Postmodernism: History and Diagnosis….


Well, I’m speaking today with Dr. Stephen
Hicks, who is a professor of philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at Rockford University
in Illinois. Professor Hicks has written a book—he’s written several books—but
he’s written one in particular that I wanted to talk to him about today called Explaining
Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, which was published
a fair while ago now, in 2004, but I think has become even more pertinent and relevant
today. I have talked a lot to my viewers about your
book, and so let’s talk about Postmodernism and its relationship with Neo-Marxism. So
maybe you could tell the viewers here a little more about yourself and how you got interested
in this. Well, I finished graduate school in philosophy
in the early 90s, originally from Canada, born in Toronto. At that point Pittsburgh
and Indiana had the two strongest philosophy of science and logic programs, and that’s
what I was interested in at the time. And so upon a professor’s recommendation, I
ended up at Indiana, and it worked out very nicely for me. So most of my graduate work was actually in
epistemology, philosophy of science, logic, some cognitive science issues as well. So
a lot of the epistemological and philosophical/linguistic issues that come up in Postmodernism—the
groundwork so to speak was laid for that. When I finished grad school and started teaching
full-time, came to Rockford University. I was teaching in an honors program, and the
way that program worked was—it was essentially a Great Books program—and so it was like
getting a second education, wonderfully. But the way it was done was that each course was
taught by two professors to our honor students. So the professors would be from different
departments, so I was paired with literature professors, history professors, and so on.
And this was now the middle of the 90s. I started to hear about thinkers I had not
read. I’d kind-of heard about them, but now I was reading them more closely and finding
that in history and literature and sociology and anthropology, names like Derrida and Foucault
and the others, if not omnipresent, were huge names. So I realized I had a gap in my education
to fill. So I started reading deeply in them. My education in some ways was broad in the
history of philosophy but narrow at the graduate school level and I had focused mostly on Anglo-American
philosophy, so my understanding of the Continental traditions was quite limited. But by the time
I got to the end of the 90s, I realized there was something significant going on coming
out of Continental philosophy. And that’s where the book [published 2004] came out of.
When you say significant, what do you mean by that? Do you mean intellectually? Do you
mean socially? Politically? There’s lots of different variants of “significant.”When
you say significant, what do you mean by that? Do you mean intellectually? Do you mean socially?
Politically? There’s lots of different variants of “significant.”
At that point, “intellectually.” This was still in the 1990s so postmodernism was
not yet (outside of, say, art) a cultural force, but it was strongly an intellectual
force in that. At that point, young Ph.D.s coming out of sociology, literary criticism,
some sub-disciplines in the law (if you’re getting Ph.D. in the law), historiography
and so on, and certainly in departments in philosophy still dominated by Continental
traditional philosophy: almost all of them are primarily being schooled in what we now
call postmodern thinkers, so the leading gurus are people like Derrida, Lyotard, from whom
we get the label post-modern condition, Foucault and the others.
So maybe you could walk us through what you learned, because people are unfamiliar … I
mean, you were advanced in your education, including in philosophy, and still recognized
your ignorance, say, with regards to postmodern thinking, so that’s obviously a condition
that is shared by a large number of people. Postmodernism is one of those words like Existentialism
that covers an awful lot of territory, and so maybe we could zero in on exactly what
that means, and who these thinkers were: Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard, and what you learned
about them. Fair enough. Well, all of the thinkers you
just named—they think broadly, they think strategically, and they do have a very strong
historical perspective on their disciplines, and at the same time they are trying to assess
where they think we are culturally, politically, socially—and all of them are making a very
dramatic claim: that to some extent or in some way Modernism has either ended or it
has reached its nadir, or all of the … kind of the pathologies and negative traits within
the modern world are reaching a culmination in their generation, and so it’s time for
us to both recognize that Modernism has come to an end, and that we need some sort of new
intellectual framework, a post-modern-like framework.
And the Modernism that they’re criticizing, how would you characterize that? That’s
Enlightenment values? Scientific rationalism? How would you characterize it, exactly?
All of those would be elements of it. But then of course there are some discipline-specific
differences: so literature people and philosophy people and historians will use Modernism slightly
differently. But the idea at core is that if you look at the pre-modern world—essentially
the world of the Middle Ages, say—that that was itself broken up by a series of revolutions:
the Renaissance, Reformation, Counter Reformation, early scientific revolutions—and all of
this is going on in historically short chunks of time: 1500s and 1600s. And so if you look at both the intellectual
world and the social world, comparing, say, the 1400s with the 1700s, culturally and intellectually
you’re in a different universe at that point. So the features then of the modern world—now
I’m going to use my philosophical labels here—are that we are now naturalistic in
our thinking. We are no longer primarily supernaturalistic in our thinking. So we might still be open
to the idea that there’s a God or some sort of supernatural dimension, the way Deists
are, but first and foremost we’re taking the natural world as a more or less self-contained,
self-governing world that operates according to cause and effect, and we’re going to
study it in its terms. We’re not seeing the natural world as derivative
of a “higher” world or that everything that happens in the natural world is part
of “God’s plan” where we read omens and so forth into everything. So metaphysically then there’s been a revolution:
We’re naturalistic. Epistemologically—in terms of knowledge—there
also has been a revolution. How do we know the important truths? How do we acquire the
beliefs that we’re fundamentally going to commit our lives to? Well, by the time we
become Moderns we take experience seriously, personal experience. We do that more rigorously
and we’re developing scientific method (the way of organizing the data), we’re taking
logic and all the sophisticated tools of rationality and developing those increasingly … And so our opposition then is: Either you
know something because you can experience it and verify it for yourself, or we’ve done
the really hard work of scientific method and as a result of what comes out of that,
that’s what we can call knowledge or our best approximation to that. And that’s also revolutionary because the
prior intellectual framework was much more intellectually authoritarian in its framework.
You would accept in the Catholic tradition the authority of the Church. And who are you
to question the authority of the Church? And who are you to mouth empirical-rational arguments
against the authority of the Church? Or, you take the authority of Scripture, or
you accept on faith that you’ve had a mystical revelation of some sort. So, in all of those cases you have non-rational
epistemologies that are dominating intellectual discourse. That is all by and large swept
away in the modern world. Okay, so prior to the emergence of the modern
world, we’ll say, people are dominated essentially by their willingness to adhere to a shared
tradition and that shared tradition is somewhat tyrannically enforced. But there’s no real
alternative in terms of epistemology [epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard
to its methods, validity and scope: the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from
opinion] let’s say. And then as the modern world emerges, people discover the technologies
of science and the value of rigorously applied method and the comparison of shared experiences
and that makes us technologically powerful in a new way and philosophically different
from what we were before. ] Yes, the shared tradition phrase that you
added there, that’s an important one. So I’d say in the early modern world there’s
not necessarily a skepticism about shared traditions—so there would be an acceptance
of shared traditions—but the idea is that you would not uncritically accept your tradition.
You may accept your tradition, but only after you’ve thought it through and made your own
independent judgment. Okay, okay, so you’re elevated to the status
of someone who’s capable of taking a stance with regards to the tradition, and assessing
its presuppositions and so forth. Absolutely.
So there’s an elevation of the individual and the critical intellect along with the
elaboration of the scientific method. Okay, so then we might note, perhaps, that that’s
a tremendously effective transformation, although maybe it leads in a somewhat nihilistic direction
metaphysically—we can leave that to the side. But it’s a very, very successful revolution,
because by the time, at least the beginning of the 20th century comes along, there’s
this staggering (and of course before that, the Industrial Revolution), there’s this
staggering transformation of technology and technological and conceptual power, and then
a stunning increase in the standard of living. And that starts at about 1890, to really move
exponentially in the 1890s, or at least to get to the really steep part of the exponential
curve. Okay, so that seems to be going well. So what is it that the postmodernists are
objecting to precisely? Just on those two issues: (1) the metaphysical
naturalism, and then (2) the elevation of kind of a critical empiricism and a belief
that we can, through science—even not necessarily a science, but social scientists and so on—we
can come to understand powerful general principles about humanity and social systems. Those two revolutions both are then subjected
to counter-attacks. And again, what happens in this case is there
is a revolution. Probably by the time we get to 1800—the height of the Enlightenment—there
are the beginnings of more powerful skeptical traditions that come to be developed, so thinkers
are starting to say things like: Well, if scientific method at root is based on the
evidence of the senses—we observe the natural world: that’s our first point of contact—and
then on the basis of that we form abstractions, and then we put those abstractions into propositions,
and then we take those propositions and put them in networks that we call theories, and
so on—so we start to critically examine each of the elements of scientific method,
and over time, weaknesses in the existing accounts of how all of those “rational operations”
work come to be teased out, and philosophy then starts to go down a more skeptical path. So if, for example, you take perception as
fundamental—it’s you know, the individual subject’s first point of contact with the
natural world—then you have to immediately deal with issues of perceptual illusions,
or the possibility that people will have hallucinations, or that the way you report your perceptual
experience is at odds with how I report my perceptual experience. Tell me if I’ve got this right. So, with
the dawning of the “Empirical Age,” let’s say, there’s this idea that you can derive
valid information from sense data—especially if you contrast that sense data rigorously
with that of others—okay? So that’s sort of the foundation for the scientific method
in some sense. But then—I think this is with Immanuel Kant—there’s
an objection to that, which is that, Well, you can’t make the presupposition that that
sense data enters your cognitive apparatus, your apparatus of understanding, without a
priori structuring, and it seems to me that that’s where the postmodernists really go
after the modernists. It’s that, given that you have to have a very complex perceptual
structure (that modern people might say was instantiated as a consequence of biological
evolution), you can’t make the case that what you’re receiving from the external
world is something like “pure information”: it’s always subject—to some very-difficult-to-delimit
degree—to “interpretation.” And then you also have to take into account
the fact of that a priori structure and what it might mean for your concept of “objective
reality.” And that’s Kant, I think, if I’ve got that right. Right. Well, the postmodernists will use both
of those strategies: (1) the anti-empiricist strategy, and (2) the anti-rationalist strategy.
And what’s important about Kant is that Kant is integrating both of those “anti”
strategies. So in the generations before Kant, the skeptical arguments about perception which
were directed against the empiricists … the empiricists want to say that everything is
based on observational data, but then if you don’t have good answers about hallucinations
and relativity and illusions and so forth, then it seems like your intellectual structure,
whatever it seems to be, if it’s based on probabilistic or possibly faulty perceptual
data—then the whole thing is a tottering mess. [Empiricism: the theory stating that
knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. Empirical research, including
experiments and validated measurement tools, guide the scientific method.] And by the time we get to Kant, the Empiricist
tradition is largely unable to respond to those kinds of objections. And so Kant is
recognizing and saying: All right, we’ve been trying now for a couple of centuries,
we haven’t been able to do so successfully—we’re not going to be able to do so. Now, you also nicely emphasized that one of
the other responses had been on the Rationalist side, which is to say, “Well, no you don’t
start with pure empirical data—instead we do have perhaps some innate a priori structures
built into the human mind—how they got there, maybe they’re put there by God, maybe they’re
put there naturalistically or whatever—but what enables us to have legitimate knowledge
is that our empirical data comes in and it is filtered and structured by these pre-existing
cognitive structures as well.” Now the problem with that side of the line—and
this is also well worked out by the time you get to the Kantians—is to say: Well, if
you’re starting with in-built cognitive structures, and everything that comes in,
so to speak, goes through this structuring machine and you’re aware of the outputs—because
that’s what is presented to your mind—well how do you know those in-built structures
have anything to do with the way reality actually is out there? It seems like then what you are stuck with
is the end result of a subjective processing, and there is no way for you, so to speak,
to “jump outside of your head” to compare the end result with the way the world actually
is, independently of how your mind has structured the awareness. So once again, you’re stuck in a rather
subjective place. And again, the importance of Kant here is
then he’s also looking at this more Rationalist tradition and he’s saying, Well look, again
we’ve been trying now for a couple of centuries to work these things out from Descartes to
Spinoza, Leibniz and the others, and Rationalism also has reached a dead end, so we’re not
going to be able to do so. So Kant is, in effect, standing at the end
of these two traditions and saying, “You know, the skeptics have it right on both sides:
both the Empiricist and the Rationalist traditions fail. There is no way for us to objectively
come to know an external reality. We’re stuck in some sort of deep subjectivism.” Okay, so I don’t know now whether to talk
a little bit about the American Pragmatic approach to that, or whether to … Maybe
we should go ahead and continue our discussion of the postmodernists, because they’re developing
these claims. Absolutely, and some of the postmodernists
do describe themselves as Neo-Pragmatists, like Richard Rorty for example. So yes, that’s
exactly a direction that’s worth going. Okay, okay. So my understanding of that, if
I was going to defend the Modernist tradition, let’s say, I would say that we have instantiated
within us an a priori perceptual structure that’s a consequence of millions—billions
of years for that matter—of biological evolution, and it has emerged in tandem with continual
correction of its presuppositions by the selection process. But it’s still subject to error
because we have a very limited viewpoint as specific individuals, and not only are we
limited, but we can also make, you might say, moral errors, and I’ll get back to that,
that cloud our judgment. And so, in an attempt to “expand our purview”
and rectify those errors, we do two things: (1) We test our hypothesis practically against
the world, which is to say, we say, “Here’s a theory of reality.” We act it out. If
the theory of reality is sufficiently correct, when we act it out, we get what we want, and
then that’s sufficient proof for the validity of the theory. It’s not absolute proof,
but it’s sufficient proof. And then the other thing we do (and I think this has been
paid attention to much less except by thinkers such as Piaget) is that: (2) We further constrain
our presuppositions about reality with the necessity of constructing theories that are
also acceptable to the people around us. So they have to be integrate-able within the
currently existing social contract, and they have to be functionally appropriate in the
external world. And that’s a nice set of constraints, and
it seems to me that that, at least in some part, goes a long ways to answering the objections
to the limits of the scientific method that have been discussed historically, and which
you just summarized. All right, I’m sympathetic to much of what
you just went through. In fact a five-point response to the kinds of arguments that have
been laid out, where you’re actually putting me in the position then of defending the postmodern
tradition about how it would undercut each of those components. So, if you take for example evolutionary epistemology
[epistemology: investigation into the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge],
and you gave a nice sketch of one standard evolutionary epistemological frame in which
you say: Maybe we have in-built a priori structures, but we can rely upon them because here we
are standing at the long end of hundreds of thousands or millions of years of evolution,
and they would not have survived or enabled us to survive had they not served some sort
of reliable cognitive role in accurately representing the way the world works. This is actually too early for the postmoderns,
although the postmoderns will agree with this. This is to say that all of that kind of begs
the question in a very deep way against the kind of skeptical objections that we’re
raising. Because in order to make that paragraph-long description of what evolutionary epistemology
is, what I have to do is take for granted basic assumptions, certain truths about the
