## Postmodern Philosophy and Morality

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… I have never said such a thing. Neither have I ever used the word relativism.”
― Jacques Derrida
Deconstructing Derrida's "text", whatever it means is deferred, no? (i.e. meaning-less, or as Humpty Dumpty says "means whatever I say it means – nothing more or nothing less")
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I think that an essential element that is normally ignored in discussions about postmodernism is history. History considered at all levels: the history of universe, history of nature, of people, your own personal history. If you don’t think about it, history will make choices for you. History includes also your DNA, your body. As people that have some psychological feel of freedom, we try to bring some active contribution in history, by using awareness, intelligence, critical sense, emotions, spirituality, to make choices. This way you don’t need any fixed rule, any dogma, any principle: you received from history your humanity, sensitivity, emotions, intelligence, everything. Every moment you make your best synthesis of all these things and you make your choices. Once you become familiar with this way, you can see that you have no need for principles, values, reference points. You are just a human, a person, a good person, and, as such, you don't need moral systems. What are moral systems for?

Is this your description of a post-modern ethical system? It seems like that could be your intention and it makes sense.
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In which case is there any position that can't be justified using this personal approach, from pedophilia to genocide?
You cannot find anything able to definitely condemn pedophilia or genocide. There are answers and counteranswers to everything, so, you and me are in the same situation: a strong reference point to condemn paedophilia or genocide does not exist. They can only be condemned by a kind of everyday work, research, dialogue, exchange of experiences and sensitivities. Laws can give punishment, but punishment is not evidence that society has been able to find a strong reference point to show that paedophilia and genocide are evil. Punishment made by society is just a practical choice.
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Do only redemptive figures live in you? How do you eliminate Pol Pot, Donald Trump, Mussolini, Genghis Khan, Adam Sandler?

I make efforts every day to reduce as much as possible the influence in me of people that I consider negative.
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I cannot call it a system, because it is not static, definitive. It is my today’s method, that actually I have been practicing for many years. But tomorrow I might change idea.
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No, it doesn't. It works for the status quo.

True, but if the tide turns in favor of progressivism, inertia will support that, for better or worse.
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I cannot call it a system, because it is not static, definitive. It is my today’s method, that actually I have been practicing for many years. But tomorrow I might change idea.

Yes, you're right. I didn't like "system" either, but I couldn't think of a better word.
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Ok. And I am not trying to give offence here, Angelo, but why should anyone care? Are you saying that morality is simply a matter of personal preferences - between you and your god/abyss? In which case is there any position that can't be justified using this personal approach, from pedophilia to genocide?

The account given by ↪Angelo Cannata starts with considerations of "history" - what I might call "background" or "being embedded" - but then slides into being "subjective", opening itself up to your critique. It has failed to follow through on the fact of our shared world, reverting to some form of solipsism, and as a result fails to deal with the problem of what we ought to do.

Seems to me you two are doing something different from what @Angelo Cannata is doing. He is telling you how he determines what he has to do to act in an ethical manner, i.e. in accordance with his conscience. You're trying to set out rules by which you can judge other people's behavior. Those are two separate things.
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So what? Ethics is concerned with the turning of the tide, not what happens after.
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How might postmodernism be helpful in determining how we should/could live?

Derrida is the man, as you've already picked up on, for this question. However, the reason for this is that "postmodern" is either a historical or a cultural category more than an actual philosophy -- and Derrida's work is unfairly judged by these cultural epithets. (Foucault and Delueze, I'd say, are similarly situated, tho Deleuze is flamboyant in his expression)

At least insofar as I understand his philosophy, he's basically the opposite of the post modern cartoon. -- to quote:

Cixous intends with the word “incorruptibles” that the generation of French philosophers who came of age in the Sixties, what they wrote and did, will never decay, will remain endlessly new and interesting. This generation will remain pure. But, the term is particularly appropriate for Derrida, since his thought concerns precisely the idea of purity and therefore contamination. Contamination, in Derrida, implies that an opposition consisting in two pure poles separated by an indivisible line never exists. In other words, traditionally (going back to Plato’s myths but also Christian theology), we think that there was an original pure state of being (direct contact with the forms or the Garden of Eden) which accidentally became corrupt. In contrast, Derrida tries to show that no term or idea or reality is ever pure in this way; one term always and necessarily “infects” the other.

