Post-modern philosophy or neo-sophistry?

Just what is philosophy exactly? Like art, most people have a vague conception of what it is, being able to recognise it when they see it, yet giving an exact description is difficult. It’s about rational inquiry, but into what? The Greek origin of the word suggests it’s about wisdom, but what is wisdom? While the meaning of wisdom is also a disputed, philosophy’s search for truth is further complicated by the fact that sceptics question the possibility of knowing objective truth, which would seem to render all inquiry pointless. Once one is a convinced sceptic (which seems contradictory) all inquiry into anything is pointless.

The contradictory nature of dogmatic scepticism (asserting that nothing can be asserted) has already been pointed out across the centuries. If one is simply unsure about everything but not convinced about the uncertainty, inquiry has still far less value then when one is on a quest to find absolute truth. Is sceptical philosophy possible? If no knowledge can be acquired, not inquiry can be successful or unsuccessful, isn’t philosophy pointless? Does it even exist? Pyrrhonism simply keeps al inquiries unresolved. Judgement is suspended. Truth is sought but never obtained with certainty. As such it may be viewed as fruitless philosophy. But dogmatic scepticism actively rejects all inquiry as pointless, rejects truth, and such arguably even wisdom.

Scepticism has the same problem as relativism, subjectivism and any dogmatic agnosticism. Just as how Al-Ghazali’s attack on philosophy (as described on this site) based on philosophical arguments fits neatly into the paradox tradition of anti-rationalism, anti-ideology and anti-morality.

This brings me to the crucial point that epistemology is the starting point from which to delve into other forms of philosophy. First one needs to decide the basis of knowledge before trying to acquire and analyse knowledge regarding various subjects.

But again, what is philosophy? Doesn’t the pursuit of knowledge (as far as possible) through rational inquiry describe virtually every science? Yes, and this is why virtually all sciences were called philosophy, even physics, before the development of the scientific method and the division of science into various fields; before the modern demarcation problem.

But then we ended up (not without controversy) splitting up the sciences and (attempted to) distinguish between the so called hard and soft sciences.

The distinction between philosophy and the hard sciences such as physics or math is an obvious one, but can fellow “soft” sciences such as psychology or sociology truly be separated from philosophy? In spite of their clear links to anthropology (which needed to be divided into various subfields as well of course)? Is sociology possible without any reference to the psychology of the masses? Or even economics? Mass panics, processes of polarisation and resentment, internalised obedience, these are all topics that influence both sociology and economics; aren’t they all intertwined?

Trying to understand institutions and social processes is connected to trying to understand what drives people consciously and subconsciously, these in term both inform or understanding of the market, of the profit motive, theories about class struggle and so on.

Institutions, society, economics and mankind are all interconnected. Trying to understand the world and everything in it is a single pursuit with many facets.

That seems like stating the obvious but really becomes a matter of definition hasn’t it? What is the difference between political philosophy and politocology? If you trust the English Wikipedia (that’s uum… well…) than political philosophy is a part of politicology, also known as political science. Odd to finally see science and philosophy being treated as fully distinct but alright. Yet comparative politics also involves philosophical inspirations in how to classify and compare various political systems (something Plato and Aristotle already did a lot) political philosophy is nearly impossible to engage in without any reference to comparative politics.

Since philosophy is accepted as a soft science, shouldn’t theology be included in there as well? It was treated as a science by Thomas Aquinas and treated as part of philosophy by Socrates and Plato.

At least the question about the meaning of philosophy, is obviously philosophical.

But what is NOT philosophical, is post-modern philosophy. One of the ultimate oxymorons. Since post-modern philosophy generally rejects logic, reason, objectivity, knowledge and truth, it constitutes a complete rejection of philosophy, in a more thorough and complete way than even academic scepticism.

Post-modern philosophy has already been properly condemned by others for its vagueness and the near impossibility to define it,[1] so I will just add that rejecting certain assumption in modernist philosophy, doesn’t have to result in replacing it was ridiculous obscurantism. At the risk of being reactionary, I suggest rejecting enlightenment dogma’s (though preserving whatever valuable wisdom that may have been acquired) and turning to the spirit of Plato and Pythagoras, Plutarch and Cicero, Aquinas and Scotus.

Socrates and Plato specifically rejected the sophists. Sophists didn’t care about (or even believe in) truth. They said clever sounding things that validated what (powerful) people wanted to hear. Socrates died because he spoke offensive truths. He didn’t try to get rich off philosophy. The focus was on truth, not winning a debate.

Later ‘philosophers’ embraced nihilism yet also preached how people should live. Nietzsche embraced nihilism yet encouraged men to reject traditional morality and become the Übermensch. Declaring God dead and traditional morality outdated, Nietzsche encouraged people to follow a manmade goal to replace (what he saw as) older manmade goals. Similar Sartre pretended to be an existentialist and yet fanatically pursued pseudo-ideals. Existentialists deny objective meaning and yet turn the quest to find a subjective meaning into a moral obligation.[2] That’s absurd.

Socrates and Plato also had certain core assumptions/ideas not based on anything which were instead the basis for reasoning. Thing that simply are. Axioms. They had their own core dogmas from which they started, using reason to examine open questions. They were honest about their axioms. Nihilists deny objective meaning and morality yet want to invent one. That is the problem with every ideological rejection of truth. It becomes contradictory. Why obsess over your subjective ‘truth’ that there is no truth?

Can there be such a thing as negative truth? Anti-truth? It remains me of de Sade’s seeming hatred for morality and law when he rejected the existence of both. Even hatred for these things being made up makes little sense when nothing matters. Truth, falsehood, right, wrong, they all mean nothing.

Opposition to morality in a way invalidates it since it makes it important. If moral laws are wrong cause they cause some kind of imagined harm this suggests harm is wrong. Therefore, every philosopher, every thinker, every ideologue and even every supposed anti-ideologue should be honest about what they value, what their assumptions are and what their goals are.

Mine are to find knowledge and the truth, through reason and critical study and to share these with others because I both believe them to have intrinsic value and because they’re good for society.

What is the motivation for a fan of De Sade to reject morality? Because it is supposedly true? If so, does truth matter? If yes, then it exists. Very argument involves axioms or value judgements.

A final consideration, people who reject all objective truth and view all truths as a product of time and environment believe that such relativism is universally true. The universal truth is that there is no truth. This truth supposedly transcends time and environment.

Claiming to argue against absolute truth is generally just hypocritical cowardice. The consistent doubter can only search, not argue or assert.


  1. “BOOK REVIEW of The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism”. Educational Studies.
  2. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Johan van Schaik

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