Re: Poststructualism, ethics and values

Bryan Palmer wrote:
> The debate continues . . .
> I have just finished reading: _Principled Positions: Postmodernism and the
> Rediscovery of Value_, edited by Judith Squires (1993), Lawrence and
> Wishart, London. In all I thought it a good book, and found it answered
> some of my questions - or at least it provided me with a left-of-centre
> framework in which I can at least feel moderately comfortable. (I must say
> that in this thread I have been wondering if there has been a tension
> between the more "purist" philosophers/theorists and those of us on the
> "applied" social science side of the fence. As my interest is policy
> studies, and as I work as a policy hack in the public sector, my interest is
> on the "ought/doing/solutions" side of things rather than the
> "is/being/critique" side of things).
> The contributors to _Principled Positions_ want to reassert "value" without
> relinquishing the critical gains of postmodernism; "A post-Enlightenment
> defence of principled positions, without the transcendental illusions of
> Enlightenment thought". (p2). They are concerned that the relativism of
> postmodernism means there is no absolute truth, and therefore no action or
> outcome which is essentially better or worse than another. If all
> beliefs/outcomes are equally valid/invalid, then no action(s) can be argued
> for (other than self interest?). Thus postmodernism can lead to political
> paralysis.
> Arguing against absolute realitivity, and avoiding the slippery slope of
> nihilism, the contributors share the desire to retain both the critical
> strengths of postmodernism and the strength of a "principled position".
> However, their approaches to this probelm are varied. I will discuss a
> couple which interested me, there are half a dozen others in the book.
> A number of the contributors make a distinction between strong and week
> forms of postmodernism, noting that only the strong form undermines the
> possibility of normative criticism. A distinction between the tool of
> deconstruction and postmodernism is also drawn. Deconstruction can be used
> as tool to expose contradictions and assumptions within existing discourses
> without paralysing the possibility of response. The rejection of absolutism
> and essentialism, and an acceptance of relativeism does not have to lead to
> moral or ethical paralysis. "When faced with famine, war poverty and
> oppression we need not forsake a morally grounded response and simply engage
> in ironic discursive games". (p4)
> One contibutor argues that if we adopt the weak form of postmodernism, we
> can argue without contradiction for social justice, democratic pluralism,
> and a qualified humanism. While these values have a history, they are not
> argued for on the basis of that history, but because of the desirable ends
> that they might achieve: the enhancement of life chances and the
> maximisation of human freedom.
> Another approach is to look to the communities in which, and the processes
> by which, values are socially constructed. While values are not absolute,
> within a community there is the possiblity of a vocabulary of values in
> which we can all share. "The extent to which these vocabularies are shared,
> the degree of inclusion and commonality, thus becomes crusical in the
> construction of ethical, aesthetic and epistemological criteria"(p7).
> Within a community, "The creation of radical pluralism will involve
> embracing solidarity and difference, a shift away from the concern with
> equality and sameness towards justice and difference. We can accept that
> cohesive communities are impossible ideals, abondon hope of a perfect
> consensus and accept that dissent is inevitable, and yet also demand a
> grammar of conduct - a minimum shared sense of belonging as a basis for
> political co-existence"(p8).
> _______________________________________________________________
> Bryan Palmer
> bpalmer@xxxxxxxxxxx
> Canberra - Australia's National Capital


I think it may be a little more complicated than this... I hear an over-easy
dichotomy being assumed between theory and practice. Those you have described as
'"purist" philosophers/theorists" are not necessarily divorced from the political
arena. It's only that politics has gone through a redefinition process in this
post-almost-everything world, and this is a *good* thing. Once the unproblematic
assumptions that ground our notions of politics are uncovered and problematized,
it is necessary that our notions of poltics be updated, refashioned. Ethics
demands it, does it not? It is not that Foucault and D&G are apolitical but that
they are political other/wise, political in an/other way. That you don't
recognize this politics of an/other kind doesn't suggest that it isn't
significant and operating. As lyotard says, "it is happening."



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