Does an epistemology concerned with purity and corruption sound like an ethos-less epistemology? Does it sound like "Anything goes"?

I'm always impressed with the contrast between the pop culture phenomena railed against, and the reality of the books they attribute said epithets to -- Derrida's day job was the history of philosophy, and his work draws from that knowledge. So it requires technical knowledge as a background for understanding (at least in explication -- you can certainly understand Derrida without having his day job! :D )

Further, his work is concerned with meaning and truth, and his style of writing reflects that concern.

It's for these two reasons that Derrida takes some effort to understand, and I'd say that initial impressions of his work in the anglophonic philosophy world were unfair and simply wrong-headed.

But then I think this gets at the problem pretty well -- just *who are these postmodernists*? Wouldn't it be more useful to simply name them and discuss them, if indeed there was an idea to discuss?

I think it's a phantom-idea of some kind that people believe others are, but no one believes of themself really. It's a philosophical antagonist, like the radical skeptic that no one is but we can think about.

And that particular phantom can't help anyone with respect to ethical thought. However, particular thinkers, depending on what they say of course, may.

EDIT: Just me back on my historicist bullshit . . . ;)
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So what? Ethics is concerned with the turning of the tide, not what happens after.

Large scale change happens because of seismic shifts in political, economic, or natural environments. Somebody invented iron, or a new trade route to India opened up, things like that.

You can enjoy your own local utopia, but if you want to see change in the world, you have to wait for something to trigger it. Planning for utopia is a good idea, though. When the change happens, then people will reach for an ethical anchor. It's nice if there's already one there.
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You're trying to set out rules by which you can judge other people's behavior. Those are two separate things.

Actually that's my take too. I'm saying that 'your own conscience' is not a good foundation as there is nothing one can't justify using such an approach. People justify slavery, sexual assault, murder, theft, anything horrendous, based on their own conscience (or lack of one). I also don't yet see how his answer relates to the OP. But I understand the broader point that perhaps all we have is personal preferences (conscience if you prefer). I do think however that even secular morality can rest on foundational imperatives, however contestable these might be.
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If anything is permissible

If anything is permissible, then God is dead? per Jack Karamazov's brother, Ivan.
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Thank you for this considered response. I suspect that a lot of criticisms/views of postmodernism are not deeply engaged with the actual work. I know mine hasn't been.

If anything is permissible, then God is dead? per Jack Karamazov's brother, Ivan.

Digression - I prefer Zizek's restatement of that rather fatuous proclamation. Zizek: With God everything is permissible. Moral crimes may well be the presence of god. If you want a foundational justification for genocide, burning witches and heretics, torture, homophobia, misogyny, slavery, etc - then god and scripture provides this permission. If we want to see how it can be done well, go visit Islamic State.
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But then I think this gets at the problem pretty well -- just *who are these postmodernists*? Wouldn't it be more useful to simply name them and discuss them, if indeed there was an idea to discuss?

Yes, I think this is what I was hoping for when I knocked out the OP. I asked for some 'stepping stones' and this could well include how Deleuze or Derrida, say, have conceptualized a particular moral question. I'm certainly a believer in examining examples.

If we were to take an example such as abortion - how might a given postmodern thinker approach this in a way that is of use to social policy?
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Thank you. I will think through what you have said.
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You cannot find anything able to definitely condemn pedophilia or genocide.
Does "pedophilia" cause more needless harm than less? Does "genocide" cause more needless harm than less? Each Yes "definitely condemns" ... and No raises more questions. In any case, explain on what grounds can it be non-fallaciously assumed that 'needless harm' is not a disvalue.

