Ray Kerkmez - Research Papers

Postmodern Ethics

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A Critique

on

Postmodern Ethics

 

by Ray Kerkmez  LLM, MDR

 

  

Ethics is a term that is used to define the philosophy of morals and values of people. Ethics defines the virtues and the morals that people have in a specific society. They determine the actions and the behaviour of people in a community. Modern ethics define the moral behaviour of an individual so that a causative factor leads the person to act in a certain way. Whereas, post modern ethics is a school of thought that tries to define ethics as a rational link between morality and modernism. This school of thought defines the cause of every action of morality and the dangers of other approaches of ethical behaviour. This essay is a critique on postmodern ethics.

 

The first critique is on the alterity of postmodern versus the issues of constructivism, agency, incompatibility, diversion and convergence. The critique shows that all issues concerning alterity are meaningless unless they are attenuated with social and political realism. Alterity is a term that is used to define a particular group in the society who exclude the 'others' in the quest to improve their morals. Cultural transactions should be done through integration of the others in order to keep the identity and history of other people. This means that the ideology that some cultures are inferior to others is a misconception and should be done away with. [1] 

Postmodern ideology integrates other perspectives and leaves out the historical identity that people are sharing. The construction of the cultural others is what led the postmodernists to come up with the concept of alterity. “The existence of the 'other' as a concept of alterity is a moral thought that has been implanted in one’s mind”. [2] The 'other' makes an individual to look at their morals as the best in order to ignore the others. Incompatibility of culture between individuals is brought about by ideology that is deep-rooted to one's mind. The best way to make people from different cultures to be compatible is by accepting each other as people who are united. The ideology of the 'other' should be done away by the integration with Cultural Realism.  

Alterity-centered ethics defines the gap that exists in a society which has structures that ignore the minority. The minorities have been denied the opportunity and the chance to be involved in the social arena. The structures are constructed especially when a person gets involved in social activities and started to become secluded; the ground that will keep them active becomes minimal. The social functions are made out of the ruling majorities who have the ideology of alterity in their minds. They are also left out in the political arena as they have been confined in a cocoon of their own ideology. This also means that their economic status is below their standards. Therefore, the result is the lack of primary basic needs for their survival. [3] 

There are attempts in neutralising the human agency that have been rejected by the modern constructivism of ethical behaviour. The linguistic structures are the ones that have created the distinction between people of the same origin. The construction of these structures in the society leads to segregation of a group. In most cases, the minority group is considered to have morals which are fragmented and sidelined. The result is the birth of other evils, such as ethnicity and racism. [4] 

A good definition of postmodernism in the current world is Colonialism. This is the western version of an action that has been born by alterity. The western culture is considered to be the most powerful, while other cultures are considered as the 'other'. They have no meaning when it comes to the western people and they are defined by the accompanying practices: changing other people in the society. They have come up with ways and means to convince the other people to get into their culture and to practice what they believe in. Western Modernism has gone too far and they have even taken the ideology into the political arena. [5] 

Postmodern ethics is in the existence because of being the 'others' in the society. The 'others' are the ones who question the importance of behaviours and morals that most people have and for this reason, the 'others' in the society should be appreciated and not neglected. The primordial recognition of others in the society leads the appreciation of diversity in terms of dialectics which are objective. This gives the basis for the belief of alterity ethics that they can solve conflicts that arise in the society; problems about globalisation and consumerism should be solved by the ideology of postmodern alterity ethics. [6]  

Today, post modernism has brought up many questions regarding the rational decision-making of man. Decision-making entails many things, thus, it should be considered when rationalism comes in place. [7] Due to the conflicting ideologies regarding rationality, it has been found that people act in a way based on their past experiences. The past predicts the future events, thus, when a person is making their decisions, they should be aware of the experiences that they have overcome. This is because the past actions have already affected the unconscious part of the brain. Therefore, when making the rational decisions the unconscious part is greatly influenced by the postmodernism view. [8]

Rationalism always dictates what people should do and how they should function in the social realm of life. The social constructions in the postmodernism view are the result of inherent truth on rationalism. The politics that are involved in the rationalism view doesn’t give the truth about the role of language in the social structure. Whereas, postmodernism emphasises the fact that positive relations between people construct the virtues and rationalism that deals with self-justification which help man to have a positive outlook in the society. On the other hand, objective mentality is what drives the postmodernists to disagree with rationality. [9] 

