For all the post-modernism haters out there


You do realize that doubt has been a central theme in philosophy for ages, right? Do you think certainty is an improvement, especially when it’s unwarranted?

Comments

  1. A Sloth named Sparkles says

    Anyone having Vietnam flashbacks about Bill Nye answering jack after being asked about philosophy?

  2. says

    Of course, Ken Ham has reversed all of that doubt. “All of the Bible is real. Anything actually scientifically indicated to be real is false unless it comports with the Old Testament as written, literal truth.”

  3. PaulBC says

    My personal resolution of doubt was to conclude that human beings often set unreasonable standards for themselves. A leaf-cutter ant, for instance, has a great deal of practical expertise on harvesting leaves and growing fungus from them. I would have to work hard to come close and might fail completely. We call it “instinct” and consider it less than knowledge, but it still works the same even without an epistemic basis. It is very fragile in that slightly different circumstances would have the ants engaging in activities that are no longer beneficial without any comprehension of this.

    Humans are better at knowing why we know stuff, be we don’t represent a peak in any meaningful sense. Assuming there is any other intelligent life in the universe, there are probably intelligences that vastly exceed ours but are far from omniscient. Meanwhile, we are wrong about a lot of things but, the knowledge we carry works whether or not our reasons for knowing it are valid. The same limitation applies in that it may stop working in changed circumstances that we fail to grasp. It’s true for everyone, just to varying degrees.

    It is interesting that philosophers have spent thousands of years cursing their lack of omniscience. Who ever came up with the silly idea that we should be omniscient?

  4. says

    In the early 19th century, I believe it was, a philosopher of science declared that we humans, at that point, knew all that could be known. Obviously, he was wrong, and the human race has continued to learn many things beyond what was imagined at the time. Whenever someone tries to determine what we can’t know, it always seems to resemble what they themselves don’t know, and it just gets more ridiculous, when they try to subvert any further learning with a “God did it.”

  5. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin solves all questions of doubt — which, as far she has decided, can only be about which cheeses to eat first — by putting them all in her mouth essentially simultaneously. She tried this once with philosophers, then declared “needs more cheese!”, before adding “frothy and undercooked”.

  6. Robert Serrano says

    @8
    “I don’t know! I don’t care! The Bible says so, so it must be so! Facts don’t care about your feelings!”
    I think that’s a reasonable facsimile. Might need more exclamations to get the right tone.

  7. anchor says

    @#5: PaulBC: “Who ever came up with the silly idea that we should be omniscient?”

    Some narcissistic patriarchal types who realized how convenient the concept of god was in controlling large populations of people. If they were a tribal leader, king or emperor all they had to do was portray themselves as a know-it-all god invested with supernatural powers. If not, one could organize a cult as a shaman, rabbi, mullah, priest or similar such ‘holy man’, declaring themselves in possession of inside info and direct contact with the almightiest and voilà, they got to exercise control as:the omniscient god. Almost contemporaneously, it was realized that the more fear and intimidation one could instill in the population, the easier it became to achieve and maintain that control. Hence the emergence of organized warrior classes such as police, military and shakedown artists beloved by bureaucrats and politicians and a variety of mob personalities who have exploited the principle at least since the advent of civilizations.

  8. anchor says

    …Its all a very serious business. It is humanity’s oldest sport involving much choosing up sides and elaborate pomp and ceremony in the parade-like turnover of mortal coaches and owners.

  9. says

    Interesting. “Conservatives” appear to operate under a theory of inductive doubt reversal; namely that if you doubt Doubt itself, you can attain Certainty. Hm, that may be what the “intellectual dark web” are going for, too.

    Two doubts don’t make it certain, though. As a matter of fact it’s all doubt.

    Insert here my standard plug for Popkin’s A History of Skepticism from Savanarola to Bayle which, naturally, starts with the ancient Greek skeptics.

  10. chrislawson says

    Marcus Ranum@12 —

    Popkin’s Skepticism from Savonarola to Bayle starts with the ancient Greeks???

  11. chrislawson says

    I don’t follow NFL but I often read John Teti’s Block and Tackle column because it contains delights like this:

    “Block & Tackle is the exclusive home of the QuantumPick Apparatus, the only football prediction system that evaluates every possible permutation of a given NFL week to arrive at the true victor in each contest. Put simply, Block & Tackle picks are guaranteed to be correct. When a game’s outcome varies from this column’s prediction, the game is wrong.”

