Postmodern Trends in Philosophy Suggest a New Vision of God and Morality

Table of contents

Speed and time seems to shrink almost into a breakneck pace. And yet the most difficult task for every human being is to find meaning for his/her existence. The explosion of practical atheism and relativism seems to be adding oil to this fire. We can see many of the young people confused and lost in today’s world. The modernity has failed to provide a suitable answer to situations such as mentioned above. The human beings are in need of a new vision into the concepts of morality and God. Hence it was my interest to look at the possibilities that postmodernism offers in the concepts of God and Morality.

So, in this paper I have examined the postmodern concepts of God and Morality and established, how instead of contradicting our faith and morality, the postmodern ideas would enable us to be more authentic in our day-to-day life. This thesis titled, ‘Postmodern Trends in Philosophy Suggest a New Vision of God and Morality’ is divided into four distinctive chapters with a general introduction and a conclusion. In the first chapter I have tried to situate the topic of my study in the overall understanding of postmodernism and it presents some of the basic principles of the movement.

The second chapter focuses on the understanding of ethics in postmodernity and presents the development in ethics as a new vision in morality. The third chapter speaks of postmodern theodicy as a new vision of God that each one has to acquire, to live an authentic life in the postmodern world. The fourth chapter is a critical appraisal of the postmodern developments. I firmly believe that anything worth produced is not an individual venture but a collective, co-operative work of a group of people.

It is with such awareness that I submit my dissertation, a humble project, to which many have contributed much, without whom this paper would not have been what it is. My special thanks to Rev. Fr. Malayil Cyriac, SDB, who guided my thesis. It was my privilege to have him as my guide and I thank him for his availability, his friendly corrections, and the deep insights, which he shared with me. I also thank the staff members at Don Bosco College, Aluva for their interest in the completion of my work. Thanks to my companions who encouraged and supported me.

A special thanks to those brothers who gave me suggestions and pointed out the mistakes in my thesis. We are called to respond to the signs of the times. But it is quite difficult to integrate the postmodern challenges to the already existing cosy life situations. Humbly acknowledging my inability to do justice to my paper due to various reasons, especially due to the complexity and depth of the topic, I request you to join me in this search so as to make our existence challenging and worth living. I also acknowledge all the grammatical and methodological errors that have occurred in spite of my best efforts to avoid them.



In an interview on structuralism, poststructuralist Michael Foucault asks a very relevant question, “What is the nature of our present? ” According to Terrence W. Tilley, the author of Postmodern Theologies: The Challenges of Religious Diversity, our age can be called as ‘post-age’ era as it is often stamped by the prefix ‘post’: post-modern, post-Christian, post-religious, post-colonial, post-ideological, post-moral, post-literate, post-narrative, post-personal, post-structural, post-liberal, etc. Living in a ‘post’ prefixed era, postmodernism and its views become very essential part of one’s life.

However, some are of the view that we are in an age that cannot name itself, that is to say, for some, we are still in the age of modernity, for others, we are in a time of levelling of all traditional and communal subjects, and yet for others, we are in a postmodern movement. Whatever be the situation, influence of postmodernism is very much felt and one cannot by pass postmodernism. As David N. Power says about postmodernism, “This may be to take a stand against it, it may be to foster it, it may be to accommodate it, but ignore it, one cannot. ” 1. 1 What is Postmodernism?

Postmodernism is a world view . A world view, as we are aware is a set of pre-suppositions about the basic make-up of our world. Postmodernism invites us to look into the questions like, what is the prime reality? What happens to a person at death? Is it possible to know anything about God? What is the nature of external reality? Who is a human being? How do we know what is right and wrong? so on and so forth. Our answers to all these questions will depend upon our world view. However, it is difficult to define a butterfly as a caterpillar with wings, so too with the postmodernism.

