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Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault Hardcover – August 1, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"By the end of the book, the reader may remain ill at ease with the postmodernist malaise, but Hicks's lucid account will demystify the subject. Hicks's impressive grasp of the history of philosophy over the past few centuries enables to explain postmodernism by identifying its signposts. He lets sensitive analysis of the memorable episodes of postmodernism speak to the essential issues that drive it. His treatment of the importance of Kant s skepticism in getting the postmodernist engine going down the track is especially instructive." --Professor Curtis Hancock, Review of Metaphysics (December 2005)

"Readers of Explaining Postmodernism will find much to reflect upon and engage with in the pages of this lucid study of the background, themes, and consequences of postmodernist thought and practice. With clarity, concision, and an engaging style, Hicks exposes the historical roots and philosophical assumptions of the postmodernist phenomenon. More than that, he raises key questions about the legacy of postmodernism and its implications for our intellectual attitudes and cultural life." --Professor Steven Sanders, Reason Papers (Spring 2006)

"Stephen Hicks has written a trenchant and provocative book on a vital topic. ... Though I have at times disagreed with Hicks, he has an excellent eye for essential issues and his views always repay careful consideration." --Dr. David Gordon, The Mises Review (Fall 2005)

About the Author

Stephen Hicks is a Professor of Philosophy at Rockford College, Illinois. A native of Toronto, Canada, he received his Ph.D. from Indiana University, Bloomington. He has been a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., a visiting scholar at the social Philosophy and Policy Center in Bowling Green, Ohio, and a senior fellow at the Objectivist Center in New York. He is co-editor of Readings for Logical Analysis (W.W. Norton & Co.) and has published widely in academic journals and other publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Baltimore Sun.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Scholargy Publishing, Inc.; First edition (August 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592476465
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592476466
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,585,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By F. Carr on October 17, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book isn't an introduction to postmodernism (PM). There are several introductions to PM on Amazon if that's what you want. Rather, its task could be described as turning some of the techniques of academic PM on its founders - Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, & Co. The title could have been "Unmasking Postmodernism" because Hicks does so with devastating effect.

I have read several hundred books on philosophy from Plato to the present and I cannot think of one that I consider to have been more clearly written than this. The exposition is admirably jargon-free and straightforward, although some terms might be unfamiliar to some folks. This is the only book in many years that I began re-reading and marking up as soon as I had finished reading it the first time - I think it's that good.

It's important to distinguish between PM in the arts, which is largely an aesthetic trend, and academic PM, which exists almost exclusively in some humanities departments in the universities and identifies with particular epistemological and linguistic assumptions. This book is concerned with the latter group and Hicks provides a well documented case for the following historical sequence:

1) Leftist socialists had traditionally believed that reason and facts would show the superiority of socialism - theoretically, morally, and economically.

2) Academic PM's creators were all leftist socialists around the time that leftist socialism was failing - theoretically, morally, and economically (1950s on).

3) The reaction of leftist academic socialists to this wasn't to accept that they had been wrong. Instead, they availed themselves of recent developments in epistemology and linguistics as a pretext for dismissing reason and facts.
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Format: Paperback
Just finished reading this book. It took me about a week of very leisurely reading. The book is about 200 pages. This is how philosophy should be written, brief and to the point. People like me do not have a lot of time on our hands to pour through thick philosophical tomes hoping to discover one grain of wisdom in a sea of verbiage. What makes this book special is that every page, every word counts. This is not some superficial popularization, but a serious book filled with important ideas and serious implication for the modern world.

This is intellectual history written like a novel, and it reads like a novel. It's a dark novel, unfortunately, but there is reason for hope. The story it tells is of how postmodernism evolved from its dual roots of socialist utopianism and counter-enlightenment philosophy to become the dominant intellectual force in today's universities.

Beyond being just an intellectual history, the book represents a call to action for all those who value their Enlightenment heritage to articulate and defend the premises upon which the Enlightenment was built, but which were never fully articulated. In this book, Enlightenment doesn't remain some historical abstraction, but a great movement that has brought us individualism, science, technology, capitalism and all the fruits of the progress in all these fields. It's something that's worth defending, and I hope this book is read widely enough to make an impact in that direction.
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I'm not a philosopher, I'm a retired scientist. So I'm probably not the best reviewer for this book. However, I did enjoy it. That in itself is unusual when I read philosophy.

In all fairness, I suspect this book probably would not be considered to be an "academic level" philosophy book, at least for the advanced undergraduate philosophy major. But it does take one through a history of philosophical thinking from the Enlightenment to the postmodern present.

I had done some prior reading about postmodernism. I enjoy reading about the subject for the same reason I like going to public aquariums - the denizens are so strange and alien that one is astonished that such odd creatures exist at all. Of course, behind the scenes in the aquarium are vast engineered systems to provide anm environment that will support the inhabitants. For the postmodernists, universities serve as that vast engineered system. This book explains why the postmodernists need such a system to survive in a world that doesn't focus on pickle slices, hot meat and trans-fats.

The book also does a good job of explaining in more-or-less plain English the vacuity of postmodern thought. If you aren't impressed and awed by the kind of self-congratulatory dense prose one often gets from philosophical writers, and you want a readable overview of the development and blossoming of dead-end thinking, this is the book for you. If you're a real philosopher, though, I'm sure you'll find it so accessible as to be beneath contempt. And if you're a postmodernist, stay away at all costs. It will be dangerous reading for you. Your trope might trip.
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Rather than echo the many excellent reviews of Explaining Postmodernism, I thought it'd be useful to offer a different perspective - to illustrate why this book helped me understand a bewildering experience in a university course.

In 2009, I took a university English course called "Critical Introduction to Literature." I anticipated literary criticism, somewhat reminiscent of E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel Rather, the class was rooted in "Critical Theory;" our textbook was called Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. However, neither the textbook nor the professor made clear that Critical Theory was an explicitly Marxist philosophy.

In critical theory, the artistic merits of literature are, essentially, irrelevant. In critical theory, literature is used mainly as a prop to critique society. Again, none of these core Marxist principles were made explicit to the students in my English class. In retrospect, I find this omission telling; an attempt to conceal an ideological agenda. If students understood the philosophical roots of critical theory and were given the chance to take an informed decision, they might ask some difficult questions or opt for another major.

The first chapter in the textbook was devoted to Marxist criticism. I asked the professor why we were studying Marxism, when the pillars of Marxism had been roundly disproved in theory and practice. Historian Richard Pipes wrote how Marx's core principles fly in the face of reality, and how Marx's key predictions were all disproved within a few decades of his death.
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