Swedish review of Explaining Postmodernism

“I would never let someone go off to university without this book.”

ep-swedish-full-150pxJust before the official release of the Swedish translation of Explaining Postmodernism, an editorial review in Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm’s largest newspaper. A rough Google Translate version follows.

Truth is more than just stories
Susanna Birgersson, Editor

[Published March 30, 2014 ]

IN A PREFACE TO the new Swedish-published book “Postmodernism Explained: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault” by Stephen RC Hicks, Peter Santesson writes: “Modern thinking laid the foundations for the open society. Why would the impact of giving up that thinking be less dramatic?”
Modern thinking is based on the premise that the mind can tell us something about reality outside the mind. Confidence in reason is the prerequisite of the Enlightenment foundations of science and the mother of individualism; its consequences are technological and medical advances, individual rights, and liberal democracy.
Hicks takes us on a winding journey, all the way back to the crime scene and toward contemporary postmodernist theories and policies. ep-swedish-review-150px
1700s philosopher Immanuel Kant is the villain, at least according to Hicks. In contrast to the Enlightenment fathers, Kant argued there were too many filters and individual experiences between reason and reality for man to reach objective knowledge by perception and thinking. He liked the mind, but did not think it was capable of something more than indulging itself. Humans may have meticulous organization inside their reason, but of the reality outside they cannot say anything.
What followed was the beginning of an effective dismantling of the ethics of individualism and the Enlightenment view of human beings with their right to self-determination.
And so Hegel’s totally bizarre use of common sense notion. Can we even know oneself? The idea of theses followed by antitheses which empties into the syntheses—something blissfully covering both the opposing statements and no further—is incomprehensible. Graphed dialectics is certainly stylish. Possibly it is a fruitful way to frame the paradoxes found in the Christian faith, a description of the meeting between the immanent and the transcendent. But as a guide to the knowledge of the worldly journey, Hegel is hardly someone to hold your hand.
Hicks turns to collectivism and socialism, in the journey towards the final defeat of reason in postmodernism—in the postwar period this gas seeped into the education system, the human sciences, and politics.
The Enlightenment premise is that the mind can give us knowledge of the real world. But a proper defense of it is still missing, so this basic assumption is the Enlightenment’s Achilles heel—and that’s the stance that postmodernists kick.
The truth about something does not exist, just different stories and experiences—argue the postmodernists. The challenge is then through deconstruction and unmasking to reveal the racism, sexism and colonialismbirgersson-s that the white, Western, heterosexual man engaged in. The consequence is that minorities’ struggle issues get huge proportions while the vilest human suffering can be reduced and relativized if it only occurs in non-Western contexts.
There is no truth to be grasped and presented. Language and beliefs hide nothing except more language and more social constructions. The function of language is not to be as precise as possible to describe reality—we can never talk about the same thing. Instead, the aim of language is to create “reality”. Anyone who calls his opponents “fascist” is not necessarily speaking “truth” but only using language effectively.
Like Peter Santesson, I would never let a student go off to university without a copy of “Postmodernism Explained”.

Susanna Birgersson
susanna.birgersson @ dn.se

[Thanks to Adam Cwejman and Erik Herbertson for the link. Visit the Explaining Postmodernism page.]

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Postmodernismens Förklaring: Skepticism och socialism från Rousseau till Foucault

Postmodernismens Förklaring:
Skepticism och socialism från Rousseau till Foucault

ep-swedish-full-150px Hur kunde postmodernismen bli en av de mest livskraftiga intellektuella rörelserna under 1900-talets andra hälft? Varför är relativistiska argument fortfarande så effektiva i den intellektuella världen? Varför ges de en tyngd inom humaniora och samhällsvetenskap men inte inom naturvetenskapen?