world: that, for example, there is an external world; that we are biological creatures; that
we have in-built structures; that those structures are evolutionarily responsive and conditioned
by changing forces; and so forth. And if you take those assumptions to be true,
then as a consequence or as a conclusion, you can infer that therefore the intellectual
products that come out of our cognitive processing are reliable. But where did you get those four premises
from? How do you know that there is an external world? How do you know that we are biological
creatures? How do you know that evolution is true, with all of the historical knowledge
that’s necessary to reach the conclusion that evolution is true? All of that presupposes
that we have legitimate cognitive methods to come to understand the world. But our having
legitimate cognitive processes to understand the world—that’s exactly what we are arguing
about in the first place, and you can’t just assume that, for then the sake of coming
up with some premises that are then in turn going to validate those cognitive processes. So something like that they will say is a
big circle or a circular-reasoning problem that evolutionary epistemology finds itself
trapped in. Now I think that there are some responses
to that, and this is just the first “back and forth” on that particular debate. But
that is the kind of response that would be there. The third and fourth response (if I’m keeping
track accurately) is to say that we also have constraints with respect to ourselves: that
if we have a certain set of hypotheses or a certain set of theories and we’re testing
them out, we will accept those that give us “what we want,” what I want, so to speak. And I’m also necessarily in a social situation
so what I need to do is check my results against the results of others: peer review, experiment
replication and so forth. [smiles] … ability to live in the same household
… [laughs] Yes, absolutely, right? More prosaically,
“sharing our frameworks with others,” right? And so on… And so if, so to speak—and this is the more
Pragmatist orientation—if we then say we have a theory or a set of principles or guidelines
or whatever, and they do enable me successfully to navigate the world to get what I want,
or they do enable me to navigate my social world to get us what we want—then they’re
reliable, true, or some sort of “success” label, epistemologically, that we’re going
to give to them. Okay, so let me ask you a question about that.
This is a place where I got augured in very badly with Sam Harris when we were discussing
metaphysical presumptions. So you know—and I’m confused about this I would say to some
degree conceptually because I’m a scientist and certainly operate most of the time under
the presupposition of an “independent objective world”—but then I also have some difficulty
with the idea that it’s objective truth within which all other truths are “nested.”
And that’s something that Sam and the people that he represents in some sense are very
dead set on insisting. Now it seems to me though that the crux of
the matter is something like “the method of proof.” And this strikes me as very important
because, “My theory is correct enough if, when I implement it, I get what I want”
is not the same as the claim “My theory is true because it’s in accordance with
some independently existing objective world.” I mean, both of those things could exist at
the same time, but I think the more appropriate claim to make with regards to human knowledge
is something like its “biological functionality,” which is that your knowledge is of sufficient
accuracy (which is about the best you can hope for because of your fundamental ignorance)
if, when you implement it, it reliably produces the results that are commensurate, say, with
your continued existence. Now it seems to me that that’s a reasonable
claim from a Darwinian perspective [Charles Darwin, 1809-1882] and it also seems to me
that it’s very much in keeping with the claims of the American Pragmatists. And I
mean, it’s not like they were radical postmodernists … Right… …because they weren’t. But they were trying
to solve this problem to some degree of our fundamental ignorance and our inability to
be certain about the nature of the reality that surrounds us. Yes, okay. Let’s set aside Sam Harris’s
version of this and focus on the Pragmatist tradition here. So, no, you’re absolutely
right. The Pragmatists, William James [1842-1910],
John Dewey [1859-1952], and the others, late 1800s, early 1900s; they are coming a century
after the Kantian revolution [Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804], after Hegelianism [G. W. F. Hegel,
1770-1831], and so forth—and so they are very much trying to solve this problem. One
way—and this is kind of a very American way—is like: Look, maybe the problem with
philosophy is that we have been too intellectualizing of cognition, that we’re not just disembodied
brains or disembodied minds that are trying to contemplate abstract truths in some other
realm. Maybe what we need to do is understand the mind and cognition as a naturalistic process
and that the purpose of knowledge is not to come up with these pure and beautiful Truths
that are going to be kind of museum pieces that we will admire, but rather the purpose
of knowledge is functional. The purpose of knowledge is to guide action. And so they
will then hearken back to the earlier Baconian tradition that knowledge is not an end in
itself. As Bacon put it, Francis Bacon [1561-1626]: Knowledge is power, and by its fruits, so
to speak, is how you know its worth. Right. And so what we then should do is to see that
the test of truth is not whether it meets purely intellectual standards of logic and
mathematics, but rather, when we put it into practice, when we act upon it, we actually
get good results, or we want the results we want, or I get the results I want. And it
can come in more individualistic form or more socialized form. Right, because then we can get on with things,
too. Like, despite our ignorance, in some sense. So there are two things which are being packaged
here, right? One is to say that knowledge is functional. And that part I think is important
and I think it’s a very nice correction by the Pragmatists. It’s not original with
them but they are reemphasizing it in the 19th century. Knowledge needs to be put to
the test and its ability to enable us to be pragmatic in the real world, is its test. [28:59] There’s a coda to that as well.
And I think this is relevant to Thomas Kuhn’s [1922-1996] discussion of scientific revolutions,
because Kuhn is often read as positing a sequence of, in some sense, discontinuous revolutions,
and that the conceptual structure that characterized one “epoch,” let’s say—like the Medieval
epoch—was so totally different in its presuppositions from the conceptions that characterized the
next epoch … that you can’t even mediate between them in some sense. Now the reason I’m bringing this up is because
Kuhn is at least read as hypothesizing that there’s not any necessary “progress”
when you make leaps from one conceptual system to another. But if you take this pragmatic
approach—the one that we’ve been outlining—it seems to me that you can say, Well, it’s
something like this: Your conceptions of the world are more tool-like than objective-truth-like,
and tools can have a greater or lesser range of convenience. And so if you come up with
a really good tool—which would also be something that would look objectively true, generally
speaking—then that’s something that you can use in almost every situation and it will
never fail you. And I would think of something like Newtonian physics in that regard, or
even more particularly, quantum mechanics, because it’s never failed us. And so it seems to me the Pragmatic approach
in some sense allows you to have your cake and eat it too. You can posit a hierarchy
of truths, moving towards absolute truth even, but also retain your belief in your own ignorance
and not have to beat the drum too hard about the “eternal accuracy” of your objective
presuppositions. Okay. Again I’m sympathetic I think with
about 80 percent of that. But let me put my skeptical hat back on and say how the postmodernists
or the critics of Pragmatism—critics really of first-generation Pragmatism—will respond
to that. So if we then say: All of these cognitive results … I’m going to rephrase that. Okay. So if we’re going to assess all of our cognitive
results or cognitive hypotheses in terms of their workability, or their “getting what
I want” or “what we want,” well then the big question we have to turn to is to
say, How do we judge whether something works? Yes. Or how do I say that, “It’s good because
I get what I want” or “We get what we want.” Well, what is a “want”? And where
did these “wants” come from? And why should we accept “wants” and “desires” and
“achieving certain goals” as our bottom line, so to speak? Right, okay. That’s right. So you can start
to question the framework, the validity of the framework within which you’re constructing
the answer. That’s right. And at this point we’re
reading epistemology [epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its
methods, validity and scope: the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from
opinion] “neutrally” so to speak; and moving into normative issues, then the whole
status of normative goals—ends and the means that are going to enable us to reach those
ends—comes into play. So if I want to say, “The most important
thing is that I”—I’ll put it very baldly here—“I get what I want,” right? And
I’m going to assess intellectual structures and beliefs and hypotheses in terms of, “Do
they give me what I want?” Well, that sounds already sounds like a fairly normatively subjectivistic
standpoint. Like, why should you take your “wants” as having some sort of high status
that everything has to be evaluated in terms of? Uh huh. And then philosophically we say: Where do
“wants” come from? And of course there’s a long anthropological and psychological set
of literature here. What’s the source of our “wants”? Are they based in biological
drives? Are they instinctual? Are they acquired? Are they intellectual? Do they have any relationship
to our rational capacities? When I’m acting, should I act on my desires and my wants, and
so forth? So there’s that whole tradition, and we
have to have a sophisticated theory about how all of that is going to work if we’re
going to say we’ll solve all of these cognitive epistemological issues in terms of “wants”
or the satisfaction of “desires” or the “achievement of goals” the way pragmatists
want us to do. And again, it’s fairly easy to imagine what
the skeptical argument is likely going to be. If it’s a matter of what I want—well,
isn’t science supposed to be about coming up with general truths or maybe even universal
truths? Okay … And if it’s immediately going to devolve
into whatever individuals want, well then we’re going to go in fairly scattered directions. Okay, so that also opens up a good point for
a segue into the potential link between Neo-Marxism, let’s say, and Postmodernism. Sure. Because maybe you could say: Once you’ve opened
the door to an admission that you can criticize the idea of “want” as a social construct,
let’s say—which is one of the things that you intimated (not the only thing, obviously)—then
you open the door to also making the claim that that social construct that governs the
“wants,” that governs the “truth,” can be governed by “power relationships,”
something like that, and then by “unfair power relationships.” Exactly. So you can spin off down that aisle. And that’s the other thing I really want
to talk to you about, because on the one hand the postmodernists are following this intellectual
tradition of the critique of Western thinking, which is exactly in some sense what philosophy
should be doing. But in another way, they seem simultaneously to be introducing, almost
by sleight of hand, a kind of social critique that has its origin more in political revolution
and class-based theory, and they do that under the guise of pure philosophy, in some sense,
but with the intent and motivation of something like justifying the social revolution, or
continuing the Marxist analysis of power differential. It can go both ways, yes. Right? It is possible
to follow the road that we’ve just been going down, to say, Well, you know, if it’s
a matter about ‘what works for you,’ then that immediately starts to sound too relativistic
and subjectivistic and we don’t have an answer to all the weirdos who want to do strange
things—because that’s what they want to do—so we might introduce as a corrective
a socializing of the process. Right. So we might then say, No, it’s not so much
what you want as an individual, but rather what we want, and we have to achieve some
sort of a consensus here. So that’s a slightly cartoon version, but
the difference between William James, who was more individualistic, and John Dewey in
the next generation who collectivized things a bit more. So then we have a corrective on
all of the individual weirdos—who knows what their desires and goals are going to
be? Right. But anyway, of course we just confront the
same problem there, as soon as we start doing anthropology, because then if we say: Well,
if we relativize it to the social group, when we start looking at different social groups,
obviously different social groups have dramatically different wants and needs and desires, and
they’ve evolved very different traditions. And if it’s a matter of saying “What’s
true is what works for the group,” there is then no über group or highest group of
all groups that has status over all of the others. And if you do—and this is the second point
that you said exactly right—then you’re saying, Well, no, no, this group’s norms
and its goals are better than that group’s goals or norms … Right. … and so then you’re into what the critics
are going to call “imperialism” of the inappropriate form … Right, and so that leaves us with our current
political situation in some sense, because that idea has been taken to … that’s a
logical conclusion, and that logical conclusion has now been instantiated to a large degree
as an intellectual and political activist movement, I would say. Right, sure, absolutely. So it can start as
an intellectual movement and what we’re trying to do is some hard-core epistemology
[epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity and scope:
the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion] and we go the Empiricists
and the Rationalists and the Kantian revolution and the Pragmatists, right? And now we’re
in the second-generation Pragmatism where we relativize into various cognitive groups
and then we’re just stuck in a kind of group relativism, and in the operational principles
socially then is going to be that each group so to speak should stick to itself and not
think that it can impose its ideas and its norms on any other group, right? All groups,
so to speak, are equal. Yeah, well, at least they have an equal claim
to their formulation of the truth. The problem with the postmodern conjunction with Neo-Marxism
to me seems to be the acceptance of the idea that there’s an intrinsic moral claim by
the “dispossessed” to the obtaining of status, and that actually constitutes a higher
moral calling in and of itself! So they’re swallowing a moral claim in making it “universal”
in some sense at the same time they criticize the idea of, say, “general narratives”
or “universal moral claims.” Okay, now that’s also right. That’s the
other way to say that. Rather than starting with epistemology and getting to a kind of
cultural relativism, you can start, of course, committed to a certain normative [normative:
implying, creating, or prescribing a norm or standard] framework or a certain ideological
framework (as Marxism is) where you’re very critical of one of those traditions, and then
the cultural relativism can be a part of that, that you use, to criticize the tradition “internally”
so to speak. Now then we’re explicitly into—not kind of “meta-ethics” and asking where
do we get our ethical principles off the ground—but where do they come from in the first place,
but kind of a robust “normative” ethics where people have commitments to fairly strong
ethical principles and ethical ideals. This is where the debate between, say, Nietzsche
and Marx becomes relevant. This is a late 19th century debate. So suppose we say, as
both the Marxists do and the Nietzscheans do, let’s say: There is no “Truth” in
any objective sense. All we have is subjectivity and relativity of various sorts, and we have
different individuals and different groups, and they are in antagonistic conflict relations
with each other, and that means there’s not really going to be any rational and civil
resolution [40:04] of these discussions with each other; instead, it all comes down to
power. Yeah, and that’s the strange sleight of
hand claim there too, because why it has to come down to power? Again that seems to introduce
the idea of “necessary need” …. Okay, okay, yes, all right. That’s another
thing. Let’s set that aside just for a moment. Yep, okay. So then we say: Okay, so we have power. And
one thing that we can say is: While we don’t think any one individual, or any one group,
has a better objective claim to truth or better ideals, it is nonetheless the case that some
individuals and groups have more power than others, and so then we have to make our allegiance
clear in this unequal power struggle: Are we on the side of those who have more power
or are we on the side of those who have less power? And that’s where when we get then a Nietzschean
and a Marxian “fork in the road.” So the Nietzscheans, following Nietzsche, will say:
Look, it’s all about power. We can try on some crude evolutionary thinking here: It’s
only by the exercise of power by the stronger, the fitter, the healthier, and so forth, who
are willing to impose their power on the weaker and use them for their own ends, that we as
individuals and groups are going to make any sort of progress toward the next best thing,
whatever that is. So in the power struggle there is no objective morality, no objective
truth. We just throw our lot in with the stronger, with the richer, with the more powerful, and
say: Whatever it is that they do to advance themselves, that’s the normative best that
we can do. And of course there’s a long kind of aristocratic tradition in normative
thinking that one can draw on to support that. And then the Marxists of course are just on
the other side of that equation, where their sympathies initially are going to be to say,
in any power struggle: “Our a priori commitments should always be to the weaker, to those on
the losing end of history, those who suffer,” and so forth, and it’s always the bad, rich
and powerful people who are oppressing and harming them. And so we throw our lot in with
the weaker and we’re willing to use power, whatever amount of power we have, on behalf
of the weaker. Right. And then we’re just into what I think of
as the major false alternative that really has driven much of 20th century intellectual
life: Are you a Nietzschean or are you a Marxist? Right, right. Well okay. So now we can get
to the crux of the matter here to some degree, because to even engage in that argument means
to accept the a priori position, which you’ve made quite rationally compelling, let’s
say, that “It’s power. It’s power. Because there’s no other way of differentiating
between the claims of different groups, it’s power that’s the determining issue.” Yes. But that’s something that I really have
