During the last half of the 20th century the philosophical school of post-modernism arose. Just as with existentialism, post-modernism is a school of thought that is anti-definition and anti-organized. As such, it is hard to pinned down exactly what post-modernist believe and stand for in a way that this could be done for older philosophies. In many, ways, as we get closer to the present era the ideas and tenets of the current philosophies become almost invisible perhaps because we are living directly under their effect rather than looking at their influence in the past.
Post-modernism, like almost all philosophies it seems, is a reaction to modernism. Modernism primary tenet was to understand the world through the use of reason. Modernist believed that the world had fixed laws that could be observed and understood. Science was the way to understand reality and attain truth. There was also this sense of continuous progress, which is something that is still repeated in the media today.
However, modernism did not solve all problems and lead to a Utopian existence. Instead, throughout the late 19th and 20th century there were consequences of scientific and social progress from pollution, to atomic destruction, wars, famine, disease, etc. It seemed as if every time science solved one problem it eventually led to more problems that were not anticipated.
The foundation for post-modernism was laid by Friedrich Nietzsche who claimed that truth and God are dead. This shifted knowledge from something that was absolute to something that was human generated.
Pragmatism and existentialism further laid the groundwork for post-modernism with pragmatism’s position that knowledge was provisional and constantly changing. Existentialism simply reinforces Nietzsche’s position that knowledge is constructed rather than discovered.
Perhaps one of the strongest influences on post-modernism is Marxism. Karl Marx was focused on class struggles from an economic perspective. Within Postmodernism this was extended to other aspects of society including feminism, racism, sexism, LGBT, weightism, or generally any minority group who is crying out against the perceived “privilege” of the majority.
Postmodernists essential question everything and it almost seems as if they tear down everything with no real replace for what they are tearing down. It is permissible to have opinions about anything but there is no truth except for the truth that there is no truth because they say so.
An example of questioning reality itself is in the work of Jacques Derrida and his work on deconstructionism. According to Derrida, language has blocked us from understanding reality because we are using words to describe this reality. This means that whenever we read or examine text we have to unpack or deconstruct the assumptions that the author of the text had in terms of their word choices and context. This is critical because the dominant group writes in a way that excludes the minorities and those without power. Of course, you would need to support Derrida’s words even though they may not be representative of reality either
Other postmodern philosophers suggest that reality is socially constructed by those who have power. Those in power shape reality to benefit themselves. There are examples of this in history, as people in power normally portray the powerless negatively. This has even happened in the world of science where views on bloodletting and even the consumption of cocaine.
After identifying these injustices, the postmodernist is not content to identify problems but to push change. The marginal groups need to rise up from the shackles of their oppressors. Pragmatism push change slightly but postmodernism can almost be revolutionary in its language for transformation. Everything is viewed with an eye towards suspicions that begets change except for the idea of viewing everything with skepticism that leads to change.
When everything is viewed as oppression eventually everything is overturned. Whoever gains power will then be viewed as oppressive until they too are overthrown. Eventually, there is nothing left. The problem with postmodernism is not that it identifies problems but that they have no solution beyond tearing everything down over and over again.
A postmodern teacher is going to be skeptical of absolute truth. They will stress the idea of doubting the text and trying to identify the inconsistencies in an author’s argument. There will be a focus on minority groups and how they are oppressed by those who are privileged.
With deconstructionism, students are trained to be sensitive to language and its use. This is perhaps one reason why such terms as politically correct are used today. People have been trained to be sensitive to language that does not fit the narrative and to identify hurtful language as almost dangerous.
All opinions are expected to be embraced and appreciated no matter how much they lack in validity and credibility unless they are defined as insensitive. Students will never be called upon to store and share the knowledge of the past. Rather, students are change agents who are called to overthrow the social injustice of the planet. This is not revolution as Marx saw it but rather reconstruction of what was deconstructed.
The curriculum is a process and not based on content. The teacher is also a social justice warrior. What is needed is people who challenge the status quo rather than work within it. Therefore, postmodernist thought is much more people in the softer sciences rather than in STEM fields. STEM requires stability in order to expand technology and make discoveries and money. Unfortunately, social stability is not required as much for a sociology or liberal arts major. The idealistic nature of postmodernism denies the reality that life has never been fair ever in the entire history of humanity.