I finished the book by Caputo (see previous post). Great book. In a very readable and winsome fashion he lays out a postmodern perspective regarding “truth.” As noted already, he speaks to how I would describe my own view of truth—or I should rather say—I agree with Caputo. He also wrote this for a lay audience and not professional philosophers; it is very accessible. Also, he is not writing from a religious or Christian perspective. However, what he articulates certainly doesn’t exclude such a perspective although it certainly disagrees with fundamentalist perspectives whether secular or religious.
For my next series of posts, I plan to review the book and go chapter by chapter. Hopefully this may help any readers better understand my own position (such as it is) regarding “truth” and it certainly speaks to this whole serious of recent conversations surrounding narratives, truth, objective, subjective, and so on.
Much of what I will do is let Caputo speak for himself. I will quote large parts and comment where I feel it pertinent.
Caputo starts off by noting the mobility of modern society. We are on the go, on the move, always it seems. Most of us travel and very few find themselves secluded from interaction with not only their greater communities (town, state, country) but the world itself. The worldview of many however, was forged in a time when some never left their hometowns. A great example is Immanuel Kant:
“Kant read the travel literature of the day, journals kept by ships’ captains, but he never saw the inside of a ship. He was also a leader of the Enlightenment, which emphasized the Universal standards of Pure Reason. But the problem for Kant was that ‘universal’ had a way of collapsing into ‘European’, while ‘pure’ tended to mean never having met anyone else.”
But life and the world, for the most part, for most Westerners, are no longer like that. This life on the move, one in which we constantly brush shoulders with different views and perspectives, has created a “vertigo” and it is this vertigo that Caputo calls postmodernism.
In this life on the move we notice “difference.”
“Difference is a buzz word for postmodernity just the way ‘universal’ was for modernity, a word that I will use throughout to signify the Enlightenment, the age of Reason that first emerged in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and which subsequently shaped the contemporary world of science, technology and civil liberties. Universal is a modern motif, difference is a postmodern one.”
He then goes on to point out other differences:
“Modernists tended to think the whole was a system unified by a central power (God, if you went to church, nature, if you didn’t) where all the clocks and trains ran on time. Postmodernists tend to think things hang together laterally, linked up like a web, say, a world wide web, where it makes no sense to speak of who is in control or even of where it begins or ends…Modernists think things are rule-bound and mathematical; postmodernists appreciate the irregular and ‘chaosmic’, to borrow a felicitous neologism from James Joyce, meaning a judicious mix of chaos and cosmos…this postmodern effect even showed up in physics, when the paradoxes of Relativity and Quantum Theory replaced the regularities of Newtonianism, and in mathematics, when Kurt Gödel unnerved classical mathematicians with his undecidability theorems in 1931”
But Caputo is mostly talking about postmodernism as it has taken effect culturally. He then addresses it as way of thinking or “seeing.”
“What then, in brief, is the postmodern, not as a culture, but as a mode of thought? To begin with, the ‘post’ does not mean anything anti-modern or reactionary against the advances made in modernity, nor some attempt (always futile and nostalgic) to take flight to the premodern. The best way to think of postmodern thought is as a style, rather than as a body of doctrines; it is an inflection or alteration that continues the ‘project’ of modernity, but by other means. Where modernity thinks there are pure rules and a rigorous method—in ethics as well as in science—postmodernity advises flexibility and adaptability. Where modernity thinks that things divide into rigorously separate categories, like reason and emotion, postmodernity thinks that these borders are porous, and that each side bleeds into the other…Modernists do not welcome exceptions to their rules; postmodernists think that the exception is the engine of creativity and the occasion on which the system can reinvent itself…So if you ask postmodernists, ‘What is truth?’ they are most likely to squint and say, ‘It depends.’”