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Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
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Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
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Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
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Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
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James Martineau
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Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
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Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
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Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
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Stephen Brush
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S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
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Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
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Martin Heisenberg
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Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
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Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
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Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Post-Modernism is a central theme in contemporary culture, one which has been developing over the past two or three decades, affecting such fields as philosophy, architecture, and art. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misused and ambiguous concepts in contemporary culture. The idea of post-modernism is so self-referential and questioning of meaning that it becomes quite difficult to define, even for those who use it to guide their lives or art, but this ambiguity does not prevent everybody from using it for everything. "Unfortunately, 'postmodern' is a term bon a tout faire. I have the impression that it is applied today to anything the user of the term happens to like" (Eco 65). Because post-modernism suggests that words and the concepts behind them have only the meanings we give them, many promoters as well as critics of postmodernism have given themselves free rein to use the word postmodernism, creating a number of differing and frequently inaccurate definitions of the concept. In defining such a difficult concept as post-modernism, I do not expect to be able to achieve a completely precise definition, I only expect to give an interpretation of those small passages of the many sources which I have read, and those concepts of which I have some previous and continuing understanding. I have found that since post-modernism is a reaction against modernism, I had to take a step back and explore the concept of modernism, on which post-modernism obviously depends. Then, as if this was not complex enough already, modernism itself is defined as relating to a previous concept, traditionalism. Additionally, in order to characterize these three kinds of thought, traditional, modern, and post-modern, we will consider their viewpoints with respect to three other aspects — the voice with which they speak, their attitude toward progress, and how creativity manifests itself, if at all. Finally, we will address the point of view that modernism and post-modernism are merely periods which existed at particular times and places, with post-modernism being simply a reaction to modernism, which it then replaced.

The term 'traditionalism' is defined in Webster's New International Dictionary Second Edition as a body of knowledge (belief, way of life, revealed knowledge) which is generally accepted by a society, and handed down, or spoken-down (so to speak), unchanged through the generations. Traditionalism is basically acceptance on faith by a community of a Way of doing things — an ethics, a religion, a political theory, a doctrine of any sort, in short, the community's basic beliefs or foundational truths. The traditional society accepts this one Way based on the fact that that is how things have always been done and what has always been believed in that society, and the desire that this Way remain unchanged. To go against the one true Way would be wrong, and chaos would result; evil would be done, God would be angry, society would break down, etc.

In the traditional Way, the voice we hear speaking is a disembodied absolute, revealing the one incontrovertible Truth. Because the Truth has been revealed, there is nothing more to search for or find, so that there is no need for progress. Similarly, creativity in a traditional community is limited by the belief that everything has been discovered, in that to create something different or innovative would be to suggest that there is either something that the Truth has not divulged, or that anything new created would go against the Truth.

The Random House Dictionary Second Edition defines the term 'modernism' as "a deliberate philosophical and practical estrangement or divergence from the past in the arts and literature occurring esp. in the course of the 20th century, and taking form in any of various innovative movements and styles." As can be seen here, modernism today is more often than not judged to be a movement purely against tradition. However, as I see it, modernism was not, in the beginning, simply a rejection of all tradition, though it has now taken on that meaning for some. I believe modernism was, and still is, a movement toward finding a new basis for knowledge or beliefs or a new Way, often based on reason and proof. The modernist idea of proof moved away from tradition at least in the sense that tradition accepts a Way on faith, not requiring, and in some cases fearing and rejecting, the idea of a proof. In my view, modernism is the attempt to establish, through some means (most often reason), that some one Way of doing things is correct. This movement appeared throughout religion and philosophy, eventually extending into such areas as literature, art, and architecture. Modernism constructs a foundation for a Way, generally using argument and reason to support its claim to convince followers and potential critics.

Suzi Gablik points out in Has Modernism Failed?, "'Modern consciousness entails a movement from fate to choice.' Choice is a modern idea; there was no choice in traditional societies" (78). If someone in a traditional society attempted to choose some new Way, using reason or proofs to create a foundation for these new beliefs, and the foundation or the Way was critical of any aspect of tradition, much less opposed to it, they would surely be crushed. Thus the first successful examples of moderns were those who found a way around and through the constricting traditionalism, by supporting the tradition in certain areas, trying to prove the tradition itself, showing its benefits and advantages on the basis of reason, and arguing against those who were criticizing it. A good example of the modern use of argument to support tradition is the work of the philosopher Rene Descartes, whose arguments for the existence of God are a modern approach to explain religious belief, though his conclusions are strictly traditional. As Bertrand Russell says in his History of Western Philosophy, "Rene Descartes is usually considered the founder of modern philosophy, . . . he does not accept foundations laid by predecessors, but endeavours to construct a complete philosophic edifice de novo" (557). So we see that some moderns are conservative, trying to support or salvage the tradition. Using reason and proof like this would, probably unintentionally, do much towards showing the importance and power of proof.

