Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Postmodern Philosophy: On Bernstein's The New Constellation

A Brief Note
Mukesh Williams June 2010

In short, one might say that once 'we' fully experience the rupture that has occurred with the 'postmodern' moment, once 'we' grasp the full force and sting of the critiques of humanism that trace their lineage to Nietzsche, then even the 'non-foundational pragmatic humanism' which I had been developing must be discarded--thrown into the abyss of failed metaphysical and philosophical projects. Needless to say I do not accept this judgment nor am I impressed by what has now become a cliché among many ‘post-modern’ writers, i. e., that humanism is passé, to be dismissed by laughter. But I do recognize that these critiques and deconstructions call for a strong response.
--Richard Bernstein, The New Constellation , 1992

In the book New Constellation Richard Bernstein examines the ethical and political dimensions of the modern-postmodern debate. Bernstein argues that the debate must be understood more as a protean “pervasive” mood created by thinkers like Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Rorty and MacIntyre than an intellectual revolt. However he admits that these ideas have had a profound impact on the culture of thinking in our times. Their contributions have created a distinctive constellation of ideas in the realm of politics and ethics and renewed the old Socratic inquiry ‘How should I live?’ The image of the constellation holds the book together after the emergence of the postmodern stimmung or mood. In Hegelian terms post-modern philosophy keeps the ‘other’ as other, since the postmodern negation of reason does not help it to provide a unified whole. Bernstein questions the post-ness of post in the word postmodern and suggests a more pluralist world of ideas that could involve some kind of integration with other philosophical notions that came earlier. The highly illuminating sections in the book deal with Heidegger’s concept of technology and his unwillingness to disown a contentious Nazi past and Rorty’s liberalist utopia and anti-foundationalist ideas. It is possible to understand through this book some of the forces that shaped the Anglo-American and Continental traditions in our times.

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