I Postmodernismens förklaring utmanar filosofen Stephen R C Hicks våra invanda föreställningar när han spårar de intellektuella rötterna hos postmoderna tänkare som Michel Foucault och Richard Rorty till Jean-Jacques Rousseau och Immanuel Kant. Hicks driver tesen att postmodernismen blev en framgångsrik retorisk strategi för den politiska vänstern när kommunismen förlorade sin legitimitet. Så ersattes tilltro till vetenskap och förnuft av dubbla måttstockar och cynism.hicks-stephen-2013

Stephen R C Hicks bok om postmodernismen är en intellektuell historielektion med polemisk udd. Den ger nya perspektiv på samtidens mest brännande politiska debatter och handlar i förlängningen om den liberala demokratins framtid.

I svensk översättning av Anders Johansson.

[With a Foreword by political scientist Peter Santesson. Editorial review by Susanna Birgersson. Information about other editions and translations at the Explaining Postmodernism page.]

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Schopenhauer in and out of love

I did not know that in 1818 a younger Arthur Schopenhauer, aged 30, made a trip to Florence, Italy, where he pursued love. Unfortunately:

schopenhauer-1815-754x1113“After a number of rejections, he decided that ‘only the male intellect, clouded by the sexual impulse, could call the undersized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged sex “the fair sex”.’ Undeterred, he returned a year later to find his success rate greatly improved, to the extent that he became engaged ‘to a lady of noble family’, but he broke it off when he learned that she had tuberculosis.”[1]

How much of Schopenhauer’s pessimism resulted from his particular negative experience with the Florentine ladies and how much from his general metaphysical reflections? And how much did his metaphysics contribute to his lack of romantic luck?

Consider these lines from The World as Will and Representation, also a product of the year 1818:

Reality is a “world of constantly needy creatures who continue for a time merely by devouring one another,schopenhauer-blue pass their existence in anxiety and want, and often endure terrible affliction, until they fall at last into the arms of death.” And more: “we have not to be pleased but rather sorry about the existence of the world, that its non-existence would be preferable to its existence.” As for mankind: “nothing else can be stated as the aim of our existence except the knowledge that it would be better for us not to exist.”[2]

Wouldn’t that make the Florentinas swoon.


[1] Ted Jones, Florence and Tuscany: A Literary Guide for Travellers (I.B. Tauris, 2013), p. 68.

[2] Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (Dover, 1969 [1818]), pp. 349, 576, 605.


Schopenhauer’s sense of humor.

My discussion of Schopenhauer’s significance in nineteenth-century philosophy is in “Epistemological solutions to Kant: Irrationalism from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche,” in Chapter 2 of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.

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David L. Norton on emulating worthy men

norton-personal-destinies“To emulate a worthy man is not to re-live his individual life, but to utilize the principle of worthy living, exemplified by him, toward the qualitative improvement of our individual life.”

Source: David L. Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (Princeton University Press, 1976), 13. Quoted in Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, “The Perfectionist Turn,” Social Philosophy & Policy, 30:1-2 (January 2013), pp. 69-94.

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Interview with Zoltan Cendes now online

k29-coverMy Kaizen interview with entrepreneur Zol Cendes on the theme of Entrepreneurial Software is now posted at the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship site.

I met Mr. Cendes in Naples, Florida, to discuss his experience founding Ansoft, a $900 million software company that revolutionized engineering modeling.

The interview was originally published in Issue 29 of Kaizen [pdf].

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Entrepreneurship and Virtue Ethics

In this 21-minute video lecture, Entrepreneurship and Virtue Ethics, I connect the success traits of entrepreneurs (e.g., initiative, guts, win-win trade, and so on) with moral virtues (e.g., integrity, courage, justice, and so on).

My thesis is that what is practical in business and what is moral are tightly integrated — in contrast to the often-stated separation thesis which holds that business success and moral goodness are categorically distinct.

This video lecture is a follow up to The Entrepreneurial Process — What Makes Entrepreneurs Tick? and is part of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship’s “Entrepreneurship and Values” series of short lectures by entrepreneurs and academics including John Chisholm, Alexei Marcoux, Terry Noel, Robert Salvino (forthcoming), and William Kline (forthcoming).

My “What Business Ethics Can Learn from Entrepreneurship” [pdf], originally published in Journal of Private Enterprise, 24(2), Spring 2009, 49-57. Also online at the Social Science Research Network, at Amazon in Kindle e-book version, in Serbo-Croatian and Spanish translations, and in audio format (MP3 and YouTube).

