Pragmatism and Postmodernism


by Mike Ratliff

28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28 NASB)

Postmodernism : A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind. The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas states, postmodernism “cannot on its own principles ultimately justify itself any more than can the various metaphysical overviews against which the postmodern mind has defined itself.” – From Faith and Reason

Pragmatism:
Function:
noun
Date:
circa 1864

1 : a practical approach to problems and affairs <tried to strike a balance between principles and pragmatism> 2 : an American movement in philosophy founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief

Postmodernism is a term that that is claimed by the Emergent Church movement. This philosophy in the first part of the 21st Century has come to dominate Western thinking. In each area of thought within it we find that, invariably, pragmatism is its root. Pragmatic philosophy says that everything is relative because ultimate, transcendent truth does not exist. This makes reasoning with a pragmatist extremely frustrating. Also, there are moral and absolute standards in our society that are continually under attack and, seemingly, are crumbling under our feet all around us. The culprit behind this is Pragmatic philosophy coupled with postmodernist thinking.  Continue reading