The behaviour of man becomes constructive when the person is given the freedom of paradox. This determines the kind of ethics that will be possessed by the person. Freedom from discrimination leads the person to make concrete decisions because there is nothing preventing the individual from making rational decisions. Freedom will make an individual to be responsible of his moral behaviour. It also prevents one from the thought of having the 'other' self. The 'other' self is the one preventing a person from interacting positively with society. [10]

Postmodern pilgrims are the ones that prevent an individual from overcoming the totalistic past of alterity. The arguments of the pilgrims show that some societies have built structures that prevent other people from improving their moral behaviour. These societies are trying to absorb the morals of other people. Postmodern pilgrims have tried to provide a ground for the traditional methodology to be carried out to the modern society. This school of thought has caused a great concern in the ethics of the society. Politics of postmodern ethics have risen from here. [11] 

Richard Rorty, a known postmodernist denied the existence of God. He also claims there is no universal moral reality. He intends to imply that different beings in the planets posses different degrees of moral judgments. It’s logical for someone to wonder how it could be possible that postmodernism can be studied if there is no moral and cultural relativism. This brings the issue of ethics and the concept of right and wrong. Each community develops its own tales to tell; what is wrong and what is right. This can be termed as Moral Relativism among the different communities. However, Rorty denied that the narratives are about moral relativism. He argued that making this assumption would mean that every narrative is as good as the other which was not realistic. [12]  

Rorty maintained that there was no particular way to determine which community was right in their views. He argued that the community will judge its people's morality based on the things they do. He felt free to do what his community will let him do, without any punishment, even if it was wrong for the others. In the postmodern ethic, the members of a community govern the moral ethics they are allowed to follow. [13]

Morality is not connected to God or any other kind of natural source of law. The society makes the moral laws by themselves. This leaves the connectivity of postmodern ethic to religion. At the same time, natural laws do not dictate the kind or morals that a society is going to value. These morals are designed by the community itself over what they call good or bad. The evolution of ethics is not stagnant; it changes as people adopt new ways of living. The change can be called the 'evolving morality with a push'. Abortion was considered unethical, but people have changed due to circumstances; some governments have even legalised the act of abortion. [14]

There is no way to distinguish and evaluate modern moral theories from postmodern morals. Alexander Macintyre argues that current morals do not have a sensible standpoint from which one can produce a judgment or an act to solve moral dilemmas or moral agreement.[15] He says that, it’s possible to discover the good morals by understanding the role and status of the moral enquiry and moral agent. The criticism of Moral Modern Philosophy of Macintyre is based on the relationship of the moral agency to the community. He argues that modern morals separate social and historical context of an isolated rational judge. The quest for the good is embedded our every day actions. The narratives' unity and the traditions of every community give an individual the opportunity to exercise the political nature of human life. He recognises the relationship between human rationality and other animosities and introduces natural geology to the normal and natural domain. Natural Teleology is a doctrine that tends to explain the universe in terms of its end or its courses. Macintyre thinks that there is a strong relationship between ethics and natural teleology. Natural teleology does not reject the history but enriches it. 

Postmodern code of ethics had been criticised over the years. There has been lots of confusion that include both moral and intellectual. Ethics is said to be an open-ended reflective and intellectual activity. It leaves a lot to personal reasoning which may vary from different people in different communities. There have been confusions between macro and micro ethics which have brought confusions in the study of ethics. The third critic that ethical codes have faced is the disciplinarian action that undergone the breakers of this code. This makes ethics more of a legal requirement than an ethical code. [16] 

Codes of ethics are designed to keep a certain level of behaviour in a society. They mostly inspire, guide, educate, protect and even discipline members of a society. These codes are developed in the best way possible where harmony will be found in a community. Peace amongst the members is the most important thing and these codes of ethics aim for that. These codes educate the members of their professional obligation in the society and enhance the professionalism in the eye of the public. However, they have some weaknesses. Sometimes, two or more codes conflict and bring confusion among the public. Some codes possessed too many directives which made them vague and too general. [17] 

According to Landry, [18] identity has been eroded by the postmodern thinkers who believe that they should modernise the world. The issues of identity were brought by the modernists who believe that the traditional community should be changed, so that new ethics are developed. The morals which are believed to be of the older generations are left out. This has led to the erosion of the traditional thought and identity of the community. The factors that have led to the erosion are industrialisation and capitalism. They have eroded people of their identity and positioned them into modern structures. A good example of these structures is the modern family structure where there is basis of morals. The modern families are the ones that dictate the behaviour of a person. This is a big change because in the traditional community, morals are dictated by the older people and the society. [19]