If we were to take an example such as abortion - how might a given postmodern thinker approach this in a way that is of use to social policy?
A "p0m0 thinker" would probaby say "the problem isn't abortion, the problem is 'interests' codifing / regulating abortion as / with 'social policy'". :mask:
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Hrrmm... well, one thing, I don't think it's necessarily the job of philosophers to address particular concerns. So if one philosopher wishes to think about the history of thought and what it tells us about the nature of thinking, truth and meaning, and another wishes to apply ethical theories to real problems (like Peter Singer), then we'll get the most out of these philosophers by meeting them on their own terms. Insofar as abortion is concerned, and Derrida, I don't have the confidence or even would know where to begin.

So from that stance I'd say the usual suspects would disappoint -- they won't give you advice on the United States' abortion laws. And if we are to judge from their characters, Deleuze really was not a very good man.

They're kind of esoteric, honestly... I don't understand the cultural phenomena very well , the more I studied them -- "Post modern" seems so very disconnected from these thinkers.

But a stepping stone on postmodernism, at least -- if you are just wanting references -- would be Lyotard. He at least used the word "postmodern" :D
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PoMo didn't invent relativism, of course, but to whatever extent relativism is a feature of PoMo, I find it useful. Different groups of people hold different moral systems, and to negotiate working arrangements, one must practice flexible diplomacy. Never mind settling disputes between Hindus and Moslems. One own siblings can present chasms of difference.

One need not abandon the standards that reliably guide one's own behavior to negotiate with others whose standards are quite different. Still, under the friction of interacting with both congenial and uncongenial people, one's own certainties may be weakened. For instance, uncongenial Christians and uncongenial religious people in general had a part to play in my distancing myself from religion. The less stake I have in theism, the easier it is to deal with theists.

Then too, I think everyone is a relativist whenever it is convenient. We may be against war, for instance, until our favorite ox is gored. Ukraine's ox excused arm sales that were not enthused about when the destination was Syria and other places.
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Seems to me you two are doing something different from what Angelo Cannata is doing. He is telling you how he determines what he has to do to act in an ethical manner, i.e. in accordance with his conscience. You're trying to set out rules by which you can judge other people's behavior. Those are two separate things.

Actually that's my take too. I'm saying that 'your own conscience' is not a good foundation as there is nothing one can't justify using such an approach. People justify slavery, sexual assault, murder, theft, anything horrendous, based on their own conscience (or lack of one). I also don't yet see how his answer relates to the OP.

I'm a bit lost. Here's what you asked for in the OP:

I'd like to explore how moral choices might be informed by postmodern philosophy (which I recognize is an umbrella term for a range of positions)...How might postmodernism be helpful in determining how we should/could live?

How has @Angelo Cannata not responded to your OP? It makes sense to me that you may not like what he has to say, but his response is consistent with my understanding of how post-modern morals works. Post-modernism rejects the idea of restrictions imposed by tradition or social coercion. It is not ends-based, it's process-based. It's means, not ends that matter. I'm guessing that's mostly how you live your life - you follow your conscience.
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I think, maybe, people mistake description for prescription -- postmodernism is a condition, not a philosophy. Most literally it is after modernism, and so requires one to have an understanding of modernism as something more concrete than just the usual understanding of "modern" as in, the now, popular, hip, and so forth.

I don't mean this to be obtuse -- I know generally who is meant, and generally what people say about the post-moderns. But if postmodernism is to inform our ethical thought, it really is very important to have an understanding of postmodernism, I think.

(part of me was tempted to pull up Walter Benjamin, but I nixed it for now... there's still conceptual work to be done)
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I think, maybe, people mistake description for prescription -- postmodernism is a condition, not a philosophy

That’s a political analysis of the postmodern. There is a general consensus within continental philosophy concerning what postmodern philosophy stands for. That is , what thinkers like Heidegger, Lyotard, Nietzsche , Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida have in common that distinguishes them from modernist philosophers like Marx.
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And if we are to judge from their characters, Deleuze really was not a very good man.

