soon-to-be-Dr. apparently working-on-her-masters at the moment Helen Pluckrose wrote an excellent article (https://areomagazine.com/2017/03/27/how-french-intellectuals-ruined-the-west-postmodernism-and-its-impact-explained/) on how postmodernism is ruining the world, as well as describing in detail what postmodernism is. I don’t know nearly as much about postmodern philosophy as Pluckrose, and I strongly recommend reading her article on it (and following her on Twitter, @HPluckrose). However, it is a pretty long article. So I thought perhaps I would write a super quick introduction to the two things which I consider the most prominent aspects of postmodernism.
First, Postmodernist thought holds that any two hypotheses that are held by people are equally valid. Neither is preferable, or more correct, than the other. By extension, it holds that evidence does not demonstrate the correctness or incorrectness of an hypothesis.
Now, it is true that most philosophers agree that we can never have absolute certainty about most hypotheses. However, classical philosophers would hold that we can have practical certainty, especially on a pragmatic level (the entire point of the scientific method is to develop ways of finding evidence which leads to practical certainty about pragmatically useful hypotheses). Newtonian physics, for instance, is not exactly correct, but we can have practical certainty that it provides a pragmatically useful model for most everyday occurrences. Thus, most philosophers, while admitting the theoretical impossibility of absolute certainty, would maintain that it is possible to rank different hypotheses by how likely they are, how well-evidenced they are, and so on. The postmodernist, on the other hand, literally holds that Newtonian physics is neither more nor less true than Aristotelian physics, and that the statement ‘2+2=5’ is as valid as the statement ‘2+2=4.’ (In which case, there is no gender wage gap, since 73 cents = 100 cents!*).
For a more bizarre example, the hypothesis ‘humans have to have water in order to survive,’ is given the same level of validity as ‘humans do not need to drink in order to survive,’ by the postmodernist. Which leads one to ask why they bother eating and drinking…
In practice, one of the ways which this manifests is the idea that ‘lived experiences’ matter more than empirically acquired data. If a person has an experience and interprets it in a certain manner, this is considered to be just as valid as a claim based on empirical, objective evidence (the very notion of empirical, objective evidence is denied by postmodernism). In an ironic twist, the lived experiences of a person are sometimes denied by identity politics practitioners when they are ‘inconvenient.’ For example, the experiences of ex-muslims is largely ignored by SJWs (as well as the well-documented evidence – but ignoring well-documented evidence is a core principle of postmodernism).
Second, connected to this first point, a major tenet of certain strains of postmodern thought is identity politics, which are comprised of two claims. The first claim is that an individual’s entire identity is defined by their cultural demographics. Groups are reduced to homogeneous masses of interchangeable individuals. The second is the claim that, because lived experiences are all that matter, and because a person is reducible to their cultural demographics, that two people from different demographics can never understand one another (I’m probably presenting this using far more logic than the postmodernists themselves – after all, logic is no more valid than illogic in their opinion). This leads to the bizarre idea that male politicians cannot make choices that are good for women, that white politicians cannot make choices that are good for blacks, and so on.
Of course, many people are merely influenced by postmodern ideas, and do not take them to such an extreme. For example, some postmodernists might not say all hypotheses are equal, but rather suggest that any sincerely held hypotheses are equal, regardless of the evidence for or against them, especially if these hypotheses have a cultural connection (e.g. some Australians maintain that the aboriginal myths about the origins of the Aboriginal people are just as valid as scientific theories about how humans arrived in Australia, since the aboriginal culture has sincerely believed these myths). This is the Tinkerbell version of postmodernism: if some person really thinks something, then it is true (insofar as anything can be ‘true’).
*I am well aware that after accounting for other variables, gender contributes only about a 6 cent gap, not the 73 cents to the dollar statement made here. However, since that is the one that is bandied about, it is the one I have used here.