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Context : PostModernism, TheEnlightenment

Quora Answer : Why is postmodern part of the Enlightenment project?

Nov 24

So the key idea here is "nihilism"

Contrary to what many people on the interwebs now seem to think, nihilism is not some rather capricious and sophomoric claim to believe in nothing made by stroppy teenagers.

Nihilism is the unavoidable consequence of the Enlightenment thinking that gave us a clockwork model of the universe running according to natural laws.

If the universe is clockwork, then perhaps people are clockwork too. There's no need or obligation or even possibility to be heroic or wise or virtuous. The rainbow is unwoven. Life is mere survival without obligations but also without goals or purpose. Human dignity is a sham. Statecraft is constrained by iron laws of economics. Morality is just utilitarian calculus. Etc.

By the late 19th century, nihilism arose, less as a positive thesis, and more as something seen as an undesirable consequence of Enlightenment ideas of a law-like universe wholly accessible to reason.

Post-modernism is a vague term and people conflate many things under that heading. But most late 20th century and early 21st century philosophy in the continental tradition (which is what most people who talk about "post-modernism" are thinking of), are largely developing from, and responding to, Nietzsche and Heidegger.

Neither Nietzsche nor Heidegger are nihilists. They are appalled by and opposed to the nihilism that they see as a direct result of the Enlightenment prioritization of laws and reason. They are trying to find a way "around" the mindset that the Enlightenment left us, and a way of escaping the gravitational pull of the nihilist black-hole.

Neither Nietzsche nor Heidegger are "post-modernists" either. (Partly, they are just too early.) But pretty much all the post-modernists are in some way in a dialogue with, or responding to, or developing ideas from, Nietzsche and Heidegger.

So Post-modernism is not exactly "part of" the Enlightenment project. But it is part of the inheritance of the Enlightenment. It's an attempt to solve problems that the Enlightenment was seen to have created.

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