  12. cartomancer says

    I am very skeptical of the notion that Socrates made any such pronouncement in 370BC, nineteen years after he was put to death. If I were being extremely charitable I suppose I could give this a pass as lines his student Plato wrote for him in a dialogue at that time.

    I am similarly skeptical of the notion that Pyrrho made his pronouncement in 250BC. He died around 270BC (according to Diogenes Laertius, based on contemporary information from Antigonus of Carystus at any rate). I suspect what has happened here, given the similarity with the Socrates case, is that the author has found their dates of death and tried to go twenty years earlier than that, to reach their maturity – forgetting that BC dates are counted backwards.

    I am somewhat skeptical of the notion that Al-Ghazali made such a pronouncement in 1070, when he would have been a tween or young teenager (he was born either in 1056 or 1058). He certainly would not have been sporting such a bushy grey beard.

    I did not bother to check the dates of the post-medieval philosophers. Not my period.

  13. colinday says

    @ cartomancer
    #17

    And it might have been better to put Kant in 1781 (year of Critique of Pure Reason, although he may have thought of it earlier.)

  14. Silentbob says

    Until the advent of modern physics it was generally thought that all knowledge of the world could be obtained through direct observation, that things are what they seem, as perceived through our senses.

    But the spectacular success of modern physics, which is based upon concepts such as Feynman’s that clash with everyday experience, has shown that that is not the case. The naive view of reality therefore is not compatible with modern physics. To deal with such paradoxes we shall adopt an approach that we call model-dependent realism.

    It is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts.

    If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.

    Stephen Hawking

    The dudebros’ favourite hard science guy independently discovers post-modernism. X-D

  15. janicot says

    The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made. — Jean Giraudoux, 1882

    The rest of you guys are just handwaving. Lol

  16. consciousness razor says

    [checks watch, calculates, stares at ceiling, then at hands, drinks beverage]
    Yep, I still hate postmodernism. Apparently the comic worked.

    cartomancer:
    All of the dates are at least a bit off. The modern ones are mostly okay, if we’re rounding, which seemed to be the pattern.
    But then “1715” for Berkeley’s shit on idealism is odd (excuse the pun). If we’re rounding, then why not say 1710, when he actually published his treatise? Or it could be 1713, for the dialogue where he responded to some criticism the treatise had received. I doubt there’s any real point in picking two years after that.

    I am somewhat skeptical of the notion that Al-Ghazali made such a pronouncement in 1070, when he would have been a tween or young teenager (he was born either in 1056 or 1058).

    More than somewhat, I hope. From his wiki page:

    He underwent a spiritual crisis in 1095, abandoned his career and left Baghdad on the pretext of going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Making arrangements for his family, he disposed of his wealth and adopted an ascetic lifestyle. According to biographer Duncan B. Macdonald, the purpose of abstaining from scholastic work was to confront the spiritual experience and more ordinary understanding of “the Word and the Traditions.”[32] After some time in Damascus and Jerusalem, with a visit to Medina and Mecca in 1096, he returned to Tus to spend the next several years in ‘uzla (seclusion). The seclusion consisted in abstaining from teaching at state-sponsored institutions, but he continued to publish, receive visitors and teach in the zawiya (private madrasa) and khanqah (Sufi monastery) that he had built.

    Until then, Al-Ghazali’s bio reads like that of an ordinary/traditional/establishment scholar, studying law and theology. Boring.
    But then, mysticism! (And like you said, cartomancer, not in 1070. He probably had a hefty beard by ca. 1090 though.)
    His whole anti-rationality shtick came out of this transformation, while he was writing Incoherence of the Philosophers and deciding he didn’t like the shit academia was selling. He wanted to distance himself from all that, so he did. It was a “crisis” of sorts, because it was new for him and not the same old thing he had believed since his youth.
    He really had a bunch of zany ideas, which aren’t captured well by the pithy statement in the comic…. to the extent this could even be done with any number of words, considering that some think he was just plain incoherent.

  17. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#16:
    I’m guessing Pyrrhonism plays a major role in the book.

    You are correct. Popkin’s thesis is that pyrrhonian tropes keep getting resurrected, and were used as a scorched-earth “nuclear option” between catholics and protestants during their silly wars, which resulted in an epistemological crisis, which some philosophers tried to patch up (until Hume plowed the battlefield with salt). I think that’s a fair summary. I recommend the book highly [stderr] – it’s fascinating stuff.

  18. says

    chrislawson@#13:
    Popkin’s Skepticism from Savonarola to Bayle starts with the ancient Greeks???