The Postmodern School of Thought has led the traditional ethics to shift to modern ones. The side effects of this change have brought up the conflicts of interest in people who are involved. The shift of moral values makes people frustrated. Privatisation has led people to set apart from the society. These changes also affect the integration of people within the community. The social lives of people are so important and they cannot be ignored in the long run. [20] 

The construction of the social groups in a society leads to the stratification of people in a way that they create layers of groups of people. Basically, the layers are the upper, middle and the lower classes of people. The upper classes of people are the powerful people in a society in terms of economic status and political powers. When these people combine their powers, they form a group that is very powerful and they tend to manipulate the others. A good example is the formation of a group known as the bourgeois across Europe that had a common belief that they could get rich by manipulating the other people in the society. This group had even divided themselves in terms of gender and race and they discriminated others who were not like, especially those did not want to follow their movement. [21] 

The relationship between ethnicity and race with culture is very diverse. Research shows that there is a great attribute in the phenomena of the human behaviour, such as their culture in regard to their race. It is a fact that people, who share common biological factors like the ancestry, have common types of behaviour. This is due to the binding factors such as having the same common religion, language and traditions. The ethical behaviour is attributed by these factors people are very keen to their beliefs. That is the reason why they would perform their traditions in order to justify themselves. This connection of a past culture and traditions is what connects people in a manner that they are ethnically-based. [22]

Due to the rising cases of slavery and violation of children’s rights, many governments have come up with laws and policies that are against adoption of children. In order for a parent to adopt a child, they must prove to society that they are reliable people and that they can be trusted by society. Adoption of children is very easy in cases where people have to prove to the authority that they have biological connection because it will help the parents to regard the children as their own. It is also possible if the parents have any ancestral connection in the case where children lack any support from the biological hierarchy. Therefore, in such cases the children get adopted to their own race to avoid any conflict. [23] 

According to Nadel (1995), [24] segregation of the society is caused by Postmodernism Ideology. The issues that accompany by it include the issues of ethnicity, race, social classes of people and identity. Due to lack of genetic history, there arise many questions of identity which always affect a person’s identity and self worth. When the adopted people come to learn that their parents come from different social classes, they develop a personal conflict. It even worsens when issues of race are raised. Adoption issues can be managed if there is peer counselling and education. Counselling will prevent the children from suffering from psychological trauma and stress. Education also helps bringing out any confusion arising in matters like ethnic diversity. [25] 

Postmodernism has led to the construction of a modern culture that is materialistic. Everything around people is shaped by language which is twisted to fit the modernity of the current world. For example, the world today is changing due to industrialisation. This change defines the materialistic thought and people begin to view themselves differently from others. The materialistic leaders have developed structures that separate people from their cultures. An example of these structures is capitalism. Capitalism has been changed to the logical form of post modernism; therefore, it is a reality that the material world is in the existence. [26]

Language, according to postmodernism shapes the world and determines the cultural interaction of people. It has segmented people so that they never coexist as a community. The segmentation begins with the mentality of social classes. The upper classes are people who have acquired the wants of life while the lower classes are people who lack the essentials of life. Those in the higher class cannot interact with the ones in the lower class due to the mentality of postmodernism. Therefore, language should be made in such a way that it will never affect the social interaction of people. [27]

In conclusion, Postmodernism may be used to refer as a movement away from the common view point of modernism. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that discusses issues related to morality. It’s also called Moral Philosophy. Postmodern ethics is not based on the unchanging issues of the current world; it deals with those issues that are developed or eliminated from the society to be replaced with new trends. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and other religions that embrace the codes of morality which are based on God, do not change with time. This has been the primary reason why there have been critiques from these religions that are faced by postmodern ethics. Postmodernists base their arguments on evolution, atheism and naturalism. 

 

 


 

[1] G Bromiley, (2005). Grand Rapids, Mitch: Erdmann

[2] S Brodribb, (1992). Nothing matters: A feminist critique of postmodernism. Toronto: J. Lorimer. 

[3] D F Ruccio, & J Amariglio, (2003), Postmodern moments in modern economics, Princeton: Princeton university press.