Postmodernism is not a static reality to define as something. Postmodernism may be different on the morrow, as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly through metamorphosis, it is also in the process of becoming. 1. 1. 1 Origin of Postmodernism Postmodernism emerged in Paris in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a product of French philosophy and the intellectual doctrine of Structuralism, Poststructuralism and Deconstruction. Soon it became a hotly debated subject in the intellectual circles. Though he never used the term postmodern, Alfred North Whitehead spoke of the modern as having a ‘postmodern tone’.

The word postmodern seems to have been used for the first time by the German philosopher Rudolf Pannwits. Studies suggest that the constellation of cultural changes that have taken place in the Western society during the period, since the Second World War, is also a reason for the emergence of postmodernism. Kevin Harts states, “It is almost impossible to reduce postmodernism to a view point or even a small collection of viewpoints. ” However, one has to accept that it is not the world that is postmodern, but the perspective from which people are looking at, is postmodern.

As succinctly put forward by Bp. Gregories, “postmodernity is a movement, it is an attitude or a mood and not a systematic thing where you can develop concept. Any attempt to over systematize thought by being reduced to any kind of system is to reduce thinking as such. So postmodernism basically is a ‘mood’. ” So the postmodern can be best understood as a movement, which can be found in a vast field ranging from philosophy, art, dance, drama, film, etc. 1. 1. 2 Modernism Vs Postmodernism There always existed a great intellectual debate between modernism and postmodernism.

The first wave of this debate reached its peak in early 1980’s when French philosophy was directly challenged by modernist critical theorist Jurgen Habermas. This great modern-postmodern debate in the 1990’s gave birth to critical postmodernism. However, postmodernists, particularly Derrida, criticized the dualistic assumption of the modern philosophical thought. Hence the relation between modernism and postmodernism always remained as a matter of uncertainty. There are two opposing stands regarding the continuity of modernity and postmodernity. 1. 1. 2. Postmodernity Begins where Modernity Ends Postmodernity is a farewell to modernity. Jurgen Habermas, the proponent of this view, sees postmodernism as a mode of thinking, which is disconnected from the series of scientific analysis which was the trade mark of modernity. He sees postmodernism as, one which is not only prominently based on pragmatic inconsistency but also as one which does not bring a distinction between literature and philosophy. As noted by Habermas, Derrida himself admits that philosophical discourse has lost its prominence by turning from pragmatism to fiction and rhetoric.

He also claims that postmodernism and modernism are simply incommensurable and the discourse of postmodernity is not rationality and scientificity, rather fiction and literature. However, many critics consider Habermas’ attitude towards postmodernism and modernism as framed out of a pure modernistic way of thinking. Bp. Gregories goes to the extent of saying that Habermas belongs to the modern camp rather than the postmodern. 1. 1. 2. 2 Postmodernism is a Continuation of Modernism Jean Francois Lyotard holds the view that postmodernism does not mean anti-modern, rather it is a continuation of modernity.

He observes, “The whole idea of postmodernism is perhaps better re-thought under the rubric of re-writing modernity. ” He opined that the concept of postmodernity is formed from the critical reflections on modernity. The dissolution of the met-narrative is the precondition of the postmodern pluralism. This plurality, which is viewed positively, is the main focus of postmodernity. Lyotard sees the emergence of postmodernity from the scientific and theoretical innovation of twentieth century. Hence, Lyotard concludes that postmodernity “undoubtedly is a part of modern. According to him postmodernism is a phase in modernism, which is characterised by a constant push to negate the existent and produce new. It might be prudent to hold that postmodernity does not offer the end of modernity, but only a critical view of modernity. 1. 1. 3 Differentiating Postmodernism and Postmodernity It is a difficult task to arrive at a consensus regarding the understanding of the terms postmodernism and postmodernity. Postmodernism though difficult to define is understood and described as a philosophical concept. It is considered as a philosophical school among the many other philosophical schools of postmodernity.

The term postmodernity alludes to a specific historical period, a period which refers specifically to the cultural condition of developed countries after 1970s. In a broad sense, it can be considered as one of the periods in history. 1. 2 The Historical Development of Postmodernism Postmodernism, as a historical term, is something that has come after modernism. It was introduced to describe the nihilism of the twentieth century. But today, the term is widely used to show a movement that developed in France in the 1960s. The twentieth century philosophers had portrayed human beings as alienated from the society.