I’ve been reading a lot of Deleuze lately. Why do you say he was not a very good man?
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If one claims "anything goes" (postmodernism as I understand it) it must be clarified as to what end. If I say it doesn't matter whether I eat a slice of pizza or a burger, I mean to say both can/will satisfy my hunger. What is this "hunger" we can sate as per postmodernism by doing anything (we want)? Frankly, I'm quite puzzled.
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Deconstructing Derrida's "text", whatever it means is deferred, no? (i.e. meaning-less, or as Humpty Dumpty says "means whatever I say it means – nothing more or nothing less")

Derridean differance tell us that experienced meaning differs and defers at the same time. What does that mean? It means that contextual change assures that the repetition of any sense always alters what it refers to in some respect. We continue to mean the same thing differently. This not loss of meaning, but a sliding of meaning.
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As far as I can tell, p0m0 suggests "we should live" by transgressing – subverting – every "should" which, of course, is self-refuting (i.e. we could not live that way).

Thats because they are not offering a “should” but an “is”. Transgression and subversion are not oughts, they refer to the way that experience comes to us already self-transgressing and self-differentiating. Pomo shows us the ethical advantages of becoming explicitly aware of what is already implicitly involved in sense-making.
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I think that an essential element that is normally ignored in discussions about postmodernism is history

Postmodern philosophers reach the the importance of the difference between history and geneology. History tends to be thought of in terms of a historicism, a chronological model of change. That’s what your notion history sounds like. Genealogy , on the other hand , is not a causal concept of historical change.
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Philologists, anthropologists, jurists, historians and poets have demonstrated the contextuality of meanings long before Derrida obscurely belabored the point with florid jargon. Francophone academic masturbation popularized by generations of crypto-idealist wankers and sophists (present company excluded, of course :smirk:). IME, driving the proliferation of modern epistemes has always been (emancipatory) decenterings – pluralism / fallibilism (contra p0m0's relativism / nihilism) – as I've pointed out .

:zip:
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I'm saying that 'your own conscience' is not a good foundation as there is nothing one can't justify using such an approach. People justify slavery, sexual assault, murder, theft, anything horrendous, based on their own conscience (or lack of one). I also don't yet see how his answer relates to the OP. But I understand the broader point that perhaps all we have is personal preferences (conscience if you prefer). I do think however that even secular morality can rest on foundational imperatives, however contestable these might be.

Personal conscience is not a trope you’ll generally find among postmodern philosophers. For writers like Foucault and Deleuze , the ‘subject’ or ‘personal’ is just a veneer placed over forces that originate as unconscious as well as social.

Knowing my self' as a mere strategy or role in social
language interchange, I can know longer locate a correct' value to embrace, or a righteous cause to throw my vehemence behind. The only ethics that is left for me to support is the play between contingent senses of coherence and incoherence as I am launched from one local linguistic-cultural hegemony to another. To the extent that I know what such a thing as guilt or
anger is beyond the bounds of local practices, these affectivities would have resonance as my experience of relative belonging or marginalization in relation to conventionalities that I engage with in discourse. I am always guilty, blameful in the extent to which I am a stranger in respect to one convention or another, including those that I recall belonging to in the past. I am always guilty in existing as a dislodgement from my history. Even in my ensconsement within a community of language, my moment to moment interchange pulls and twists me away from myself, making me guilty with respect to myself (my `remembered' self) and my interlocutor.
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↪Joshs Philologists, anthropologists, jurists, historians and poets have demonstrated the contextuality of meanings long before Derrida obscurely belabored the point with florid jargon

Before Derrida and other post-structuralists , the tendency was to take the contextual meanings they demonstrated and tie them back into some totalizing meta-narrative ( scientific or cultural progress , political emancipation, dialectical becoming, linguistic structuralism). Name me some of these contextualists writing long before Derrida and I’ll demonstrate my point
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