    One can hardly talk about reformation-era skepticism without back-filling from the ancients. ;) All skeptics are pyrrhonians, whether they know it or not; the skeptical method is so robust it need not be original. It’s really interesting to see Hume dusting off Sextus Empiricus and throwing him back out, with his own genius curveballs added in.

  19. consciousness razor says

    All skeptics are pyrrhonians, whether they know it or not; the skeptical method is so robust it need not be original.

    I doubt the assortment of skeptical traditions from ancient India and China are the same thing as Pyrrhonism. On the one hand, they could be, but on the other, perhaps not.
    In some sense, you might say they come from the same source: people are always bullshitting. It often doesn’t take all that much to call them on their bullshit. If that’s all you mean by it, though, that sounds like vagueness (on your part) not robustness (of some “method” or other).

  20. says

    I’m not sure you’re actually defending what people are attacking. As in, if you taboo terms like “postmodernism”, and you look at examples of the people you call “post-modernism haters”, and compare what they complain about to the things you defend here, I don’t think they would match. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone making this armchair “post-modernism is just healthy skepticism” defense actually interact with quotes of the people they are ostensibly defending against.

    While I’m here, I have to say my bit about the other word: “neo-marxism”, and the argument “post-modern neo-marxism = not modernist marxism = not modernist modernist thing = contradiction”. But “neo-X” needn’t be identical to “X”.

    So why do people make arguments like these?

    My guess: people don’t know how to properly handle these kinds of conflicts. They ought to “go beneath the surface” (as is the case with “tabooing words”, checking sources and evidence, and asking sincere questions to understand people), but instead they head in the opposite direction (equivocating words, regurgitating rhetoric, and asking rhetorical questions).

    And/or (as is too often the case, whenever any two people disagree) the argument these people are making is crucially different from the way it’s being interpreted/understood (in this case, by me). Some examples I can check: HJ Hornbeck, Contrapoints.

    (there’s also plenty of people who would argue that “post-modernism” is just a subset of modernism, not fundamentally different, and, in the ideological clash that’s supposed to be happening, it should actually be “The Age of Enlightenment” VS “Post-modernism”, rather than “modernism” VS “post modernism”. All very confused-ing, especially with art movements thrown in there)

  21. consciousness razor says

    And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone making this armchair “post-modernism is just healthy skepticism” defense actually interact with quotes of the people they are ostensibly defending against.

    Don’t you also think it’s really weird for people to consider this as some kind of defense of “healthy skepticism”?
    1) Socrates: not a skeptic in any sense we’d recognize today. But okay, whatever floats your fucking boat, I guess. You just used your one freebie, so the rest had better be pretty good.
    2) Pyrrho and/or his followers: definitely skeptics this time. At least there’s that. But you probably wouldn’t feel too comfortable with their views, if you knew anything about them. And let’s face it: you probably don’t care either way.
    3) Al-Ghazali: not a skeptic. Religious mystic, whose coherence is questionable at best. I already said enough about him above.
    4) Descartes: not a skeptic. He pretended to be skeptical once, so he could act like he had a valid proof that a god exists, using little more than his prodigious thinkin’ skillz. Maybe he just didn’t get the memo about epistemic humility? And the one about empiricism? And a bunch of others? But no … the guy acts like he doubts something once, and for some that’s the end of the story. Great story, asshole.
    5) Spinoza: pretty skeptical dude, and yet another person obsessed with goddism (with more to come). He at least acted (perhaps for his own safety) as if he thought literally everything is god. So if he had thought that wasn’t real, then what was supposed to be real? Actually, he was way too smart to think anything that stupid. But if he had, then why should we have considered that good….?
    6) Berkeley: definitely not any kind of skeptic, in the sense people are familiar with now. Maybe in the “I don’t believe what you say, because I’m protected by my tin-foil hat” sense, but not in the modern sense. Anyway, if he’s in the fucking club, that’s pretty embarrassing.
    7) Hume. Saint Hume is definitely a skeptic, and so at least you won’t be disappointed too much by this one. However, people seem to think he said (or even proved) a lot of things he didn’t, so there’s still plenty of opportunity for disappointment here.
    8) Kant: a skeptic? Really? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
    9) Derrida: what, are you kidding? What the fuck is this list? Why is he supposed to be on it? And if he were, why should anyone care?