Karl Marx presents ‘capitalism’ as the alienating force, but for the phenomenologists the alienating force is ‘scientific objectivism’, Freud named it as ‘social move’. It all points towards an authentic human self, which also calls for a reconstruction of the individual, society and culture. Here, however, one cannot deny the contribution of Martin Heidegger and Friedrich Nietzsche in the transition to postmodern philosophy. 1. 2. 1 Martin Heidegger Heidegger believed that the modern world was squeezed between the Soviet system and the American capitalism.

However, from the metaphysical point of view both systems were on either sides of the same coin (the same dreary technology frenzy, the same unrestricted organization of the average man). For him, both systems had the symptoms of darkening the world, the flight of gods, the destruction of the earth, the transformation of human beings in mass, and the hatred and suspicion of everything free and creative. He, in his own terms, names it as ‘inauthenticity’ and criticizes the modernity. This was his contribution towards postmodernity.

Realizing the shortcomings of modernity, Heidegger does not begin with the metaphysical subject like Descartes. To create a new understating of the subject, Heidegger employs a new term dasein, which means ‘being-there’. However, dasein escapes the modern apprehension, because of two reasons. First, this entity is not the Cartesian self substance, from the essence of which precedes its existence. Second, since dasein has no prior essence to its existence and its existence is the projection of possibilities, then possibilities are not prior to actual entity but a possibility of various ways of existence.

This understanding rejects the Cartesian theory of self-substance and Kantian transcendental illusion. It is the death of the self and the metaphysical subject. It is a genuine contribution of Heidegger towards postmodernism. 1. 2. 2 Friedrich Nietzsche Nietzsche’s philosophy can be considered as a meeting point between modernism and postmodernism. His critique of modernity can be summed up in his proclamation of the jargon of “Death of God”. This was not only a mere professing of atheism, but an affirmation of the impossibility of holding on to anything that transcends time and space.

He denies also the Hegelian exaltation of reason. By the term ‘Death of God’ and the denial of reason, Nietzsche ushers in nihilism . By this Nietzsche was exhorting the people to be natural . 1. 3 Characteristics of Postmodernism There are certain characteristics that separate postmodernity from the mode and content of modernity. They are the following: 1. 3. 1 Shift of Emphasis There have been changes in the various realms of understanding of what reality is in postmodernity. It requires an overall shift in thinking. 1. 3. 1. 1 A Move from Meta-narratives to Mini-narratives

Postmodernists deny the totalizing system of modernity which can be compared to the totalizing systems in politics. In the totalizing system everything is rigid and nothing is left to chance. Something that does not fit into the system is forcefully removed. Postmodernists see that this kind of an idea has taken over thinking and they need to respond to it. They deny also the meta-narratives or grand narratives or big stories. A meta-narrating system can be understood as a self-subsisting system which has its own principles and presuppositions.

This is denied in postmodernism. 1. 3. 1. 2 A Move to Question the Transparency of Language Postmodernity takes a different stand from modernity with regard to the understanding of the language drawing inspiration from structuralism and linguistic philosophy, which served as the natural link between the signified (concept of reality) and the signifier (sound image). Postmodernism goes a step further and emphasizes that there are only the signifiers. So in the postmodern understanding of the language one signifier refers to another signifier and that signifier further on.

They hold that meaning is provisional, contingent and there are no final and definite meanings. 1. 3. 1. 3 A Move to Question the Objectivity Postmodernists question the absolute objective claims of modern philosophy. Postmodern thinkers take a daring step to make the over existing absolute claims of science to appear as fiction and poetry. Postmodernity has challenged the over existing monopoly of scientific knowledge as the only form of true knowledge, and made room for different forms of knowledge, such as, aesthetic, religious, political, historical and mythical. 1. . 2 Religion in the Postmodern Philosophy To have a better appreciation of postmodern concept of religion, we need to begin with the concept of religion in modernity. For modern thinkers, religion failed to meet the demands of rationality: that is to give a rational objective proof. So it became a taboo for the Western thought. However, by Nietzsche’s philosophy, all the absolutes were denied and the later philosophers like Heidegger and Wittgenstein also followed the same path. Therefore, postmodernism rejected all the absolute values and accepted only the relative.