a problem with. And I think it’s of crucial importance. Because first of all I think there’s
a big difference between power and authority and competence. Those are all not the same
thing, because you might be willing to cede greater status to me in some domains if there
are things I can do, that you value, that you can’t do. And that’s not power exactly.
Power seems to be more that I’m willing to use force to impose my interpretation of
the world to get my wants fulfilled on you, and it seems to me that where the Marxists
make a huge mistake—not that the Nietzscheans aren’t making mistakes as well—but where
the Marxists make a huge mistake is that they fail to properly differentiate between hierarchies
of interpretation that are predicated on tyrannical power, and hierarchies of interpretation that
are predicated on authority, competence, and mutual consent. The other issue that they fail to contend
with—and I believe this is a form of willful blindness—is that it isn’t obviously the
case that “every society is set up equally to only fulfil the desires of the people who
are, in principle, situated at the pinnacles of the hierarchies.” I actually don’t
think that that’s fundamentally characteristic of the Western tradition, because it has a
very strong emphasis—weirdly enough, and this is how I think it “extracts” itself
out of the conundrum which accepting a socialized version of truth presents to you: The West
does two things: (1) It says, We have a social contract that constrains our views of the
world and our actions in it, but (2) that contract is also simultaneously subordinate
to the idea of the sovereignty of each individual. And so the social contract then is bound to
serve the needs of each individual—not any privileged set of individuals, although sometimes
it works out that way—and I don’t believe that the postmodernists have contended with
that properly, with their criticism of “logocentrism” for example, which was something that characterized
Derrida. ‘Cause I think that that … ‘cause I
… It doesn’t … it never has seemed to me that what you had with Stalinist Russia
and the Marxist view of the world, and what you had on the side of the West, was merely
a matter of a difference of opinion between two equally valid socialized modes of interpreting
the world, you know? There’s something wrong about … There’s something more to the
view of the West than what’s embodied in the conflict between, say, capitalism and
socialism. Because it could have just been a matter of argumentation and opinion, but
I think that that’s faulty. I thought this way in part because of Piaget
[Jean Piaget, 1896-1980], you know, because Piaget was interested in what the intrinsic
constraints were on a social contract, and he said … and he was trying to address this
issue of the insufficiency of want as a tool to justify your claims to truth. That’s
when he introduced the idea of the equilibrated state. So, if you’re sophisticated, you
have to put forward your want and then meet it in a way that will meet it today, and tomorrow,
and next month, and next year, and in a decade—so you have to iterate yourself across time,
and you have to take all of the iterations of yourself across time with some degree of
seriousness, and then you also have to do the same thing as you extend yourself out
into the social community. So it has to be “what’s good for me now” and repetitively
into the future in a manner that’s simultaneously good for you now and simultaneously into the
future. Uh huh. And that starts to become … and he thought
about that as “the playable game,” something like that. The “voluntarily playable game.”
And there’s something deep about that, because it includes the idea of iteration, you know,
iterated interpretations into the equation, which strikes me as of crucial importance. Okay, yes, right? Again, I count about six
very interesting sub-topics built into that, and the latter part is a very nice statement
I think of a kind of Enlightenment humanism where we’re going to take power seriously,
but we’re going to constrain power in a way that respects the individual and simultaneously
enables individuals to form mutually beneficial social networks across time, and so on. And I’m very sympathetic to that overall
construction. And that comes out of then the first part which is a taxonomy [taxonomy:
the science or technique of classification] you’re offering about the nature of power—and
that taxonomy does differ significantly from both the Marxist and the Nietzschean ones. Now what I’d say is that I think it’s
better to take power more neutrally so there’s a continuity with what the physicists do.
And my understanding there is that power is just the ability to get work done. Uh hmm. So you can put that in tool and functionality
language: Power is what gets you from A to B. Right, right. Which is also … I love that
description, because it fits very nicely in with the narrative conceptualization of being,
because narratives seem to be descriptions of something like “How to get from point
A to point B.” Right. But it also doesn’t say anything
about B and the status of B: How we choose where we should be going, what our ends are,
or what our goals are—so in that sense power is normatively neutral—it’s a means to
an end, and that means when we try to evaluate the uses of power, we’re going to be evaluating
power in terms of the ends toward which it is put, if I can end with that preposition
there. So now … Then we say: Okay, well, power
comes in all kinds of forms. I’m quite happy to say that there’s intellectual power:
that’s the ability to use our minds to address and solve certain problems. There’s muscular
power: the ability to move physical objects. There’s social power: people respect you
and are willing to spend time with you and divert resources to you voluntarily, and so
forth. There’s military power; political power—and so we can have a whole set of
subspecies of power. And what they all have then in common is in each of those domains
there are goals, and having the power enables you to achieve your goals in those domains. Right, and we shouldn’t fall prey to the
illusion that there’s necessarily any—like, what would you call it—“unifying matrix”
that makes all those different forms of power importantly similar except for the terminology,
you know? I mean—and this is another thing that bothers me about both the Nietzschean
and the Marxist view, is that there’s this proclivity to collapse these multiple modes
of power into power itself, and that’s not reasonable because it’s reasonable to note
that many of the forms of power that you just described contend against one another, rather
than mutually fortify one another. It’s like the balance of power in a polity like
the American polity. Yes, I think that’s a deep point that you’re
making, and I think that both the Marxists and the Nietzscheans do end up collapsing
power into a unitary type, and that’s a mistake. But it’s a mistake only if you
deny, as both the Marxists and the Nietzscheans do, that there is a deep individuality about
the world. So if you think, by contrast, about the kind of individual human-rights-respecting
Enlightenment vision that you’re articulating, and that I agree with as well: normatively
that wants to devolve social power to the individual, and leave individuals with a great
deal of self-responsibility and control over their own domain so to speak. And the idea
then is that if we’re going to form social relationships, or any sort of social interaction,
it has to be mutually respecting: that I have to respect your control over your domain and
you respect my control over my domain, but we agree to share domains, so to speak, voluntarily
to a certain point. It also means—and this is a place where
I think the postmodernists are really open to, you might say, conceptual assault—is
that you know, in order to have that freedom devolve upon the individual in that manner,
it also means that the individual has to take responsibility … Right. … for acting as a locus of power in the
world, actual responsibility, and cannot conceive of themselves or act in a manner that only
makes them an avatar of a social movement. And I think that part of the perfervid anti-individualism
of the radical Left is precisely predicated on that refusal to take responsibility, and
I think that’s also reflected in the fact that, by temperament, they’re low in “trait
conscientiousness,” so it’s deep, it’s not merely an opinion; it’s an expression
of something that’s even deeper than opinion. Okay, yes, that phrase “locus of responsibility,”
“locus of power,” “locus of control”—you’re right that the far Left in Marxist and Neo-Marxist
form does deny that, but you also find that in the far Right … Yes, you find that among ideologues in general. Right. So this is a bit of cartoon intellectual
history, but then if you try to trace it to the Marxists on the Left and the Nietzscheans
on the Right, both of them do deny that individuals are loci of responsibility. Both of them in
their views of human nature have strongly deterministic views. What we can an “individual,”
according to both of them, is just a “vehicle” through which “outside forces are flowing,”
so to speak. [Determinism: the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately
determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to
imply that human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for
their actions.] Right. Well, you can also see that in some
sense as a perverse consequence of the scientific revolution … Yes. …because you still see this among modern
scientists: It’s like, “Okay, what are the causal forces that regulate human behavior?
Okay, there’s two primary sources: Nature/biology and culture.” So it’s the crude “Nature vs. Nurture”
debate being played out through them, yes. Right! And so in my opinion—and I’ve derived
this conclusion from studying mythology, mostly—there’s a missing third element there which is whatever
it is that constitutes the active force of individual consciousness. And we don’t have
a good conceptual schema for that. Right, self-responsibility and being an independent
initiator of power instead of merely a responder to other power forces, or a vehicle through
which those other power forces operate. Right. So yes, the individualism that is built into
Enlightenment humanism—you start to see it developing in Renaissance humanism—is
to take seriously the notion that individuals have some significant measure of control over
their thoughts, over their actions, to shape their own character … Right! … to shape their own destinies, and that
that is fundamental to one’s moral dignity as a human being. And so that view of human
nature is built into the ethics fundamentally, and then all of social relationships have
to be respectful of that individuality, and then, consequently, when we start to turn
to political theory and we talk about very heavy-duty uses of power, such as the police
and the military—we want to have serious constraints on government power to make sure
that we are respecting individual sovereignty. Okay. And here’s something perverse, too,
that emerges as a consequence of something you pointed out earlier in the conversation,
you know. You mentioned that when Modernism emerged out of Medievalism, that two things
happened. One was the elaboration of the conceptual frames that enabled us to deal with the external
world. But the other was the elevation of the individual to the status of valid critic,
predicated on the idea that there was something actually valid about individual experience
as such. Now the problem there, as far as I can tell—and
maybe this is part of the reason we’re in this conundrum—is that the elaboration of
the objective scientific viewpoint left us with the idea that it was either “nature”
or “nurture” that was the source of human motive power. But the missing element there is: Well, if
that’s the case, then why grant to the individual to begin with the role of independent social
critic? Exactly. Like, on what grounds do you … It’s like
a residual belief in something like the autonomy of the soul, which you can’t just sneak
in and not justify, without problems! Like the ones that we have now! Yes. Now that’s well put. And I think it’s
fair to say that we still are in the infancy of the psychological sciences—you can speak
to this better than I can—but as someone in philosophy, I think we’re still at the
beginnings. And we are still in the grip of early and crude versions of scientific understandings
of how cause and effect operates. So what we are starting with is very mechanical understandings,
and we can understand how people then are pushed around by biological forces. We can
understand to some extent how they’re pushed around by external physical and mechanical
forces. But we do not yet have a sophisticated enough understanding of the human brain, the
human mind, human psychology, to understand how a volitional consciousness can be a causal
force, a causal power in the world. Right. That’s perfectly well put. So, I
do a detailed analysis that some of the people who watch me are familiar with, of this movie
“Pinocchio,” and Pinocchio has got a very classical mythological structure, and it basically
introduces three elements of being: so there’s (1) the element of being that’s associated
with Geppetto; and also (2) the evil tyrannical forces that are kind of patriarchal in nature,
and that’s sort of the “conceptualization of society”—a benevolent element and a
malevolent element, say. And then there’s (3) the introduction of this other causal
factor and it’s personified in the form of the Blue Fairy. The Blue Fairy is a manifestation
of Mother Nature, and she animates Pinocchio. So Geppetto creates him, and then sets up
a wish for his independence, and then Nature appears in the guise of the Blue Fairy and
grants that wish. So you have “culture” and “nature” conspiring to produce a puppet
that could in fact disentangle itself from its strings. But the movie insists—and it
does this on profound mythological grounds—that the puppet itself has a causal role to play
in its own … what would you call it … in its own capacity to transcend the deterministic
chains, the deterministic processes which have given rise to it, that also enslave it. Um hmm. You know in all of our profound narratives,
I would say—and this is part of the way that they differ from the scientific account—there’s
always that third element. There’s always the autonomous individual who is, in some
sense, you know, lifting himself up by his own bootstraps. Yes… And I don’t think it’s a problem that
science is unable to account for, but it’s a very big problem when scientists who are
unable to account for that deny that it exists, because they can’t explain it. That becomes
extraordinarily dangerous. Right. Yes. Once you stop looking, you stop
trying, right? Then you’re left with an impoverished account. So in a way, there’s
a kind of hubris built into the skepticism that says, “I know that this is a problem
that we just can’t solve, so I’m not going to try anymore.” Yeah, well there’s a performative contradiction
as well, which is much worth pointing out—because on the one hand, the scientist might well
claim, “As far as I’m concerned, from an epistemological perspective, the only two
causal forces are ‘nature’ and ‘culture.’ But then I’ll go about my actions in the
normative world, as an existential being, acting in the world, and I will swallow whole-heartedly
the proposition that ‘each individual is responsible for his own actions’—because
that’s how I constantly interact with everyone in the world. And I get very irritated if
they violate that principle.” Yes, right. So how you live with your skepticism
or your relativism in a way that doesn’t ensnarl you in tensions and contradictions—that’s
a hard project itself. Well, it does seem to me, I think it’s reasonable
to point out that it’s not possible to find a person who acts as if he or anyone else
is “biologically or culturally determined.” We just don’t behave that way in the real
world. We act as if we’re responsible for our own actions, and the consequences of those
actions. Right. So then we have a tension between what
our “intellectual theories” are telling us, and what our kind of “empirical data”
is telling us—we don’t have a way to put those two together, and then what you as an
individual do in response to that tension between theory and practice—that’s a whole
other can of things to explore. Right. But to back up to our discussion about power—
It’s interesting that the way our discussion, up to that point, then integrates three things:
(1) We started talking about truth, and then (2) we started talking about goals and normative
ends and ideals, and then (3) we talk about power. So there we’ve got already the big three:
Truth, Ideals, and Power. Our discussion about Truth took us into epistemological
issues in philosophy; our discussion about Ideals takes us into ethics and meta-ethics
issues and also into philosophy; and our discussion of Power takes us into issues about human
nature, all of which traditionally comprise a branch of philosophy and its sub-disciplines. So we already have to have a theory of epistemology
[epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity and scope:
the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion]; a theory of human nature;
a theory of ethics—and we can sometimes try to integrate those—and postmodernism
is going to be an integration of certain views that develop in philosophical traditions in
all three of those areas. So maybe one way to put it is this: If you
contrast it to kind of a—again, taking the Enlightenment as our touchstone—I think
we’re both fans of the Enlightenment—we say: All right, we’re fine with power. Knowledge
is power, and we want to empower the individual. We want to eliminate slavery and empower people.
We want to eliminate old-fashioned sexism and empower women. So power is… Yes, we actually want to remove arbitrary
and unnecessary impediments to the expression of proper power. That’s right. So there are illegitimate
uses of power that are stopping and disempowering people. So it’s the double-edged sword.
And as long as power is properly directed or properly located, then we are confident
that, by and large, people individually and socially will use their power to put together
useful lives, build successful economies and societies, and so forth. So it’s actually a very optimistic overall
assessment about power. But power is then structured as a means to an end: we want to
empower people cognitively—teach them how to read, teach them how to think, so that
they themselves can understand the truth and discover new truths. So “power leads to
truth.” But we also then want people to be free to
act on the basis of their power, because then we think that if people are respected as individual
agents, they’re going to be happier and so they will achieve good goals, and they
will mutually work out together fair agreements and deals— a kind of “justice,” right?
Society will get better and better, and so forth. So power is in the service of just social
relations, and power is in the service of truth. Yes, so now that’s a great “justification,”
say, for the Enlightenment viewpoint, and it seems—I don’t want to stop you from
pursuing that—but it also seems to me that, to the degree that that’s true (a valid
description of the Enlightenment aims), and to the degree that that has actually manifested
itself in reality in the current state of human affairs, that it’s perhaps unwise
of us to allow our Marxist or our Nietzschean presuppositions to take too careless a swing
