Volume 5, 2007
Logic and Philosophy of the Sciences
Ethics after Postmodernism
The paper explores the extent to which 'postmodernism' has affected our conception of social theory, especially with regard to the normative assumptions involved in cultural and social interpretation. It makes a proposal about how to redefine normativity after the postmodern challenge.
Postmodernist theorists engage in the rejection of trans-contextual notions of truth and universalistic moralities. Yet since these efforts themselves involve commitments to truth and normativity, we might be inclined to reject them as inherently incoherent. A different, more promising road would consist in taking seriously the postmodern critique of reason, and to inquire whether, instead of necessarily implying a total rejection of reason, it suggests a reformulation of the scope and nature of truth and normativity.
In this paper, I prepare such a reconceptualization with regard to the issue of normativity. The aim is to sketch a theory of normative commitment as built into our interpretive practices, if understood as the dialogical reconstruction—and thus recognition—of the other's beliefs and assumptions. To make the case for this proposal, I first present, by means of a comparison between modern and postmodern conceptions of social science, an interpretation of the relevance of the postmodern challenge with regard to modern social theory. Based on this, I will sketch a fourfold discursive field of positions addressing the justification of normative perspectives after postmodernism. This discussion will serve as a backdrop against which the concept of a hermeneutic competence of dialogical perspective-assumption can emerge as a plausible candidate for grounding our normative intuitions.