Therefore in the postmodern world, there are no universal religious laws. Everything is shaped by the cultural context. All the truth, even the religious doctrines are relative, shaped by cultural context and time. 1. 4 Challenges Offered by Postmodernism The postmodern attitudes challenge the existing society. As Joe Arun puts it, Postmodernism invites us to be incredulous of any representation and understanding that is over arching, totalizing and domineering, because it is used to define high culture and low culture, pure Brahman and impure untouchable, the civilized and the exotic.

Instead it persuades us to realize that meaning is situated in a cultural context, not by reasoning in abstraction of other outside the context. Therefore postmodernism invites us to appreciate the dignity of difference, ways in which people are and live in their own situation. Postmodern attitudes also give rise to sub-cultures and movements like eco-warriors, and sub-politics. However, each justifies its own standard. Postmodernism challenges us to view things not in highly defined terms, but each in its own cultural context. However one can notice the closeness of postmodernism with our daily life.

The very fact that it is still on process makes it difficult to define, though there are various views with regard to its origin and its role what David N Power said is very true that one cannot avoid the postmodernism, so much it has become the part of human life in today’s world. Nonetheless it is up to each one to decide how to see these developments, optimistically or pessimistically. ?



We all believe that some actions are morally wrong and some others are right. This claim points towards the moral behaviour of human beings.

In the book Beyond the New Morality, Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw name the philosophical study of morality, its foundations and its practical implications as ethics . As rightly put by Simon Blackburn, “Human beings are ethical animals. I do not mean that we naturally behave particularly well, or that we are endlessly telling each other what to do. But we grade and evaluate, compare and admire and claim and justify. ” However, there have been various attempts from philosophers to justify the ethical life people have inherited and are now living.

The main problem that philosophical ethics faces is the question: “What do we mean by good and evil actions? ” The history of Western ethics can be divided into three periods, namely, the Greek period (500 BCE-500 CE), the medieval period (500-1500 CE) and the modern period from 1500 CE onwards. The theories which were formed in the last period could be classified into six groups; i) Teleological or Axiological, ii) Deontological, iii) Absolute or Relative or Realistic, iv) Objective or Subjective v) Naturalistic or Non-naturalistic, vi) Non-cognitive (emotive) ethics.

Our concern in this chapter is to have an analysis of the ethical development that has taken place from the modern period to the next stage in philosophy as a new vision of morality. 2. 1 A Perusal of Modern Ethics A perusal of modern ethics, at the first sight, gives the impression that every school of it shared a common interest, refuting ethical naturalism. The various ethical schools of this period can be arranged mainly under two headings: i) The schools of modern period and ii) the schools of twentieth century.

The former contains the following i) Ethical naturalism of Thomas Hobbes, ii) the Psychological ethics of Spinoza, iii) Moral sense theory of British philosophers, iv) Utilitarianism of David Hume and others, v) Formalism of Immanuel Kant, and vi) Economic Determinism of Karl Marx. In the latter period we have a number of ethical schools such as, ethics of analytical philosophy, emotive ethics, the ethics of existentialism, etc. The modern period tried to have a well established ethical principle but in reality it was far from the real human life situations.

The over importance given to concepts and meta-narratives took away the practicality of those principles. 2. 1. 1 Universalism and its Discontents The postulates of universality were always a sword with the edge aimed against a selected target. “The postulates were a reflection on the modern practices of universalization that is similar to one ‘human nature’ or ‘human essence’. This was done with an intention to substitute the citizen for motley collection of parishioners, kinsmen and other locals,” which reduced the individuals to a group of people.