at that foundation, given that it’s actually …
Absolutely right, and that’s why the Enlightenment articulation “Power is good if it’s in
the service of truth”— or “Power is good if it’s in the service of justice”—then
we’re fine. And we’re optimistic enough about human beings, cognitively and morally,
that we think that “empowering” them— giving them lots of freedoms— is going to
increase the net stock of truth, and it’s going to increase the net stock of justice.
So that entire “Enlightenment package” is precisely what the Counter-Enlightenment
attacks. It attacked very fundamentally so that by the time we get two to three generations
later— to the generations of Marx and Nietzsche— it has been hollowed out.
So on the epistemological side we don’t believe that there is such a thing as “truth”
anymore. So it’s not the case that “power” is in the search of “truth,” because we
don’t believe that human beings are capable of getting to any sort of objective truth
anymore. So we’re just left with “power.” And also on the normative side, we don’t
believe in “justice” anymore. We don’t believe that any sort of normative principles
or ethical ideals can be objectively grounded. And so then, once again, maybe we’re left
with subjective desires and so forth, but we’re just left again with “power.” So power in the service of Truth; power in
the service of Justice: that goes away. All that we are left with is Power. Okay, so then we could mount a psycho-analytic
critique of that set of objections. Because I could say, Okay, here’s some reasons.
Let’s assume you’re doing something simple and easy instead of complicated and difficult
with your objections. And so here’s the simple and easy explanation: You want to dispense with the idea of “justice”
and “truth” because that lightens your existential load because now there’s nothing
difficult and noble that you have to strive for, and you want to reduce everything to
“power” because that justifies your use of power in your pursuit of those immediate
goals that you no longer even have to justify because you don’t have to make reference
to any higher standards of, say, “justice” or “truth.” And so I would say: That’s
a deep, impulsive and resentful nihilism that’s manifesting itself as a glorious intellectual
critique. [Nihilism: a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that
existence is senseless and useless.] Now, I understand as well that there is the
history of genuine intellectual critique that you’ve been laying out, which is not trivial—
but those things have to be differentiated, you know. It’s certainly not reasonable
either for those who claim that “all there is is power,” that they’re not themselves
motivated equally by that power. Sure. So in one way, all right, what you can
always say, in effect, is that philosophy is autobiographical. In many cases philosophers
will put their pronouncements in third-person form, or in generalized form, but if you always
put it down to third-person formulations, it can be profoundly self-revelatory. So if you say, for example, “Human beings
are scum”—there you have some sort of a pessimistic assessment of the human condition.
Well, built into that then is the idea that I, if I “first-personalize it,” that “I
am scum.” What you’re really doing is a first-person confession. And it’s always
then an illegitimate move to exempt yourself from the general principle. Right. Or: “Everything just is “power relations”
and “people imposing their agendas on other people.” Then what you’re saying is: “Well,
my fundamental commitment is power, and I just want to impose my agenda on other people.” So I do think you’re right— that it can
go both ways: It can of course be that you have people who, for whatever reason, have
a predisposition to nihilistic, amoral power seeking, and when they become adults and “intellectual,”
they latch onto theories that indulge them, that enable them to rationalize their predispositions. And so in many cases, yes, a lot of Postmodernism,
in some of its manifestations, is disingenuous in that form. People don’t necessarily buy
into the postmodern philosophical framework, but rather, in kind of pragmatic form, Postmodernism
as a set of “tools” is useful for them to advance their own personal and social agendas,
whatever those happen to be. Okay. So let’s switch a little bit. Let’s
switch over into that a little bit. I’ve found our discussion extremely useful on the
philosophical end, but now I would like to make it a bit more personal, if you don’t
mind. You’re written this book Explaining Postmodernism:
Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. And it’s a fairly “punchy,”
let’s say, critique of Postmodernism and its alliance with Neo-Marxism. And you’ve
done a careful job of laying out the historical development of both of those movements and
their alliance. (1) What was your motivation for doing that;
and what have you experienced as a consequence (1) of writing the book, and (2) as a consequence
of being a professor who’s in the midst of an academic society that’s basically
running on postmodern principles? [laughs] Yes, that’s a good trio of questions
there. Well, my motivations for writing the book were: One, as an intellectual exercise:
here was a movement that was complex, many philosophical and cultural strands coming
together, and I enjoy intellectual history very much—so it was a pleasure for me to
read back into the histories and to tease out all of the lines of developments, and
how things were packaged and repackaged—so that the postmodern synthesis (as it came
together in the second third of the 20th century) came into being. As a purely intellectual
historical enterprise, I found that fulfilling. Partly also this was the 1990s, late 1990s,
it’s end of the Cold War. One of the things I had done—not professionally, but just
out of personal interest—was read a lot of political philosophy, read a lot about
the Cold War and the intellectual developments—and call it political developments—that had
gone on there. So I had a very good, I’d say, amateur working knowledge, before I started
researching the book, about the history of Marxism and the history of Cold War geo-politics. And sort of one of the big questions on everyone’s
mind of course in the late 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the
Cold War is: What’s going to happen next? So what’s the new geo-political alignment
going to be? Then from my academic position, the big question
inside the intellectual word is: Since far-left politics had been so prominent and that for
generations, intellectuals inside the academic world had largely given the benefit of the
doubt to far-leftist experiments—even going out of their way to be fellow travelers, and
so forth—that by the time you get to the end of the Cold War, basically everybody,
except for a few true believers, is rethinking. So what does this mean for—not necessarily
left politics more broadly, but certainly for far-left politics? And so even the far-leftists
of the leftists are recognizing that they’re going to have to come up with some sort of
a new strategy in order to remain intellectually respectable, and some sort of a new strategy
in order to become culturally and politically feasible. So I did have a kind of a cultural/political
interest in what the thinking was on the far left about what they’re going to do now
that the Soviet Union has collapsed and the whole world is shifting more toward a market
liberalism or to some sort of “third way” centrism. Yeah, and now that all the corpses have floated
up on the beach, so to speak … Right. Yes! So you have a huge then amount
of empirical data that you have to confront and…Now, I think this is going to be part
of the postmodern package, but there’s a lot of denial of the relevance of empiricism;
there’s a lot of denial of the relevance of logic and social-scientific statistical
methods of aggregating that data and reaching normative conclusions on the basis of that.
So we can understand the temptation on the part of a lot of people to find psychological
devices that will enable them to deny the Gulag and the various other horrible things.
By the time the 90s … Right. When the facts, as even you [of the
left] would have construed them, are stacking up viciously in contradiction to your theory,
it’s time to mount an all-out assault on what constitutes a “fact.” Okay, that’s one strategy, and that’s
again one of the sub-strategies I think that postmoderns will use. So, if you then have
philosophers and social scientists, and people who are up to speed in their epistemology,
who are telling you, Well, you know, there are just different narratives that are out
there, and there are no such things as objective facts, and logic does not necessarily point
us in one direction: there are “poly-logics” or “multiple frameworks”—then if you
have one “framework” that says, “No. There are objective facts and the logic is
all going against your version of political idealism,” then it’s going to be very
tempting for you to say, “Well, I can just dismiss that as just one narrative way of
constructing the historical facts: I can come up with a different narrative that softens
or denies altogether …” And certainly some of the bad-faith postmodernists
do go down that road very much. So in part that was my motivation for writing
the book. And in part I did feel that I was in a good
position intellectually to do so because my Ph.D. work had been in logic, philosophy of
science and epistemology, so I was up to speed on the entire history of epistemology from
the modern world on through the way things were in the 80s and the early 1990s. So I
was reading the same people that Rorty had. I have to say I learned an enormous amount
from reading Richard Rorty. He’s first rate, even though I end up disagreeing fundamentally
with him about everything … Foucault’s Ph.D. also was in philosophy; he also had
a Ph.D. in psychology. Derrida—another philosophy Ph.D. Lyotard—another philosophy Ph.D. So,
not necessarily putting myself on the same stature intellectually, but all of us, so
to speak, are first-rate educated in epistemology. So I know where they’re coming from and
where all of that is going. At the same time, my undergraduate and master’s
degree at Guelph (just down the road from you) in history of philosophy—so I had a
long-standing passion for how arguments and movements develop over time, so I thought
I was in a good position to see how postmodernism had evolved out of various other earlier movements
that had developed over time—and I am enough of a political animal to be interested in
political philosophy. And I believe that abstract philosophical theory, when it gets put into
practice, makes life-and-death practical differences … So the stakes are high. So I was motivated
then to put it all together: How does the history and the philosophy and the politics
all come together in Postmodernism? So I wrote the book. Now, yes. How it has affected me personally
in academic life. Well, let me see. In one way I think I was fortunate that I had tenure
by the time the book was published, and my university is by and large a tolerant place.
We have some issues here, but by and large my colleagues are reasonable, decent people,
and at least I was able to get tenure on the strength of my teaching abilities and my publication.
And so it wasn’t that I was going to lose my job over this. But of course there is blowback. I did have
difficulty getting the book published in the first place. Actually I finished writing the
book by the year 2000. I had taken a sabbatical from 1999-2000 and wrote the book then, but
I was not able to get the book published until 2004, and the reason for that was a number
of “desk rejections”—you know, the editor just sends a form letter back. I got a few
of those. But, more seriously, what happened three times, possibly four times, I don’t
remember exactly now, was it would get past the editor at the press, and then it would
be sent out to two or three reviewers—and in each case what happened was I would get
split and polarized-split reviews. One would come back and say, “This is a really good
book; he’s done his homework, it’s a good argument, it’s a fresh argument … I don’t
necessarily agree with all of it, but this really ought to be out there as a book”;
and then the other review on the other side would be equally savaging: “This is a terrible
book; he doesn’t know his history of philosophy, he’s butchered this that and the other thing,
and I strongly recommend that you don’t publish this book.” And then almost always
in that situation, the editor just says, “No.” So it wasn’t until late 2003, early 2004,
that Scholargy Publishing, which was then a small press working out of Arizona, took
the book on, and I’m happy to say that after it was published, it’s been in print consistently
since then. Yes, that’s remarkable. That’s remarkable. Yes, so I’m very happy about that … For any book, let alone an academic book. Yes, and then multiple translations, and those
continue, so I’m happy about that. Now I’d say the scholarly responses have
been from moderate liberals: so kind of traditional … don’t necessarily want to use the word
“traditional,” but from rational, naturalistic, liberal thinkers, conservatives and libertarians:
the reviews have all been strong, and strongly positive. But I have not received any formal reviews
from any of the postmodern or far-left journals, so I’m not sure what that means, but there
is, at least at some level, an unwillingness to engage … Well, it might be a sign of respect. Well there is one sign of respect that comes
out, and that is that every… I’d say once a year or so … probably a dozen times since
the book has been published, I’ve been asked by the editor of a postmodern or close fellow-traveler,
critical-theory-type of journal, to be a second reviewer on one of their articles. So I’m
“in their Rolodex,” so to speak—to use the old-fashioned label—when they are actually
looking for someone who is likely to give an objective but critical perspective on some
article that’s been submitted to the journal—once in a while my name floats up and they’ll
send it out to me, so I’ll just do the standard thing of reading it and giving my professional
opinion of it. So I think they are aware of me, but there
hasn’t really been any direct intellectual engagement, which is kind of sad. Right. Yes. So now when you set yourself up
to write the book, were you thinking of writing a critique of postmodernism, or were you thinking
of conducting an exploration of postmodernism? Well, right now I’m working on the critique.
The first book ends—I don’t want to say abruptly—but it does end with the door open
to saying: How then do we respond to this dead end of Counter-Enlightenment thought
in postmodernism? So we’re at a point culturally where the meaning of postmodernism has now
infected the academy and you see problems there, but it’s also left the academy, and
so thoughtful people outside the academy are seeing the results. And so the big question
is: What do we do next? So I am actively working on the sequel to
Explaining Postmodernism now. And I did go back and forth in the writing of it. My first
purpose was to write a straight diagnosis and intellectual history of postmodernism,
and that’s where I ended up leaving it, because in one sense this was a bit artificial,
but I really like 200-page books. It’s long enough for you to get into a subject deeply
enough and to make a good, pointed, integrated argument and then stop. And so I realized if I wrote the sequel then,
it would be a 400-page book, and I thought it was more important to get this self-contained
intellectual history of postmodernism out there. So I brought things to I think a logical
conclusion where I ended the book, and now I’m working on the next. What’s the next one called? The working title … it changes every few
months or so—sometimes I think about, The Fate of the Enlightenment or something to
do with Neo-Enlightenment or—it won’t be this—but Post-Postmodernism or After
Postmodernism—something like that. Okay. We’ve been struggling with terminology
as well with the people I’m been talking with about such things. It’s a very hard thing to do, because as
we’ve seen philosophically, Postmodernism is multi-dimensional: it’s a metaphysical
critique, it’s a normative critique, it’s a political critique, it’s an epistemological
set of views. And so the alternative then also has to be integrated philosophically.
There has to be an entire philosophical package—so what label is going to capture all of that
and at the same time make a connection to postmodernism—and also, I’m basically
an optimistic positive guy, so I want something that has a positive … Yes, illuminates the pathway forward. Yes, that’s right, yes. Making the world
a better place Right. Exactly, exactly. So look—I think
an hour-and-a-half interview is approximately the equivalent of a 200-page book. So we’re done. Why don’t we end with that, and what I would
like to propose is that we have another discussion in a couple of months about what you’re
thinking about with regards to what you’re writing now. So, like, we’ve covered the intellectual
territory; we’ve covered the historical territory; and done a reasonably good job
I think of both “justifying” postmodernism in this discussion, and also pointing out
its pitfalls and dangers. Sure, yes. We haven’t outlined much for an alternative
vision except making tangential reference to the potency of individual capacity, but
that would seem to be reasonable grounds for the next discussion. So … What else would be worth, next time we chat,
talking about are the current culture war issues. You know, one of the things I’m
very interested in is younger people in particular who are in the front lines in universities,
so to speak, and they’re surrounded and bewildered and angry, and in some cases, intimidated
by all of this “micro-aggressions” and so forth, and in some cases the indoctrination
they’re getting … But I’m actually kind of glad that we didn’t
talk about the more political end of it today, because it enabled us to have a conversation
that was almost entirely philosophical in nature, and I really think that’s the right
level of analysis, because the battle that’s occurring in our culture is actually occurring
at a philosophical level. I mean, there’s other levels as well, but that’s even more
important than the political level as far as I’m concerned. Well said. I agree one-hundred percent. Nicely
put. All right. Well, it was a pleasure speaking
with you—it was very much worthwhile. For me too, thanks much. You have a remarkable capacity for tracking
the content of conversations and keeping them on point, so that’s quite amazing to see,
because we did branch out in a lot of different directions, more or less simultaneously, and
it was quite helpful in keeping the conversation on track that you could so rapidly organize
the … You know, it was almost like you were putting a paragraph structure in the conversation
as it occurred, so that was something that was really interesting to see. So, anyways, it was a pleasure meeting you,
and thanks very much for talking with me. I’ll obviously put a link … I’ve been
recommending your book like … My pleasure. Much respect for the work you’re
doing. Thanks for having me on your show, and will be happy to talk again. Great. Good. We’ll set that up. All right. Thanks Jordan. Bye. See you. Yep. Bye bye.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. eQUAL CLAIM TO YOUR OWN SPECIAL SUBJECTIVE TRUTH?? tHAT'S KIND OF WHAT aLIXANDR dUGIN TALKS ABOUT IN THE Fourth WAY!

  2. How did an ideology that is self-refuting ("there is no such thing as truth") ever become accepted except as a symptom of insanity in the believers?

    Which requires that we wonder how academia became infiltrated by the (literally) insane? Who let the nonsense-spouters through the door…and why? :/

  3. What think ye of the idea that we are not one thing? We are rationalists simply to be able to talk together for correction. We are impericalists in believing what we see. We are moral based on our ego community. We are amirerers of beauty because of natural desires. We all have a natural being imposed on us by nature, etc.. Also, it does seem that we sideline Kant without any comment on the synthetic apriori question, How are synthetic apriori statements possible? That there are is proven by our use of geometry and math. Kant's answer is the forms of time and space, of course. Nor is he discounting the outward world. The noumena is not reality in that sense, but a concept that stops the process of going beyond experience leaving us with practical reality. Experience in this sense is not arbitrary and can be compared with others for it validity. The moral necessity for believing in God fits right in with the archetypes of the Dao/Tao/Jesus etc. To have to choose between Marx and Jesus is an easy choice if one leads to human knowledge and goodness and the other that there is no truth, no logic (duh), no right or wrong save power.
    Also, when we do something, say, get out of the way of an oncoming bus, that does seem to be an act of belief about the outside world. Or if we have someone claim the right to tell us a lie and still maintain a dialog about anything seems to say we do all agree on a morality of sorts.