    From what I can tell, they may have missed a big one (only half joking):
    Heidegger, in the off-season when he wasn’t being a Nazi, also practiced a very healthy form of skepticism. Why not? Some aspects of his meandering, unmethodical, barely intelligible word salad was about doubting lots of crap…. Is that all we were looking for? I mean, I’m still waiting for the part where this turns into some kind of defense, against who-knows-what and in favor of I-have-no-fucking-clue-anymore.

  22. cartomancer says

    Since I’m correcting other people’s dates, I should probably step in and correct my own too. 370BC was in fact twenty-nine years after Socrates was put to death, not nineteen. I seem to be incapable of subtracting 370 from 399 today.

  23. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    If the cartoon went one more block, they could have included the famous skeptic philosophers Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville who stated in 1989 that they “don’t know much, but [they] know [they] love you… and that may be all there is to know.”

  24. says

    For a better-than-average take-off on pomo, I recommend Frederick C. Crewes’s Postmodern Pooh, follow up to his undeniably immortal The Pooh Perplex. Yes, one can discern resentment, but Crewes is so much better at this kind of thing than most of the doctrinaire guys who think humor sells so they’ll maybe give it a shot.

  25. aspleen says

    Silly me, here I thought it was the goal of philosophy to help remove doubt wherever we can rather than throw our hands up and surrender to it.

    FYI, David Hume wasn’t saying we can’t know what is and isn’t real, but how inductive reasoning is flawed in assuming we can be omniscient about every real thing. Sometimes there’s a grey duck!

  26. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Lotharloo: “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.” -Segal’s Law

    Ladbury’s corollary to Segal’s Law: A man with three or more identical watches can take the standard deviation of their times end estimate how much they are in error…but it may make him late for his meeting.

  27. springa73 says

    I think the comic’s point is supposed to be that admitting doubt and lack of knowledge is an important part of philosophy, but other than that the philosophers listed don’t have much in common (for example, they doubted different things and argued for lack of different types of knowledge on different grounds.)

  28. KG says

    You do realize that doubt has been a central theme in philosophy for ages, right?

    Yes. Postmodernism is much less original than its proponents think.

    Do you think certainty is an improvement, especially when it’s unwarranted?

    It is when it’s warranted, not when it’s unwarranted. If you mean absolute certainty, such that there is no conceivable way we could be wrong about something, it’s trivially the case that this cannot be justified: some unknown factor could be interfering with our cognition, causing us to think 17 is prime when in fact it’s divisible by 3 – or even causing us to conclude that absolute certainty can never be justified, when in fact it can. Most people of a philosophical bent get this far in their teens. So what? Nothing of interest, either intellectually or practically, follows from it, or from the sceptical pronouncements of most of the luminaries you quote.

  29. PaulBC says

    Nothing of interest, either intellectually or practically, follows from it, or from the sceptical pronouncements of most of the luminaries you quote.

    I was with you this far, but really, nothing?

    It’s of practical significance to be aware of the idea that your mental faculties could be worsening. It will happen to all of us as we age to varying degrees. Or, for that matter, just to be open to discovering blindspots that suddenly change a variety of assumptions. This is disconcerting to many people, but potentially enlightening as well. Being aware of the possibility ahead of time helps as psychological preparation.

    I agree that it is less fertile ground intellectually than assumptions from which more intricate arguments can be constructed. I.e., if I can’t even trust my reasoning processes than I might as well stop there. It’s potentially useful for setting up hypothetical scenarios (Plato’s allegory of the cave for instance) and considering the possibility that things aren’t what you think they are.

    Even in the adolescent sense, it’s fun to explore “brain in a tank” scenarios. They are amusing fictional devices if not overused. Even if the end result is only entertainment, what could be more practical than developing harmless and effective cures for boredom?

  30. KG says

    It’s of practical significance to be aware of the idea that your mental faculties could be worsening. – PaulBC@37

    That has nothing to do with the realisation that absolute certainty cannot be justified. It is that realisation, which, as i said, many people reach in their teens, that I said has no interesting intellectual or practical consequences.

  31. KG says

    It’s of practical significance to be aware of the idea that your mental faculties could be worsening. – PaulBC@37

    That has nothing to do with the realisation that absolute certainty cannot be justified. It is that realisation, which I said has no interesting intellectual or practical consequences. Certainly, knowledge of our actual cognitive limitations has such consequences, but the kind of “dogmatic scepticism” exemplief by many of the cited statements, and much of postmodernism, denies (if formulated consistently) that we can know anything about these limitations.

Leave a Reply