As Soren Kierkegaard would put it, “No one wants to be a single person, everyone shirks from the strain. But as soon as the mass appears, God is invisible… God only exists for the single person. ” Such was the demise of universality. 2. 1. 2 Wittgenstein’s Denial of Ethical Propositions Ludwig Wittgenstein in his work Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus, states that we cannot find values among the facts of the world. So, he ruled out the ethical propositions. In Tractatus 6. 42 he says, “And so it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics.

Propositions can express nothing of what are higher, 6. 421: it is clear that ethics cannot be put into words. Ethics is transcendental. ” However, he has taken ethics to the level of transcendental, away from the understanding of people. 2. 2 Progression to Postmodern Ethics Postmodernism is an emerging field adopting a reactionary attitude towards the absolute claims of modernity. Some of these claims are of human person, that is, supremacy of reason, objectivity and centrality of knowledge, the existence of universally valid truths, etc. All these projected modernity as a period of growth.

On the one hand there was tremendous growth in the field of science and technology, but on the other hand, there was the catastrophic experience of two World Wars, which shattered the dreams of progress. There were more reasons to believe that scientific progress, manifested in arms and amunitions, were in fact a regress. All these factors necessitated a shift to postmodernity. 2. 2. 1 Virtue Ethics: Focusing on Human Life Rather than Human Rules. The concept or theory of virtue ethics was developed in the 1950’s with the work of Elizabeth Anscombe . It was based on qualities or virtues that were associated with someone who lives a good life.

Virtue ethics can be defined as an approach to both understanding and living a good life that is based on virtue. Virtue is a predisposition towards an action for good that is shaped by moral judgment and daily discipline. In virtue ethics, one’s point of view is expressed in one’s actions and thoughts. It manifests one’s values, commitment and character. Virtue ethics focuses on good judgment as a consequence of good character. However the importance is given to the individuals, not to a collective group. 2. 2. 2 The ‘Will to Power’ of Nietzsche The basis of Nietzsche’s moral thinking is the idea, “life simply is will to power. But it was not a crude attempt to get power; rather, an affirmation of life and the will to develop and move forward. For Nietzsche, this ‘will to power’ is the source of all values and therefore, the source of morality. He condemned all forms of equality and humility. For him one of the basic features of life is self development. The ethics of Nietzsche, however, is highly individualistic. 2. 3 Ethics of Postmodern Philosophers The utmost interests of the postmodern thinkers are to disprove the implicit affirmation that human beings are endowed with the capacity to have sure knowledge.

The most powerful claim of modernity, that universally valid truths exist, is being challenged. The postmodern thinkers argue that the question of truth cannot be posed outside the tradition. Now, let us look at some of the postmodern ethical teachings of Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Emmanuel Levinas. I was forced to limit my studies with these two philosophers due to the limitation of pages. 2. 3. 1 Levinas: “An Ethics before Ethics” Emmanuel Levinas had a great impact on the ethical philosophy of recent years.

His abiding concern was the primacy of the ethical relation to the other person and his central thesis was that ethics is the first philosophy. In Levinas we encounter an unusual thinker, with his own personal experience . He is outstanding in his claim, “Ethics is the first philosophy, and his philosophy, in fact, revolves around the word ‘the ethical’. ” As Eskenazi, a Levinas’ scholar, rightly puts it, “Most of all, he (Levinas) places ethics as the first philosophy and interprets ethics in a distinctly biblical way, as the obligation to one who commands me, the other whom I face.

He thereby replaces autonomy by heteronomy. ” However, he does not fulfill the ethical or meta-ethical philosophy to be called a philosopher of ethics. He does not enter into any ethical debate. Neither has he answered any basic ethical questions. Yet, perhaps no other thinker has contributed towards ethics as much as he in contemporary times. Levinas’ ethics is not based on universalism. Rather, it is based on the needs and demands of each and every idiosyncratic individual, ‘every other’. The ethical challenge of this other person would constitute a part of who I am as a self.