  4. The temptation to try and insinuate I am on par with these men's intellect by adding some "question", observation or critique is strong. Better just say thank you both, I learned a lot, and yeah, leave it there. Buying another book and look forward to the next one.

  5. At one time in history, people blamed people of colour for lack of progress in their lives, crime, low resale value on their homes. This was called racism. Now Marxists, postmodernist blame white people, the west for social illness. It's racism turned around

  6. Excellent conversation, thanks to both Dr Peterson and Dr Hicks. I really liked the way the discussion covered what may be termed the 'Medieval' mindset, the 'Modern' mindset and the 'Post Modern' mindset.
    Certainly my impression of the 'culture war' going on in North America and the wider world is that it involves people of all three worldview. Specifically looking at the US what I see is a three way battle involving Christian fundamentalists with what is best thought of as a medieval worldview, largely secular modernists with an enlightenment or American Pragmatic world view, and a minority of hardline post-Marxist ideologues who have seized control of the teaching of the Humanities and Social Sciences and who espouse an utterly cynical amoral worldview what I think of as following the law of the jungle in that they are trying to become the apex predator.

  7. The partitioning of history from pre-modern to modern to postmodern is key here, I think. This is why it is true that the cultural conservatives and cultural libertarians and classical liberals (for lack of better terms) have a common enemy in the post-modernists, but we have staunch disagreements regarding things like the nature of truth or the utility of religion.

  8. If Peterson would pay attention to Hicks facial expressions, he'd see points at which the man would like to chime in, we'd have a better give & take rather than always bowing to Peterson's structural dominance. Hicks winds up having to address too much where he could have simply helped guide & clarify.

  9. The good doctor never seems to allow himself to be affected by Hick's adjustments of his thoughts. A sort of a stone wall effect.

  10. I’m really looking forward to the next talk. I’ve listened to this about 3 times now. Keep up the great work. I’m going to buy this book now.

  11. Judging from this brief synopsis of Kant's assessment of the empirical and rationalist account, it seems to me that the claim that the answer to "how do you know x?" is fairly straightforward: you fall back on reliably reproducible, independently verifiable claims, you hold up the claims as inter-subjective, and you use this as a foundation on which to build a rational model of the world.

    Who cares if it's not perfectly objective? It's the best we have. You can't argue your system is better on the grounds that our system isn't perfect. That would be like arguing in favor of creationism on the grounds that evolutionary biology doesn't dot every i and cross every t with irrefutable evidence.

  12. Fascinating discussion. I know fully understand the point he was making with Sam Harris that seem to have gone over the heads of both Sam and myself. Objective scientific truths and working truths that are useful are equally important.

  13. If you translate Power to German there are 2 words "Leistung" which is the physical Power that equals Work per time and "Macht" which is more the dominating aspect of Power. Nietzsche and Marx were both Germans and they used "Macht"

  14. Knowledge is sensory impression, and its derivatives, arranged internally to represent reality. All knowledge is theory in that we just don't know what we don't know. Theories are objectively true to the extent that they are corroborated by reality and produce consistent results. Theories are subjectively true to the extent that they are believed. Usefulness, a.k.a. "the good", is the theory of how much an action or belief contributes to an individual's or a group's survival.

  15. These guys are having a really interesting discussion during the master-level water-drinking competition.

  16. “When the facts, as even you would have construed them, are stacking up viciously in contradiction to your theory, it’s time to mount an all out assault on what constitutes a fact.” – Jordan Peterson

    I am looking into writing a book on Postmodernism and the meaning of words and would love to have permission to use this quote! I very much enjoyed this conversation. Keep them coming!

  17. Both men are very intelligent. Such a pleasure listening to both. Learning so much. Looking forward to next interview.

  18. If we are honest and “truthful”, we would recognize the universe doesn’t always care about what happens to us. It is our responsibility to take care of that.

  19. Save yourself the masochism of a degree in philosophy, this chat covers much of the content. Less the ancients.

  20. Is Dr. Hicks writing a book about "…. after postmodernism"?????? Really? Soee … ….. Post Post-modernism? or….

  21. The best and most easily understood explanation of postmodernism is to be found in the book `Marriage of sense and soul` by Ken Wilber.
    Also the way out of it is beautifully expressed.

  22. 1890's Guilded age the united States was put into bankruptcy then JP MORGAN printed the coins for 1/2 the 1890's…they are called MORGAN DOLLARS…..I have one 1889 series O.

    The 1800's were a HORROR SHOW second only to the 1900's. The British Empire was in full ZENITH through that period. Their Intelligence networks had invaded every country in Europe. Promoting all forms of revolution….Young Turks, young France, young Italy, young Americans. "PERFIDE ALBION"

    This is the VICTORIAN ERA…She lots of kids and a dead husband. Absent monarch. The boys ran wild … EDWARD … was becoming the master world chess player. Cursed with an eternal Mother, he was Prince of Wales for 40 plus years. All that time, him and the boys planning out a 100 year strategies where they end up the LAST MAN STANDING!

    Conquering the world OLD SCHOOL was deemed to be impossible. There are just too many people for the CROWN to rule……We have to control the world of IDEAS…. Free Trade, Colonial Mastery, Chartered Mercantile Economy, Pirates and Privateers….Gun boat diplomacy.

    This is the dawn of the Royal Societies, FABIAN Society, taking control of every aspect of people's thinking. DARWIN, Malthus, Rhodes, Milner, Wedgewood major families and leading loyalists in the UK were pooling their legacy fortunes into a kitty that they would manage for the betterment and Longevity of the Empire.

