Understanding the 4 Main Schools of Philosophy: Principle of Postmodernism

Understanding philosophy is important for educators not only so that they possess an individual philosophy but gain more awareness to the philosophies of their students and administrators. In this series on the four main schools of philosophies idealism, realism, postmodernism, and pragmatism will be reviewed to assist with understanding the elements of philosophy. This article focuses on postmodernism.

Postmodernism describes the school of thought arising mainly from oppositional and radical movements in contemporary society. The advent of the Industrial Revolution brought about major societal changes, as well as several social inequalities that were previously unheard of. Although the advances in science and technology continue to shape the world as we know it, the accompanying social changes in power and class structure tend to persist in similar forms as well. It is in opposition to these now established societal structures that postmodernist thought arose in very different areas of the world.

Philosophers who contributed to postmodernism include Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Karl Marx. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was a German philosopher who contributed the notion of life-affirmation to postmodernism and questioned even the most socially acceptable doctrines, such as religion and morality. Nietzsche focused on the world around us rather than the afterlife.

Martin Heidegger (1899–1976), another German philosopher, is known for creating the concept of existentialist phenomenology. Existentialist phenomenology concludes that we construct our own truths from within, as opposed to theories that advocate one universal truth. Furthermore, Heidegger inferred that we are not born into an existing reality but construct our own reality based on our involvement in the world and on our innate intuitions.

Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), a French philosopher, was well known for his controversial approach to understanding the world, the deconstruction method, and was a major contributor to postmodernism. The deconstruction method is a process of criticizing literary texts, philosophical texts, and political theories. It entails a breakdown of the rational purposes, or logos, of earlier Western philosophy that was believed to govern the universe. Additionally, Derrida believed that universal rationality was not found in objective reality, but in the text. Simply stated, deconstruction is simply a method of exploring the text to find additional shades of meaning.

Michel Foucault (1926–1984) was a French philosopher who examined the theories of, and relationship between, truth and power. Foucault established the presence of episteme in philosophy. Epistemes are the knowledge or understanding that contribute to a society at a particular time in history. He claimed that there is not one universal truth, but several truths, unique to each individual. These multiple truths result in a constant shift in the relationship of truth and power. As a result, power is not something that can be possessed, but something that can be implemented.

Postmodernist educators believe that there is no absolute or universal truth, arguing that truth changes with the advent of new events and discoveries. This means that scientific events that took place historically on one side of the world have influenced political and social events that are now taking place on another.

Postmodernist educators embrace and encourage individual expression, going further to encourage cross-cultural dialogue and debates as a necessary factor in the education process. An important point raised by postmodernists is that political factors and themes such as power and social inequality must be addressed if a teacher is to provide a holistic education. These themes are as relevant to science and mathematics as they are to social sciences, with the postmodernist view rejecting the idea that subjects should be rigidly compartmentalized.

Based on this overview of postmodernism, what is your philosophy and does it align with your school’s education system? It is necessary to know the philosophy behind your school because as a teacher you are viewed as one who is upholding these values and beliefs. Continue reading the other sections of this series to understand the schools of thought pertaining to philosophy.

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