For him, it is neither a movement towards light nor away from it, rather a trembling movement that cannot be measured. For him, moral force cannot be reduced to cognitive clarity, to acts of will, or to consciousness. Ethical necessity lies in a different set of refusals and the refusal of concepts. It lies in social obligations. 2. 3. 1. 1 A Move from Totalization Levinas’ ethics is built upon a critique of the Western philosophical traditions. His first task was to liberate the human objectivity from the clutches of tradition which turned ethics into some form of totality. According to him, the Western philosophy has mostly been ? n ontology. That is, a reduction of the other to ‘the same’ . The acknowledgement of the other was only to suppress and reconcile into a totality. Levinas in his first work Totality and Infinity replaces the traditional categories of “totality, being and ontology” with “infinity, exteriority and metaphysics. ” Hence, he led the ‘egology’ of Western tradition which was based on ‘know thy self’, which in turn was incapable of addressing the problem of the other person, into a ‘know other’ philosophy after the example of Abraham, who responded to the voice of God and went out of his homeland never to return.

So, he suggests, both the preservation of the same and the other, which is a move from ‘totality or infinity’ to ‘totality and infinity’. 2. 3. 1. 2 Recovery of Autonomy of Subjectivity While reducing all things into totality, the human beings are ignored in their being-a-human being and their being-a-subject is endangered and their unique individuality is questioned, which causes the denial of genuine room for fullness or individual fulfilment. So, he (Levinas) considers the recovery of the autonomy of the subject as his first task.

He attains this task by a shift from the totalizing autonomy to independent particularity. Hence, he considers the liberated self as independent and self-sufficient. For Levinas the human subject is not lost in the world rather celebrates its life. 2. 3. 1. 3 Levinas’ Ethics as a Foundation for Radical Pluralism Levinas, right from his early essays, emphasizes one point: ‘my absolute responsibility for the other’. His writings are clearly formed out of the singular experience of the Holocaust, which helped to deal with the human experience.

He gives a new insight into ethics as one without don’ts and dos. In his writings we see the limits of subject’s freedom which is ethics and limitless responsibility for the other. Levinas’ main project was to look for an ethical foundation of radical pluralism. But he did not base on Christian universalism (all of us are children of God) and modern liberalism (all of us are free moral agents capable of laying out our own projects and achieving them by granting the other the same freedom). Rather he says, it (radical pluralism) must be human and drawn from human experience.

He is more interested in the social conditions of human multiplicity and difference which called for an integration of unity. Hence, he criticizes the Western philosophy which tires to reduce the other to my consciousness. For him, the other is an infinite which cannot be reduced to a totality. Levinas considers the one-for-the-other as the basic foundation of his ethics. And his ethics turns out to be more demanding than the formal ones, because the moral subject is always found wanting. The moral self is the self that will always be hunted by the suspicion that it is not moral enough.

Levinas’ ethics is not therefore, an obligation towards the other as meditated through the old universal maxims. As Thomas Kalary rightly puts it: The deep structure of subjective experience is nothing but a relation of responsibility or, better, responsivity to the other, the other within the same, in spite of me, calling me to respond. The subject is me and nobody else not an abstract ego. My first word is not the Cartesian cogito ergo sum, but rather my voice. Ethics is entirely my affair, not the affair of hypothetical impersonal or universal I running though a sequence of possible mperatives. So to say Ethics is not a spectator sport, rather it is my experience of a demand that I both cannot fully meet and cannot avoid 2. 3. 2 Ethics of Jean-Francois Lyotard Lyotard is a prominent French philosopher, who is considered as a leading philosopher of postmodernism. His works are an insistent critique of philosophical issues, historical totalization and re-evaluation of the nature of ethics after the demise of totalizing meta-theories. There are three themes that stand out in the writings of Lyotard; the death of metanarrative, the differend and the sublime.

