philosophers blame postmodernism for making cynicism about truth and facts now respectable in political debate. So is postmodernism responsible for “fake news” and “alternative facts”? Or does it simply provide the tools to describe popular distrust of traditional authorities, like science and the media? Must we reject postmodernism in order to rescue truth? Josh and Ken find trust in Thomas de Zengotita, author of Postmodern Theory and Progressive Politics: Toward a New Humanism.

Comments (4)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 -- 12:16 PM

I think that postmodernism is

I think that postmodernism is just another phase civilization is (or is not) going through. See, everyone who is exposed to postmodern ethics (or the lack thereof) has an opportunity to choose. Anyone who fails to 'get it', for whatever reason(s), has his/her own right to reject the entire postmodern agenda. Moreover, if he or she DOES get it, the same rule applies. Fake news does not depend on postmodern ethics for its' rise to stardom. Relativism was emerging, long before the term was uttered. Popular and mass culture have been with us for decades ; trends and other such anomalies of civilization come and go, with the relentless march of technology and cultural change. I might read Mr. de Zengotita's book, inasmuch as I'd like to know what a 'new humanism' might look like. Word has it that the old humanism has been around since the thirteenth century, substantially preceding the Enlightenment. There are some absolutes: meaning; truth;reason; and knowledge are examples, even though, at times, their applications may be, uh, relativistic. Our interests drive relativism, to a great extent, so it is little wonder that we can become confused and feel overwhelmed by different ways of viewing old values and ethics. But consider that interests are somewhat akin to beliefs: THEY are personal affairs, which are, in turn, adventures, which (according to Dewey's assessment of beliefs), are SHADY. I wonder what the current batch of humanists thinks about a new humanism? Do they consider themselves in that light? I just don't know.

In any case, I am not worried by current affairs, postmodernism or fake news. I feel badly for those who are. If you don't like the weather in Ohio, you only have to wait a minute...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, July 15, 2019 -- 11:17 AM

POST-NOTE: Interests are a

POST-NOTE: Interests are a powerful force, driving people to do things they might not otherwise contemplate. Conventions, pressures and expectations lead us to our worst fears and wildest fantasies.

Fab5's picture


Wednesday, October 9, 2019 -- 7:05 PM

What a shame. The guest

What a shame. The guest seemed to have a pretty shallow understanding of the intellectual history of post-structuralism. He didn't go into any of the details of post-modernism's theoretical core (Foucault, Derrida), vaguely alluded to the historical circumstances of the rise of post-structuralism (no mention of the crisis of colonialism or the aftermath of WW2), and did a less than great job in showing that there is a bit more to post-modernism philosophically than "the denial of truth." The hosts, on the other hand, spent most of the time laughing at their guest (might recommend Derrida's "Of Hospitality"?) and being horribly condescending. Why invite someone you clearly have no respect for to change your mind about something you won't change your mind about anyway? No real conversation took place on that show.

Josh Landy's picture

Josh Landy

Friday, October 18, 2019 -- 12:00 PM

Thanks very much for your

Thanks very much for your comment. This particular episode focused on the specific question whether postmodernist approaches to truth could be taken to have any connection to the "post-truth era" we are currently in. (Hence the background history wasn't the main concern in this particular context.) If you’re interested in episodes devoted to post-structuralism and postmodernism more broadly, please check out our show on Foucault, our show on Derrida and Deconstruction, and our show on Postmodernism. Thank you for listening!


Thomas de Zengotita, Contriubting Editor, Harper's Magazine


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