Through conservative modern arguments such as those of Descartes, the power of having a foundation was shown to the traditionalists of the time, as well as to those who were budding moderns. Once reason had established itself, people with Ways other than the tradition might be able to make their proofs heard without being persecuted for anti-traditional sentiment. As Erich Fromm says in Escape From Freedom, "the modern individual has lost to a great extent the inner capacity to have faith in anything which is not provable by the methods of the natural sciences" (125). These moderns used the idea of reason to attack the tradition or substitute a new Way — we might call them radical moderns. Irving Howe says in The Idea of the Modern that, "modernity consists in a revolt against this prevalent style, an unyielding rage against the official order" (13).

An example of radical modernism is the work of John Stuart Mill, specifically his theory of utilitarianism, a system of ethics which states that in any given situation the correct decision to be made is that which will bring about the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number, happiness being defined as pleasure and the absence of pain. Mill uses reason to support this theory, this Way, arguing that it is the One correct Way of making ethical decisions. Mill goes violently against tradition, not only proving his claims instead of accepting them on faith, but also not agreeing with the accepted system of making ethical decisions of the time, which was to follow the religious tenets and the laws of the state. Howe states that "to condemn modernist literature for a failure to conform to traditional criteria of unity, order, and coherence is to miss the point, since, to begin with, it either rejects these criteria implicitly or proposes radical new ways of embodying them" (29).

Under the concept of modernism, the voice is a single, very human voice, the voice of reason, or perhaps the voice of feeling or emotion, extolling the virtue of the one Way, and how it is such an improvement over all other ways. Progress is accepted, even encouraged under modernism, any and all improvement being a positive move, even if it disproves an existing Way in favor of another new Way. Creativity, as well, is advocated so that we might be brought as close as possible to the Truth.

In both conservative and radical modernism, the modernist position comes through, not accepting a Way on faith alone, but proving a Way through reason, constructing a foundation for the believability of the given Way. Of course, moderns have created a great number of different Ways, almost every one of these new Ways thought to be provable to be the one and only true Way. Unfortunately, it is inevitably impossible to reconcile every proof with every other proof, so this incredible diversity could only result in chaos, in some fields leading to self-destruction.

The Random House Dictionary Second Edition defines the word 'postmodernism' as "any of a number of trends or movements in the arts and literature developing in the 1970's in reaction to or rejection of the dogma, principles, or practices of established modernism, esp. a movement in architecture and the decorative arts, running counter to the practice and influence of the International Style and encouraging the use of elements from historical vernacular styles and often playful illusion, decoration, and complexity." This definition is, in my view, accurate to a certain extent, though its scope is somewhat narrow. It is true that postmodernism expressed itself in this way in fields such as art and architecture, but its underlying motivations and goals were much broader than they might seem. Post-Modernism is not a movement which goes against all tradition, nor one which rejects every modern Way. In some sense, it accepts them all. What post-modernism does go against is proof itself, and against the concept that any word, or concept, or Way has any more meaning than we ourselves give it. Post-Modernism tried to show that no one Way was more valid than any other by taking an argument for a given Way, and using the same argument to disprove that Way. This was called deconstruction, using argument to dismantle argument, proof to undermine proof, deconstructing any and all foundations. Post-Modernism has been taken to extremes in two directions. Some people despair, and take the idea that all proof is meaningless to suggest that everything is meaningless, that nothing has any value. This extreme is known as 'nihilism', and is especially associated with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose life was spent and destroyed by attempting to come to terms with this concept philosophically.

