Stockholm trip and Postmodernismens Förklaring

ep-swedish-full-150pxI’ll be in Stockholm on April 3 for the official release of Postmodernismens Förklaring: Skepticism och socialism från Rousseau till Foucault, which is the Swedish translation of my Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.

The Swedish edition is published by Timbro and Stiftelsen Fritt Näringsliv. Thanks again to Anders Johansson, who did the translation, and to Adam Cwejman, who initiated and oversaw the project.

While in Stockholm, I’ll also give a talk on postmodernism at the Sture Academy on April 4.

Information about other editions and translations is at the Explaining Postmodernism page.

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Is everyone selfish? Hannah Arendt quotation

How some political ideologies depend on the self-induced selflessness of their members. Here is Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism speaking of both Nazism and Communism:

“How little the masses were driven by the famous instinct for self-preservation … . The fanaticism of members of totalitarian movements, so clearly different in quality from the greatest loyalty of members of ordinary parties,giacometti-walking-man-175px is produced by the lack of self-interest of masses who are quite prepared to sacrifice themselves.”[1]

I’m reminded of Michel Foucault’s discussion of the French Communist Party in the 1950s, as a split emerged between those willing to question the Soviet line and those who willed themselves into continued blind following:

“Being obliged to stand behind a fact that was totally beyond credibility … was part of that exercise of the ‘dissolution of the self,’ of the quest for a way to be ‘other’.”[2]

Foucault, along with Derrida, drifted from the Party, but large numbers of otherwise intelligent people performed the self-stultification necessary to remain within it.

Another former fellow-traveler from that era, Richard Crossman, argued that it was precisely Communism’s demand for spiritual and material self-sacrifice that many converts found appealing.[3]

Such comments are a clear challenge for psychological egoism, but the interesting question to me is the difference in moral psychology between those who (a) are selfless in the sense of failing to pursue their interests and thus letting themselves slip away or simply not develop, and (b) who actively deny, submerge, and even go to war against themselves in order actively to promote some other being or collectivity.

[1] Hannah Arendt, Chapter 11 of The Origins of Totalitarianism, emphasis added. An online version is here.
[2] Michel Foucault, quoted in Richard Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault (Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 58, emphasis added.
[3] Richard Crossman, editor, The God that Failed (New York and Evanston: Harper Colophon, 1963 [1949]), p. 6.
The sculpture is Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man (1960); the image is from here.

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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 @

[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).

Posted in Business Ethics, Entrepreneurship, Ethics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments