Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Just exactly like that

I was studying Colossians with Middle Daughter the other day. Got to the part where Paul warns his readers about people who will beguile them with enticing words. It's in the "vain philosophy" section. One conjecture is that the heresy in question was an early form of Gnosticism, so I was trying to explain a little about Gnosticism to her. I got to the part about how the Gnostics tried to create mysteries and then told people that they could be part of their secret "club" by going through an initiation ceremony. People thought this was pretty cool and that they would be profound thinkers like their teachers if they learned this hidden knowledge, but really it was all nonsense.

To which she replied, "That's sort of like postmodernism. Where they say that yes and no are the same thing."

Yes, sweetheart, very much so. Right on.


William Luse said...

How old is the Middle Daughter, to come up with a line like that?

Lydia McGrew said...


William Luse said...

Oh - my - God. Better enjoy your position in the hierarchy while it lasts.

Lydia McGrew said...

You should hear the eldest one--the teenager. She's rather inclined sometimes to patronize Middle Daughter as being less quick on the uptake, slower to get a joke, etc., than herself. And certainly their personalities are very different. But even if Middle Daughter is quieter, more deliberate, more introspective, and all that jazz, she's got all of her own marbles and a few of somebody else's. And she listens to our conversations even when they are not actively including her, stores what she hears, and thinks about it.

William Luse said...

It's fun to watch, isn't it?

LanceThruster said...

I do not get the reference. I'm trying to figure out what she meant; let alone whether or not i agree with it. Any links you could point me to on the subject? As far as Paul's statement warning of beguiling with enticing words, that seems to be a common caution from anyone claiming to have "The Truth(tm)", particularly when the source is supposed "revealed knowledge."

Lydia McGrew said...

Postmodernists, like ancient Gnostics, try to convince people that they are saying something profound, thus making their audience members feel that they should respect and try to imitate the postmodernists, when actually the postmodernists are only talking nonsense.

That's the long version. We have talked at the dinner table at various times about how postmodernists do this--blathering on with high-sounding jargon that means nothing and misleading their hearers into believing they are listening to profundities--and obviously she had remembered that conversation.

Bill, it _is_ fun, but I know I'm going to look back on these years later and wish I'd worried less and just sat back and enjoyed more. Responsibility is a booger. I take it much too seriously. :-)

LanceThruster said...

Jargon is a product of almost all disciplines. There are some connections between of Gnosticism and postmodernism but I think there's been a bit too much oversimplification. But any knowledge of epistemology is a good thing.

It was interesting when looking up diffent aspects of the topic on Wikipedia that possibly two of the greatest pieces of American literature are considered postmodern; "Catch-22" and "Slaughter House Five." I hope your Middle Daughter avails herself to these novels at some point.

I'll leave you with an online piece from an adult education series that I found informative:

Postmodernism: Yes, No, or Maybe? Myths and Realities No. 15.


These key features overlap, criss-cross, and reoccur in discussions about postmodernism: plurality of perspectives, antiessentialism, antifoundationalism, antiscientism, and end of metaphysics and ideology. Other characterizations focus on the discrediting of modernism's grand narrative, the positivist assumption that objectivity is the only truth, and that all questions could be answered by a hierarchy of sciences, principles, and beliefs. Discussing the nature of knowledge in adult learning, Kilgore (2001), on the other hand, characterizes postmodernism and critical theory, an overlapping paradigm, in terms of the interplay between knowledge, power, and learning. The merits of postmodernist thought are hotly debated. Some find a self-defeating paradox in the key features of postmodernism. Some disagree with postmodernist views on objective reality and on our ability to know that reality accurately. Others question the quality of some postmodern writing and thought. At the same time that proponents and critics disagree vehemently over epistemology, many agree that postmodernism brings a valuable spotlight on human nature and its role in constructing knowledge. For Kilgore (2001), the most significant contribution of the postmodern worldview is the recognition and theoretical inclusion of the diversity of learners and their individual and collective voices. (Contains 14 references.) (YLB)

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes. Proves my point very nicely. And jargon is the least of pomo's problems, though a real one.

LanceThruster said...

Not sure if it "proves" it or just expands on it. I was about to write that "it seems as if you are saying"...then realized I'm still not sure what you or she are saying. What is your approach to epistemology? What philosophical approach is closest to your own in the search for Truth? How would you differentiate "jargon" from "technical terminology"?

Schools of thought that you reject also seem to be at odds with each other so it's not as if the triangulation to determine your views is that simple. Just curious, mind you, but that is what I am left with.



Lydia McGrew said...

I'm a classical foundationalist and an analytic philosopher. I hate postmodernism with a passion. My husband and I also have a book out as of 2007 advocating metafoundationalism. I'm not really at all sure I want to have a discussion with you, LT, given what I know of your other views. But here, for entertainment value, I'll suggest some anti-postmodern bumper stickers. Fun for the whole family:

What the world needs is more black and white thinking.

Hurray for modernism!

Logocentrism rocks.

*You* can know objective truth.

People who put the word truth in scare quotes should be shot.

Certainty is attainable.

John Locke was a pretty cool guy.

Men are smarter at math than women.

(Okay, I just threw that last one in for fun.)

Tim said...

Oooh, anti-pomo bumper stickers! Here's another contribution:

I'm rational ...
and I vote.

Unknown said...

"Anyone who wants to 'dialogue' is lying."

Lydia McGrew said...

That one is too, too true.

Kristor said...

Lydia: Sorry to be commenting on all these old threads, but I'm poking around on your site and coming across fun stuff.

When my youngest son was a sophomore in High School, he was having a philosophical discussion with some other students. He's the sort of kid who would wear a "Got Jesus?" t-shirt to school as a way of saying, "Got a problem with the fact that I'm Christian? I'd love to demolish your arguments: let's go!"

Anyway, one of the other kids, too cool for words, said that there are no absolute truths. Quicker than slick, my son says, "Is that absolutely true?"

Deeply, deeply satisfying to his old Dad.

Lydia McGrew said...

Poke to your heart's content. Had you taught your son that come-back, Kristor, or did he come up with it on the spur of the moment?

It's sobering to realize that high school kids are being _taught_ that kind of relativism as dogma these days.

Kristor said...

I have taught my children the argument from retortion in repeated dinner-table conversations, as an acid test for hypotheses. We've discussed a number of applications of the technique. But he came up with that one on his own.

Retortion is really fun. It's like judo, or aikido.

The other acid tests I have taught them are the reductio and performative contradiction. It is doctrines vulnerable to the latter that generate unprincipled exceptions: If one can't actually carry a doctrine into practice in a thoroughgoing way and also live one's life in practical terms, the doctrine has to be false (this is really just William James); so the only way to continue to espouse such doctrines is to make unprincipled exceptions.

As to the inculcation of nominalism, I was taught it in high school, too, back in the 60's. My French teacher, widely understood as the coolest teacher in school, taught us all existentialism. Existence before essence; what tosh.