At the opposite extreme are people who feel optimistic and liberated by the more generally accepted form of post-modernism, which, because proof is meaningless, makes everything of equal value, or at least only of as much value as we give it, and that anything we do is acceptable. It suggests that because no one Way is better, or more correct than any other, all Ways are correct, from the most traditional to the limits of absurdity. With this universal acceptance came a great playfulness, using illusion, allusion, double-coding, and, as Charles Jencks says, "irony, parody, displacement, complexity, eclecticism, realism, or any number of contemporary tactics and goals" (15). Perhaps I could coin the name Omnists, or 'everythingists', here by which we may distinguish these extreme post-moderns who accept every Way from the Nihilists, who accept no Way(s). This is the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, who was the first person to use the term 'deconstruction' to describe this post-modernist stance. Of course, there are an infinite number of varying post-modernist positions in between, and possibly beyond, Nihilism and Omnism, a number of them probably still lying in wait to be discovered by some post-modern with nothing to prove but something to say.

The voice of post-modernism is not a voice, but that of everybody, many voices. It is all people speaking whatever they wish, or what they feel is correct, every Way's truth being heard alongside every other, to be acknowledged or ignored or otherwise. Progress, in terms of post-modernism, is somewhat confusing, in that without signposts such as values to guide us, it is impossible to tell whether we are progressing or not, and if so, in what direction. Creativity, however, is if anything more stressed than ever, allowing every creative impulse to manifest itself, even formulating some which would not have existed otherwise.

Finally, 'modern and 'post-modern' are generally thought to be periods of style, especially in the fields of literature, architecture, and the arts. 'Modernism' is defined by M.H. Abrams in his A Glossary of Literary Terms as a term used to describe the anti-traditional elements and motivation in the period after World War I (108). He stresses the break with tradition to a great extent, making this the central theme behind modernism. Although I believe that the move against tradition played a large part in modernism, I would not call that the theme of it. As I have tried to make clear above, I view modernism as having higher goals than merely moving against some tradition. Modernism attempts to use reason (or some other basis) to give credence and life to some chosen Way. I also find it difficult to fit the concept of modernism into the comparatively small timeframe in which Abrams would place it. I find that modernism has a great number of followers from as far back as Descartes and before, right up to today, when modernists abound. Abrams also seems to refer to modernism as a singular movement, not emphasizing that there were many different new Ways being created by the moderns, diversifying in so many directions that it becomes problematic to classify them all under one revolt against tradition. As the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms puts it, modernism in literature has been "applied retrospectively to a wide range of experimental and avant-garde trends. . . Symbolism, Futurism, Expressionism, Imagism, Vorticism, Dada, and Surrealism". Modernism in art included many of these, as well as Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, and Minimalism. Only in architecture did modernism take on the form of a monolithic style known as Bauhaus, minimalism, or the International Style.

Abrams also defines the term 'post-modernism' as the anti-modern (and of course anti-traditional) movement after World War II (109-10), which he suggests came about as a result of modernism's failure and the failure of reason embodied in "Nazi totalitarianism and mass extermination, the threat of total destruction by the atomic bomb, the progressive devastation of the natural environment, and the ominous fact of overpopulation and the threat of extermination" (109-10). I disagree again with the thought that post-modernism as a concept is merely an anti-modernist period after World War II. It is to me a much greater movement throughout such fields as philosophy and religion as well as architecture, literature and the arts, deconstructing the modernist idea of proof and reason itself. Yet, post-modernism accepts the results of modernism, accepts each modernist Way as being of equal value. It was not motivated by some mistaken extreme of modernism, for post-modernism itself has its dangerous extreme of nihilism, but by the fact that modernism itself had become a tradition. In its own attempt to prove something other than itself, modernism only succeeded in disproving itself, creating that which would come after it, post-modernism. Post-Modernism did follow modernism, but it did not replace it. Post-Modernism showed to modernism modernism's own mistakes, deconstructing proof, but also revealed all of its glories, every different Way, traditional as well as modern, suddenly alongside one another, each one being set apart from the others only by how we think about them, which is, of course, how it had always been. In the words of Linda Hutcheon:

Postmodernism does not entirely negate modernism. It cannot. What it does do is interpret it freely; it "critically reviews it for its glories and its errors" (Portoghesi 1982, 28). Thus modernism's dogmatic reductionism, its inability to deal with ambiguity and irony, and its denial of the validity of the past were all issues that were seriously examined and found wanting. Postmodernism attempts to be historically aware, hybrid, and inclusive. Seemingly inexhaustible historical and social curiosity and a provisional and paradoxical stance (somewhat ironic, yet involved) replace the prophetic, prescriptive posture of the great masters of modernism. (30)
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