    This is the world of CHARLES DICKENS man ! There, there, there, you want LIBERAL ARTS?

    Start with him. Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Christmas Carol.
    Then Shakespeare Caesar, Merchant of Venice, Macbeth
    Orwell/Huxley/Vonnegut You know the shit

    This was public school/high school back in the day…St. PATRICK'S…….and I'm 52.

  23. In short, the pragmatists were all about production and functionality.

    And the post modernists were all about dismantling and skepticism. Coupled with plenty of self agrandizing…

    Sounds a lot like today's left and right, eh?

  24. Great book. Follows the philosphical history (From Kant to Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc., to Deridda, Foucault, Rorty) Then it follows the political/social history (Marx's predications fail, attempts at communism fail, attempts at communism by other means fail, and then intellectual postmodernism). Also very short.

  25. Brilliant. Just brilliant. I'm writing a paper for in Master's coursework about the creeping influence of postmodernist/neo-Marxist/critical theory thought in scholarship, and I have videos like this to thank for buttressing my arguments. Thank you for producing it, Dr. Peterson!

  26. After a lifetime of being an avid reader and a novice writer, an activity which has been paramount in my development as a human being, I have suffered terribly from readers block for the last seven years. A period of deep, deep depression.

    I will be buying this book with great anticipation.

    Thank you Jordan! You're work is of considerable consequence in my life.

  27. On behalf of several American Muslim intellectuals, thank you Dr. Peterson for your fantastic work. Which Postmodernist thinker would you say was the most dangerous to Abrahamic religion and morality?

  28. I prefer Ken Wilber's approach. Difficult to do it justice here in a small space. From his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality:

    "The argument seemed quite persuasive, and even caused a bit of an international sensation. Until his brighter critics simply asked him: "You say all truth is arbitrary. Is your presentation itself true?"

    Foucault, like all relativists, had exempted himself from the very criteria he aggressively applied to others. He was making a series of truth claims that denied all truth claims (except his own privileged stance), and thus his position, as critics from Habermas to Taylor pointed out, was profoundly incoherent. Foucault himself abandoned the extreme relativism of this "archaeological" endeavor and subsumed it in a more balanced approach (that would include continuities as well as abrupt discontinuities; he called the merely archaeological approach "arrogant").

    Nobody is denying that many aspects of culture are indeed different and equally valuable. The point is that that stance itself is universal and rejects theories that merely and arbitrarily rank cultures on an ethnocentric bias (which is fine). But because it claims that all ranking is either bad or arbitrary, it cannot explain its own stance and the process of its own (unacknowledged) ranking system. And if nothing else, unconscious ranking is bad ranking, by any other name.

    And the relativists are very bad rankers. A theorist such as Michael Winkelman, vocal and vociferous in his condemnation of others for doing precisely what he himself does unconsciously, is just one of a long line of bad rankers, living only to denounce. Jürgen Habermas, as we will see in detail, has launched a devastating critique of these positions, pointing out that they all involve a "performative contradiction": another way of saying that they are implicitly presupposing universal validity claims that they deny can even exist.

    In short, extreme cultural relativity and merely heterarchical value systems are about as dead as any movement can become. The word is out that qualitative distinctions are inescapable in the human condition, and further, that there are better and worse ways to make our qualitative distinctions.”

  29. I think the problem with a lot of philosophical discussions is that many people seem to unable to look past different abstrakt concepts when explaining simple things. Like the 'purpose of knowledge'. Knowledge doesn't need a purpose. It can serve a purpose, it can be used for a purpose and it can be gained for a purpose. But knowledge itself does not require purpose, it's just a result or a koncept.

    It makes more sense to think of what the cause of knowledge was. And even the cause doesn't need a specific purpose, reason or truth. It just has to be the cause.

    I think it's more correct for me to say that my main problem with philosophy in general, is the human habit of explaining things by using human social norms, standards or concepts. Even when the subject at hand exists independently from those areas or when they are a cause of those areas and not a product.

  30. Dr. Peterson, thank you and Dr. Hicks so very much for this stimulating and enlightening discussion. I would love to have the two of you on stage, live. He is a superb lecturer and the two of have an intellectual synergy that is a marvel to behold. Bless you both.

  31. Postmodern art is a mega jubberish.The marxist surrealists in the 20's had at least some finesse in their distortions.

  32. Kudo's Dr. Peterson for creating the first true online university of the true humanities. Of course i mean that only those humanities, based upon study of based in equality, and reason. Wow, also from Toronto. City will be known as the bright center start of the revived human arts.

  33. sorry, but this was too painful to watch.
    observing Hicks in continuous pain with his intelligent was just too painful to endure.

  34. Open College with Dr. Stephen R.C. Hicks. A podcast to explain the chaos. Post modernism and the fabric of modern society. Is the Enlightenment 2.0 on the horizon?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwSAXsMo2cc

  35. Here is the word-for-word transcript of this JBP Aug. 2017 interview with Stephen Hicks (author of Explaining Postmodernism):
    http://www.stephenhicks.org/2018/01/06/peterson-hicks-discussion-on-pomo-transcription/

  36. If anyone wants to confront a "real" and rigorous critique of Stephen Hicks´ (and by proxy, Professor Peterson´s) lacking explanation (and understanding) of postmodernist philosophy, here is an inexhaustibly great one:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHtvTGaPzF4&ab_channel=CuckPhilosophy

    I highly recommend viewing his other videos about postmodernist philosophy aswell. They, very lucidly, explain the "dense" and "obscure" concepts one engages with when dealing with philosophers such as Derrida and Baudrillard.

  37. There needs to be more collaborations from these two gentlemen, I think it would clear a lot of the toxicity and cancer that is currently corroding the institutions in the West.

  38. Layman's explanation… Marx failed in his prediction, for there was no great uprising of the common people that caused and/or coincided with the end of Capitalism. The postmodernist thinkers saw this as a great defeat and developed a methodology of viewpoint and action by which immoral leftists could inject a form of manipulation over the most inept persons in society… to do their bidding in a somewhat predictable but mostly uncontrolled manner. Being based upon irrational as well as emotionally hyperbolic cognitive loops (a form of purposely instigated insanity) it would escalate along multiple paths and streams of exchange and ignorance to breakdown Capitalism as Marx predicted, but by a purely synthetic means which would allow for "acceptable & manageable fractures" throughout Western Capitalist Society.

    In essence they had "sour grapes" concerning Capitalism's success and strategically configured a "cognitive virus" that breaks down the chains of Earned Trust (markets and relationships) that Capitalism thrives upon.
    Make no mistake about this following statement:
    Markets ARE people, and the TRUE CURRENCY of Capitalism is not money, goods, or services. Those are merely venues and commodities of exchange (and a very limited grouping). Ideas, time, shared comforts, conversations, artistic collaborations, charity formations, etc. are ALL operative venues and commodities as well.
    Capitalism is not just a form of government: ownership of property, labor, choice, speech, assembly, etc. backed by LAWS.
    Capitalism IS America… its vision of self-determination, communal sovereignty as individuals, protections of personal culture and creative endeavor, self-reliance and private sector charity for the truly deserving, a work ethic based on personal effort (merit) and earned dignity as well as innovation, etc. America is THE only country to specifically exist as a Civil Authority (Sovereign Citizenry) that lends a PORTION of its powers to form a system of temporarily held offices and positions… that exist to manage national infrastructure logistics and SERVE the rights of each citizen fairly by making, executing, and interpreting JUST LAWS equally for all… as agreed to BOTH within and by CIVIL CONTRACT as a nation of peers. And ALL participation is by VOLUNTARY CONTRACT (personal choice) as an inalienable right of being, not as granted BY others… or ANY form of STATE.

    The powers of a Sovereign, Monarch, or Master… whether they exist in the form of a person, family, religion, elected group, or other form of STATE… exist indefinitely (by whim of the ruler or body) and are nothing more than the exercise of Complete Authoritarian Control over others.
    Sovereign means "by and/or of divine right". And as America's Declaration clearly codified (as Accepted and Contracted FACT) all humans are "endowed by THEIR creator" which was purposely left for each of us to define in whatever secular or non-secular manner we wish… and a simple undeniable truth… traced back by heredity, philosophically, etc. ALL creation ultimately reaches a point BEYOND CURRENT OBJECTIVE HUMAN ABILITY and/or COMPREHENSION. If that is not the purest definition of the word DIVINE then please… explain to me, why not?
    Now back to America's many offices and positions of government. All are temporary and split between 3 branches that: propose and make, enforce, or interpret law (our contracted Civil Rules).
    Our founders took ALL of the powers and title of sovereignty… designated them inseparable from individual being, and then contracted them in a limited (not even essential) and fractured scope to form a government system that exists SOLELY to serve its citizens… who rule OVER it as a tapestry of VOLUNTARY WILLS… so no one person or group would hold ALL the powers of a Sovereign OVER their fellow citizens.
    In effect, America has NO MASTER, RULERS, SOVEREIGN personages, nor bodies that rule OVER us as individuals.
    The Actual definition of Anarchy is from the greek root words "an" meaning without, and "arcos" or "archon" meaning sovereign, master, or ruler.
    Thus Anarchy's actual meaning is: "NO masters or rulers".
    Many left leaning thinkers (even Jordan) erroneously accept that the absence of masters or rulers (or a State) is Chaos, Nihilism, Mobocracy, Bedlam, etc. because left leaning types basically have CRAP opinions about their fellow humans.
    Through every fallen and/or fractured Society and/or calamity those things do occur but Caution, Self-Reliance, Family, Tradition, and Community ALWAYS regain hold in the aftermath. Otherwise humanity would've ended fairly soon after it began.
    Those are the ACTUAL default conditions of having no masters or rulers. Why in the HELL can't erudite persons on the left GRASP this basic fact? Most likely because Preservation of those things is PRIMARILY the domain of OMG!!! Conservatives!!
    By definition:
    A Liberal: one who willingly discards traditions, beliefs, and/or other accepted norms in the pursuit of change and innovation.
    A Conservative: one who approaches change with caution (not fear as many wrongly assume) so as to protect valued (proven) methods, beliefs, history, resources, environs, relationships, etc, from its ravages.

