Research Essay: Modernism and Postmodernism Differences

In this paper I’m going to discuss whether the Western civilization is continuing its quest for knowledge and truth, based on the understanding of the divergence between modernism and postmodernism. Rabinow (1984) also carefully observes Foucault’s pessimistic approach to the genesis of knowledge and its future development. Foucault saw how aggrandizing of knowledge doesn’t bring the humankind any closer to a more advanced system of understanding of the world and our own nature; rather, these massive amounts of information and knowledge that are being produced result in an even more complicated web of deceit and illusion. The passage from modernism to postmodernism has marked the change of the very paradigm of human knowledge. One of the chief assumptions of modernism is that human reason, when parts company with the scientific method, should be regarded as the only trustworthy means of getting knowledge about the world. Modernism culminated in arrogance about human abilities, specifically, the abilities of human reason. It centred on the notion that reality was objective and that humankind was able to discover the principles of nature and understand the universe. Modernism rejected the supernatural or the transcendent. Implied was that religious truth and scientific truth were two different kinds of truth, and scientific truth as a superior one. Modernism illegitimated religious truth, since in that dichotomy of two truths only one was right. This meant that truth itself had changed, yet the objective truth still couldn’t be multiple.

The criticism against the modern project from the postmodernists was associated with the erroneous notion that there is such a phenomenon as objective truth. This was associated with the nature of knowledge: probably, absolute knowledge and universal truth are only theoretical constructions of the human mind that can’t be verified objectively. Indeed, the revolution is that postmodernism advocates for the notion that truth, meaning, and objective reality don’t actually exist, and that all religious beliefs and moral codes are subjective. Is there a danger in it? From the first glance, no argument it’s a dangerous stance. Postmodernism recognizes that the discourse has shifted to the extent when every person has the right to have a distinctive, subjective truth.

Should the humankind strive for Enlightenment? Rabinow (1984) argues that Foucault was quite pessimistic about the humankind potential to achieve absolute knowledge and universal truth. I believe that the notion of Enlightenment also changed. While in the modern paradigm Enlightenment meant that one objective (and scientific) truth is imposed on the maximum number of people. However, postmodernism focuses on the individual quest for individual truth. Enlightenment is now viewed in the following terms: every person is collecting knowledge of different nature and than making a personal truth out of this knowledge. Therefore, quest for truth still remains a characteristic of human nature, yet it’s now occurring within a different paradigm.

Rabinow, P. The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

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