[4] H Silverman, (1988). Post modernism and continental philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press

[5] M A Rose, (1992), The post-modern and post-industrial: A critical analysis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Z Sardar, (1997). Postmodernism and the other: The new imperialism of Western culture. London: Pluto Press.

[7] D Ruccio, (2003). Post modern moments in modern economics. Princeton: Princeton university press.

[8] See above n 5 and accompanying text.

[9] A Nadel, (1995). Containment culture: American narratives, postmodernism, and the atomic age. Durham, N.C: Duke Univ. Press.

[10] J Loesberg, (2005). A return to aesthetics: Autonomy, indifference, and postmodernism. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

[11] L Y Landry, (2000). Marx and the postmodernism debates: An agenda for critical theory. Westport, Conn: Krieger.

[12] S Kvale, (1992). Psychology and Post modernism. London: Sage Publishers.

[13] D Kellner, (1989). Postmodernism: Jameson critique. Washington, D.C: Maisonneuve Press

[14] F Jameson, (1991). Postmodernism: cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

[15] A C MacIntyre, (1981), After virtue: A study in moral theory, London: Duckworth.

[16] R P Hummel, (2008). The bureaucratic experience: The post-modern challenge. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe.

[17] D Hill, (2002). Marxism against Post modernism in educational theory. Lanham (Md.: Lexington Books.

[18] L Y Landry, (2000). Marx and the postmodernism debates: An agenda for critical theory. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

[19] L J Hatab, (1995). A Nietzschean defense of democracy: An experiment in postmodern politics. Chicago: Open Court.

[20] X Dirlik, (2000). Post modernism & China. Durham [NC: Duke University Press.

[21] C Downing, (2006). How postmodernism serves (my) faith: Questioning truth in language, philosophy and art. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic.

[22] L Y Landry, (2000), Marx and the postmodernism debates: An agenda for critical theory, Westport, Conn: Praeger.

[23] T Eagleton, (1996). The illusions of Postmodernism. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.

[24] A Nadel, (1995). Containment culture: American narratives, postmodernism, and the atomic age. Durham, N.C: Duke Univ. Press.

[25] H A Giroux, (1991). Postmodernism, feminism, and cultural politics: Redrawing educational boundaries. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[26] S Kvale, (1992), Psychology and postmodernism, London: Sage Publ.

[27] C Downing, (2006). How postmodernism serves (my) faith: Questioning truth in language, philosophy and art. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic.

 


 

References 

Brodribb, S. (1992). Nothing matters: A feminist critique of postmodernism. Toronto: J. Lorimer. 

Bromiley, G. E. (2005). Grand Rapids, Mitch: Eerdmans.

Callinicos, A. (1990). Against postmodernism: A Marxist critique. New York, N.Y: St. Martin's Press.

Dirlik, X. (2000). Postmodernism in China. Durham.NC: Duke University Press.

Downing, C. (2006). How postmodernism serves (my) faith: Questioning truth in language, philosophy and art. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic.

Eagleton, T. (1996). The illusions of postmodernism. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.

Giroux, H. A. (1991). Postmodernism, feminism, and cultural politics: Redrawing educational boundaries. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Hatab, L. J. (1995). A Nietzschean defense of democracy: An experiment in postmodern politics. Chicago [u.a.: Open Court.

Hill, D. (2002). Marxism against postmodernism in educational theory. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Hummel, R. P. (2008). The bureaucratic experience: The post-modern challenge. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe.

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism: cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kellner, D. (1989). Postmodernism: Jameson critique. Washington, D.C: Maisonneuve Press.

Kvale, S. (1992). Psychology and postmodernism. London: Sage Publ.

Landry, L. Y. (2000). Marx and the postmodernism debates: An agenda for critical theory. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Loesberg, J. (2005). A return to aesthetics: Autonomy, indifference, and postmodernism. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Nadel, A. (1995). Containment culture: American narratives, postmodernism, and the atomic age. Durham, N.C: Duke Univ. Press.

Rose, M. A. (1992). The post-modern and post-industrial: A critical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ruccio, D. F., & Amariglio, J. (2003). Postmodern moments in modern economics. Princeton: Princeton university press.

Sardar, Z. (1997). Postmodernism and the other: The new imperialism of Western culture. London: Pluto Press.

Silverman, D. (1988). Postmodernism and continental philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press