Ethics and Politics in the Postmodern Condition

ABSTRACT. In this paper I analyze the postmodern condition with particular reference to the ethical and political spheres. Postmodernism attempts a radical break with all of the major strands of post-Enlightenment thought. For postmodernists as the French Jean-François Lyotard and the Italian Gianni Vattimo, the orthodox Enlightenment “meta-narrative” of progress and the “speculative” narrative of Hegel and Marx have lost their explanatory force. In particular, Lyotard speaks about five large meta-narratives of Western culture: 1) Christianity (understood also in the secularized form which its values have taken into modernity); 2) Enlightenment; 3) Idealism as a “theory of progressive freedom in history”; 4) Marxism, and 5) Capitalism. According to Lyotard, one can consider “the incredulity” towards these meta-narratives (méta-récits or grands récits) as postmodern. He points out that after Auschwitz it is impossible to speak of rationality and progress in Western history: In the twentieth century the Nazi genocide showed that history is not a continuous ethical progress towards the best. From the philosophical point of view the precursor of postmodern atmosphere is Friedrich Nietzsche. This German philosopher elaborated a radically anti-metaphysical thought and proposed an ethic of emancipation. Postmodernists refer to Nietzsche’s thought and theorize ethical-political practices aimed at the emancipation of women and socially weak subjects. Postmodernism’s rejection of “totalizing” theories with universal pretentions is complemented by positive celebration of diversity or “difference” and emphasis on the ethical demands of “the other”: this is, for example, the ethical perspective of Michel Foucault.

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