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Kipling on the individual and the tribe

I like this new-to-me quotation from Rudyard Kipling, and I’ve added it to my Quotations page: kiplingrudyard-collier-1891-150px

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is a hard business. If you try it, you’ll be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” (Rudyard Kipling in 1935)

Also this one: “Do the things you really want to do if you possibly can. Don’t wait for circumstances to be exactly right. You’ll find that they never are.”

Source: Arthur Gordon, “Six Hours with Rudyard Kipling,” The Kipling Journal (June 1967), p. 7. (Via Stuart Hayashi.)

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Galileo, free speech & censorship

This week in my Free Speech and Censorship course, we are focused on Galileo’s 1615 “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina,” which is his defense of free inquiry in the sciences and its compatibility with religion rightly understood.galileo-galilei

Here is a re-post of my Galileo and the Modern Compromise:

IN HIS OPEN LETTER to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615), Galileo offered a defense of science against the prevailing heavy hand of religious orthodoxy:

“But I do not feel obliged to believe that that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.”

The immediate context was the great debate over the geocentric and heliocentric models. The larger context was the tension between religious philosophy, which stressed faith in revelation and tradition, and Renaissance philosophy, which stressed observation and reason. How, for example, should we decide whether the earth or the sun is at the center of our cosmos? heliocentricShould we trust the views handed down to us by the best theologians of the centuries, those views derived primarily from Scripture? Or should we trust the views presented to us by scientists, their theories based on observational data from telescopes and other instruments and mathematical calculations of that data?

The traditionalist position was that reliance on observation and reason — when that conflicts with Scripture and tradition — is heresy. Giordano Bruno was convicted and executed, in part, for such heresy. When reason conflicts with faith, reason must give way. Or else.

Galileo’s solution is to argue that God wrote Scripture, of course, so Scripture contains the truth — and that God also created nature, and so nature also contains truth. God also created us humans, giving us sense organs and intelligence. So we can study Scripture rationally and learn important truths, as theologians do. But we can and should study nature rationally and learn important truths, as scientists do. And since both Scripture and nature come from the same author — God wrote two books, so to speak — the best theology and the best science should be compatible.

execution-of-giodano-bruno1Consequently, the real heretics are those who place faith over reason and who use apparent theoretical conflicts as a pretext for persecuting or killing their intellectual opponents. The truly devout, by direct contrast, are those who use their best intelligence, as God intended when He gave it to us, to try to understand the universe and who, when intellectual conflicts arise along the way, use reasonable methods — discussion, debate, and further investigation — to resolve them.

I call this “the modern compromise” because versions of it are also found in Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and John Locke. In Galileo’s version, the intellectual turf is divided into two realms — the natural and the supernatural — and as long as scientists and theologians stick to their own turf, there should be no problems.

Locke uses the same dualist point is used to argue for the separation of church and state: “The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable. He jumbles heaven and earth together, the things most remote and opposite, who mixes these two societies, which are in their original, end, business, and in everything perfectly distinct and infinitely different from each other” (A Letter concerning Toleration [1689]).

So the early modern compromise is to use a strong metaphysical dualism to separate the natural and the supernatural, the realm of science and the realm of religion, the scope of the state’s power and the scope of the church’s, the physical and the spiritual, the factual and the moral. As long as everyone stays on their side of the line, we can avoid conflict.

I sometimes wonder to what extent the dualism was a genuine metaphysical claim by these founding modern thinkers —galileo-trial and to what extent it was a tactical claim to create a safety zone for naturalistic life and inquiry, given the often-dangerous religious orthodoxies of the time.

Despite having lost much of Europe to the Protestants over the preceding century, the Catholic Church was far from toothless, especially in southern Europe, and in 1616 it issued a Codex with a formal response to Galileo’s argument and the threat of heliocentrism:

“Propositions to be forbidden: That the sun is immovable at the center of the heaven; that the earth is not at the center of the heaven, and is not immovable; but moves by a double motion.”

Thus the stage was set for continued tension on both sides and Galileo’s trial for heresy in the 1633.

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