    THUS: By ACTUAL FACT of its CONTRACTED NATURE and FORM
    America is the ONLY Codified Anarchy (Civil Authority as previously described), with Sovereign Individual peer citizens whose Capitalist government is formed as a REPUBLIC whose Democratic Process is solely resigned to the fact that we VOTE… and in a multi-varied manner so as no majority may hold sway over any minority position uncontested and/or for any unfair duration. Our body of checks and balances also exists to guarantee INDIVIDUAL rights of redress and recompense for wrongs done by fellow citizens, groups, and/or our governing offices… all of which exist to execute FAIR CONTRACT (Moral Behavior) in all manner, by all means, and at ALL TIMES.
    This is because Capitalism builds and and shares Earned Trust as I've previously mentioned.
    No matter the resource or venue; two or more persons Voluntarily form an exchange in which each parts with one or more things of LESSER Personal Value (labor, money, water, kind words, a hug, a friendly ear, land, a boat, music, etc) to receive one or more things they personally value MORE. All parties do so willingly and as THEY deem to be in their best interest, so upon point of agreement and actual TRADE each person has effectively INCREASED their PERSONAL WEALTH and that of the others in a SYMBIOTIC MANNER. There is LITERALLY no end to the variances of personal needs, desires, possessions, values, etc. between individual people. THUS Capitalism has no limit as to its ability to facilitate and/or enable the generation and eventual spread of wealth. It is also in each person's best interest to make sure that the quality, timeliness, and nature of exchanges actually favor the other parties fairly. Doing so Proves Merit and builds personal trust, that over repeated exchanges builds positive reputation, community interest, and the generally increased or expanded markets (chains of persons communicating and exchanging needs, ideas, desires, etc.) that Capitalism EXISTS solely to serve (the law part) and thrives upon… NOT sinful (immoral) GREED.
    Capitalism is the personal address of needs and pursuits, in a manner that benefits others so COMMUNAL integrity and good will are shared while also addressing societal needs over time (Shared Voluntary Providence).
    Crime, rape, lies, corporatism, unfair regulation of private business or choices, slander, profiteering, cronyism, use of force, one-sided deals… and all other forms of INVOLUNTARY SYSTEM, CONTROL over others, and/or IMMORAL actions (Socialism, Postmodernism, Islam, Communism, Modern Feminism, etc.) are ANTITHETIC to Capitalism (because they KILL TRUST and squash… individual & voluntary moral being).

    Postmodernism is a CANCER that basically erodes the MORAL VOLUNTARY WILL of any society that propagates it.
    In simple clinical terms… it is WEAPONIZED SOCIOPATHY.
    In the bible it is also referred to… as LEGION.
    It is also an inevitable return of the cycles of SOCIOPATHY that have caused practically every great Collectivist Societal Abomination throughout history.
    The danger of Postmodernism is that, parallel to the innovations that contribute to Modern Providence there will always be inept and/or corrupt persons who, for whatever reason (crap attitudes, bad luck, indoctrination, low IQ, accident, trauma, abuse, drug use, etc) cannot compete or make GOOD choices for their own benefit… as pertains to their places alongside others as individuals in ANY Society. Postmodernism Actively Weaponizes THEM!!! So, to battle against it one literally has to figure out how to deal with: ad-hoc (in the moment) clinically insane mobs of one's own fellow citizens, friends, family, co-workers, fellow students, etc.
    Pre-programmed intelligent people that we share common contractual and personal obligation (relationships) with and/or to.
    Way worse than Zombie Hoards because they aren't actually undead (so no guilt-free physical destruction)… just brain dead, hyper-emotional, and easily controlled by ANY immoral persons or groups (such as Natural Psychopaths and/or Sociopaths, Islam, Socialists, Marxists, etc.) willing to speak the varying word-salad vitriol's that compel them to action and congress.

    Hope that clarifies, HuGGz

  39. Post-modernist: “Hey Philosophy, have you got an iron clad, infaliable, 100% certainty about objective understanding yet?”
    Philosophy: “Well, no. It isn’t that simple…but we HAVE developed astounding progress in the parameters of assuredness in perception, safeguards against ideologic pitfalls, and-“
    Post-Modernist: “PSSSH! OMG! LAME! Fuck it, I’ll just trash the whole thing and arbitrarily reject/adopt whatever rationales suite mah mood. Peace bitch!”
    Philosophy: “What an idiot…”

  40. Standing next to Chomsky, Peterson's blather resoundingly hollows out:

    Jordan Peterson VS Noam Chomsky
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J06Ym9S36qE

  41. JP: The modernism that they are criticising, that's Enlightenment values …?
    SH: Yes …

    Seriously, guys? Modernism as a movement arose out of the horrors of WW1 and was largely a critique and rejection of Enlightenment certainty. At least make an effort to research the topic

  42. There appears to be a transcript of this video available on Dr. Peterson’s website, but I cannot seem to copy/paste text extracts—at least not on my iPad. Any suggestions?

  43. jordan, in any chance youll see this, ill say thank u from israel, for this conversation (with your wonderful lectures) help me confront my marxist, resentful and radical teacher.
    keep lighting the way for free thought. that is how the sobrenty of the individual is created.
    "a man of his time
    will shine
    the road for light"

  44. Of course post-modernists collapse the multiple forms of power into the catch-all 'power' (at 50:45). They're monists, even worse, they are deterministic monists. And even worse still, they are idealists. Who were the great 20C deterministic, monist idealists? The mass-murderers: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, both Assads, Mengitsu, Mugabe…

  45. Just thinking out loud, before these thoughts run away and hide, like they always seem to.
    Could a driver of the left's overreach, be their correct observation, that modern ideas have "fixed" so many of our collective problems, so why shouldn't perfection be possible?
    Meaning, if you are a leftist, you are likely creative, or at least think you are, yeah? So you maybe somewhat rightly, put yourself in with the group of people who have improved life, since the modern era began. You represent progress and improvement, in your mind.
    Where does that lead? Maybe it leads to the belief that there is no limit to the improvements to be made, since none has ostensibly been reached yet. No
    equilibrium point is necessary, the left can't really "go too far". Or something like, the left may go sideways, or be corrupted, but there will always be more improvements to make.
    As though a perfect society is like light speed, meaning we may never quite reach it, but with enough energy we can keep getting closer and closer, till we are a hair's breath away, or essentially perfect.
    I know lots of other motivations exist, including plenty that are negative, but I think something like this may be a major part of the "positive" side of the leftist drive. Any thoughts?

  46. for the love of an absent god! please stop misrepresenting post-modern philosophy or at least entertain the views of someone who knows what they are talking about.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHtvTGaPzF4

  47. This guy is literally a joke. He thinks Kant’s morality is too heavily saturated with sentiment. If an undergrad wrote that in a paper he’d get an F.

  48. The more of these you do, the better the world gets. Thanks so much, and it was absolutely fantastic. It would be nice to have a transcript.

  49. But grief should be the instructor of the wise; Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most 10 Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth, The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life. Philosophy and science, and the springs Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world, lord Byron’s Manfred , these destinations we are bound to make between mythos and logos have not yet grasped the loss of that original gnosis or innocence which not obtainable by such a flawed or secondary methodology that is knowledge

  50. I’m a fan, but there’s a good critique of the book here. https://youtu.be/EHtvTGaPzF4 would be great as a foundation for a second talk

  51. So, postmodernists and Nietzschians say: There is no truth, but it is true that power exists and that some individuals or groups have more power than others. And, though there is no justice either, it is right, it is just, it is morally imperative to take sides, either with those who have more power or with those who have less power.

    Gee, does that explain why the world is all in favor of socialism, but opposed to Maduro, a socialist dictator in Venezuela? They approve of the use of power to advance social justice, even though justice does not exist, and then, when power corrupts the recipients, they back away without stopping to think that it will go back into the hands of Nietzschian sorts who may disguise themselves with a smattering of social justice dogma in order to get the power.

    The absence of evidence does not imply evidence of absence. Truth exists, though we may not be sure what it is, and the same with justice. As far as power is concerned, it should only be used when an impartial jury gives a unanimous verdict of guilty.

    The unanimous vote brings us as close as we can get to truth with relation to power and as close as we can get to justice in relation to force, because at the end of the syllogisms of law is a bullet to force people to do what the legislators and Constitutions demand.

  52. This whole discussion makes me want to invoke theism as a real solution to the legitimate problems of both modernism and post-modernism. The Judeo-Christian worldview seems to fix it all!

  53. TL;DR Thought this would have been current. I'm responding to an Atlas Society email about this video. Not a fan of Mr. Peterson. Maybe I'd change my mind about him if I would hear the entire discussion. Everyone's so "Jordan Peterson, Jordan Peterson!" Medium is the message, as it's been said. This was a shoddy presentation of what looks to be a fascinating discussion. I expect better from the Atlas Society. You'll never get Millennials and younger listening to the likes of this this bottom-shelf video. $1000 buys you a Sony Alpha a5000 Mirrorless Digital Camera: https://goo.gl/3fNFD3, an Electro-Voice RE20 Mic: goo.gl/77vY2e, someone to help with the hookup and you are ready to go with HD. Not sure about using Skype as a platform <g>. Better to find a streaming service. Kids do a better job. Sorry…

    Dr. Hicks: Had 'Explaining Postmodernism' within a month of it's release (back in the TOC days?). Thank you for that, along with The Art of Reasoning: Readings for logical Analysis,' along with Dr. David Kelly, who taught all of us who considered themselves students of objectivism (at least those who would listen) a very important lesson about toleration. That book [go find it] definitely changed my life for the better. Sorry Leonard ….

  54. I'm coming into this a bit late, two years in fact but well done professors, great break down, this is what a quality debate looks like, I like how Hicks was able to give the postmodern critique to Peterson's analysis of objective truths and human cognition. I think this helped to further the debate a lot. its 2019 now and I think this could conversation go further.

  55. i'm one of those that have to watch this 2-3 times (happily)… i'm trying, but wow, these men are clearly well above my pay grade…

  56. The thing that strikes me as funny about the postmodern position that Peterson and Hicks keep coming back to is that the postmodernists call a lot of ideas relative (no truth, no ethics), but then they acknowledge the truth of power, because that's undeniable to them, and then they take a position of siding with the weaker, an absolute ethical position. Well, then how does that square with "there is no such thing as objective truth"? They're willing to objectively acknowledge a power relationship. Why don't they see that as relative? They're even breathlessly quantifying it. Look at how many men are in STEM degrees, and how many women aren't: Sexism! Truth! That's just one example. A white person can "identify as black" (truth is relative), but a white person "with privilege" is "culturally appropriating" if they wear dreadlocks. "That's racist" (truth!). From what I've seen, they do this constantly. I think Hicks is right, that really what they're doing is an ideological combat tactic. They challenge the truth underneath your claim, not even addressing what you're talking about, and then simultaneously assert the absolute truth of their own, with an appeal to emotion, typically your sense of shame, your sense of empathy, and/or your desire for social acceptance, or to be part of a group. They try to redefine people's sense of what's objectively true, on their terms. The relativism is a tool for shifting POV, or the goal posts. It's not a principled stance at all. It's smoke and mirrors.

  57. Peterson is an intellectual brawler, not a scholar. And knows a thing or two about crookedness! @PzF4

  58. My favourite Stephen Hicks YouTube videos are these two: Postmodernism Part 1 and Postmodernism Part 2. They provide a great little overview of the modern western philosophy that preceded / led up to Postmodernism. I like all his YouTube interviews but these 2 are particularly systematic and clear. I re-listen from time to time, hoping that all the information will eventually sink into in my oldish mind (I skip the introduction by a commentator on Part 1).
    https://youtu.be/ZhK6XOT3uAA
    https://youtu.be/bChKoll81r4

  59. I suggest everyone watch Cuck Philosophy's critique of Stephen Hicks' book. Hicks' attack on postmodernism is purely ideological and outright misunderstands postmodernism. For instance, Hicks claims Kant is against reason and unity and claims he sees individuals as means to an end (ironically?), Nietzsche and Kierkegaard as antireason (not at all), translates Heidegger's Dasein as 'subject' (amateur fault which misunderstands the total point of existentialism), Foucault as wanting humans to become extinct (truly the opposite). Hicks' account on postmodernism and even modern philosophers is unequivocally faulty.

  60. So far left & the far right are problematic inherently, not simply – the left. Or the right. Interesting…

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