Postmodern philosophy is abstract, but its general themes are used by intellectual activists in more specific disciplines. We here recommend four critical studies of postmodernism in literature, history, science, and law.
Literature: In Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities (Yale, 1997), professor of German literature John Ellis argues that postmodernism is an impoverishment of literature, as it ignores the great complexity of human life to focus narrowly and mono- maniacally on a few themes of race, class, and gender. While billing itself as anti-Western, postmodernism in fact continues a long tradition of angered commentary by “alienated insiders” who are ashamed of their own society (white and/or male guilt), and “resentful outsiders” who feel excluded (racial, gender, or ethnic minorities).
History: Australian historian Keith Windschuttle’s The Killing of History (Free Press, 1997) argues that history should try to tell the truth. That is difficult, and “many historians have been exposed as mistaken, opinionated and often completely wrong.” That is objectively good, as it eliminates errors and puts us closer to knowing the facts. Postmodern historians, by contrast, reject all standards of truth and objectivity and assert that history is subjective: it is merely “our own interests and concerns reflected back at us.” If history is only myth, then the way is paved for “the return of tribalism.”
Science: Philosopher of science Noretta Koertge (Indiana University) edited A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science, which contains eighteen essays by leading mathematicians, biologists, and historians of science that challenge postmodern ignorance, mis-representations, and bad-faith attacks on science. Included is physicist Alan Sokal’s account of the Social Text hoax, in which a nonsense essay was accepted for publication by the editors of a leading postmodern academic journal.
Law: Legal scholars Daniel Farber (University of California, Berkeley) and Suzanna Sherry (Vanderbilt University) co-authored Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law (Oxford, 1997) assess postmodern legal theory as developed by Derrick Bell, Catherine MacKinnon, Richard Delgado, and others. (1) If the fact/fiction is a myth (all is “narratives”), then legal battles become story-telling contests. (2) If reason is out, then so are the legal system’s procedures of evidence, argument, and burden of proof standards. (3) If every person is a social construct in a racist, sexist, and exploitative society, then double standards of oppressor/victim will dominate.
Summary by Stephen Hicks, 2020.