There are questions about life that are hard to answer. Some of these questions include why are we here?, where are we going?, why is the world like this? This post will explore the ideas behind meta-narratives, which often play a role in attempting to answer these philosophical questions. We will also look at meta-narratives in connection with postmodernism.
The term meta-narrative is a rather young term with its existence being dated from the early 20th century. A meta-narrative is a narrative or story about the stories/narratives in a society’s culture that attempts to give meaning to life and experiences. In many ways, meta-narratives try to provide answers to the big philosophical questions about life examples of these questions, along with the branch of philosophy they may be derived from are as follows.
- What is real (metaphysical)
- Where did I come from (axiology)
- What is true (epistemology)
- What is right and wrong (ethics)
- What is beautiful (aesthetics)
The answer to these questions help to provide legitimacy for a society and or religion. Many meta-narratives attempt to answer these questions along with others. For example, Christianity provides answers about reality, the creation of man, truth, strong position on morals and more. Within Christianity, there is a belief in God along with a teaching that the world will eventually end with some living for ever. The ideas of this meta-narrative has led to billions choosing to claim this meta-narrative as the anchor of their beliefs as well as a church structure that has been around for over 2,000 years.
Another example of a meta-narrative, at least for some, would be the theory of evolution developed by Charles Darwin. This meta-narrative has its own explanation of the creation of man, perhaps an implied meaning of what is moral, what is true, and a denial of a higher power that shaped the world. The denial of God in evolution is due to a lack of evidence that meets the criteria set by empiricism. Since the existence of God does not play by the rules of science in terms of how to know what is true, this it implies that there is evidence that perhaps God does not exists. What both religion and science have in common is a desire to try to answer some of these big questions will approaching them from different angles.
Postmodernism & Meta-narratives
Postmodernism is an enemy of meta-narratives. This is partially due to the fact that postmodernism is suspicious of who provided the answers to the questions in meta-narratives. Whoever provided the answer is asserting authority over other people who either choose to believe or were coerced the accept. In addition, by what authority do the people who provide meta-narratives have the right to provide these answers? Religious meta-narrative are grounded in the belief of a higher power and or spiritual experiences, in other words, the source is authoritative. Evolution is grounded in empirical data collected in a scientific manner. However, for the postmodern thinker both of these are tainted ways of knowing because the people who have the power are the ones who provide the answers within the meta-narrative.
The idea of rejecting all meta-narratives, whether spiritual or scientific is a meta-narrative it’s self. Postmodernism’s answer to the big philosophical questions about life is that there are no universal answers to these questions, which is a universal answer against universal answers. It is impossible to say that there are no universal truths without the statement “there are no universal truths” being universal. In addition, it is hard to provide such a statement true without any external authority whether it’s spiritual or empirical.
Within postmodernism, the idea of truth is a cultural construct. What this means is that all the questions that meta-narratives address are answered at a local level only. This is because there are barriers to knowing what is true. However, if we takes these thoughts to one conclusion we would need to ask ourselves why the postmodern response is anymore superior to the religious our scientific one. By what authority or evidence is postmodernism able to make this claim?
Some may claim that lived experiences are the source of knowing in postmodernism but this is not unique. Religions are founded based on the lived experiences of apostles, prophets, disciples. In addition, scientific experiments are highly controlled lived experiences in which an observer watches carefully what happens in a certain controlled situation and then this experience is repeated by others. Rejecting the claims of modernism which involved science and reasoning by using reasoning to reject reasoning seems strange. Claiming that there are no answers or purpose to life with no other authority than confidence should not be enough to move people from the meta-narratives they already have that are also based on confidence.
People want answers to questions and one of the biggest problems with postmodernism is the answer that there are no answers. Instead, postmodernism offers the ideas that there is a power struggle over what people belief that perpetuates a system of darkness without most people even being aware of it. The tenets of postmodernism are just another way of viewing the world without much indication that it is superior to priors models.