Here an attempt is made to analyze his ethical philosophy on the basis of these. 2. 3. 2. 1 Demise of Grand Narrative Lyotard, replaces Grand narrative with “small discourse”, or “language game” in which more people are involved. In the book Postmodern Condition, he defines ‘postmodern as incredulity towards meta-narratives’. For him, in the postmodern condition, the meta-narratives or metadiscourse have lost their authority. In postmodern condition there are no more universally valid principles. There are only language games, or small discourses.

Moreover, he says, only by repeated testimony as little narratives can we be reminded of the irreducibility and particularity of events in our lives that resist global categorization. 2. 3. 2. 2 The Differend Lyotard defined the differend as, “a cause of conflict between (at least) two practices that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments. ” Hence, he uses this term to describe the conflicts that occur in postmodernity in the absence of meta-narratives. However, giving varying degree of discursive power, the differend invariably result in dominating others.

So this losing side in a totality suffers what Lyotard calls a “wrong”. However, the nature of differend is such that the loosing side cannot appeal against the wrong, because it can do so only by its own rules of discourse, which already has no validity in the dominating discourse. But, Lyotard in his turn alarms the prevalence of wrong of diffferend as an ethical demand of postmodernism. The identification of an ethical problem is the beginning of ethics. So, Lyotard in his essay Answering the Question What is Postmodernism, suggests a war against the totality as a solution to this problem. 2. 3. 2. 3 The Sublime

Lyotard was a frequent writer on aesthetic matters. In aesthetics, the sublime (from the Latin sublimis “uplifted, high, lofty, elevated”) is the quality of greatness or vast magnitude, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic. It refers to the experience of pleasurable anxiety that we experience while confronting with wild and threatening sights like, for example, a massive craggy mountain, black against the sky, looming terrifyingly in our vision. Lyotard found particularly interesting the explanation of the sublime offered by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment.

In this book Kant explains this mixture of anxiety and pleasure in the following terms: there are two kinds of ‘sublime’ experience. In the ‘mathematically’ sublime, an object strikes the mind in such a way that we find ourselves unable to take it in as a whole. More precisely, we experience a clash between our reason (which tells us that all objects are finite) and the imagination (the aspect of the mind that organises what we see, and which sees an object incalculably larger than ourselves, and feels infinite).

In the ‘dynamically’ sublime, the mind recoils at an object so immeasurably more powerful than we, whose weight, force, and scale could crush us without the remotest hope of our being able to resist it. (Kant stresses that if we are in actual danger, our feeling of anxiety is very different from that of a sublime feeling. The sublime is an aesthetic experience, not a practical feeling of personal danger. ) This explains the feeling of anxiety. What happens in the sublime is a crisis where we realise the inadequacy of the imagination and reason to each other.

What we are witnessing, says Lyotard, is actually the differend; the straining of the mind at the edges of itself and at the edges of its conceptuality. Lyotard, putting together the themes of incredulity toward matanarratives, the diffferend and the sublime suggests a coherent ethics, which can be called as the postmodern ethics of Lyotard. According to this ethics, the more we feel for the other, the less we are likely to commit a wrong against them. However, like other ethical theories Lyotard speaks also of imperatives and obligation. He also very well handles the ethical question with the help of language game and its rules. . 4 Characteristics of Postmodern Ethics Postmodern ethics has some well noted characteristics. We shall now discuss some of them staying within the confines of our theme. 2. 4. 1 Postmodern Ethics: An Ethics without Ethical Code Postmodern ethics has no hard and fast principles which one can learn, memorize and display in order to escape the situations. But here, moral choices are indeed choices, and dilemmas are indeed dilemmas not temporary and rectifiable effects of human weakness, ignorance, or blunders. The old ethical propositions and codes have no validity in Postmodernism.

Decisions are taken according to the cultural context in which one lives. 2. 4. 2 Postmodern Ethics: An Ethics of Relativism Relativism is the view which holds that there are as many worlds as there are ways of thinking and expressing the world that is expressed. Thus, philosophers assert that the way we express our thought in language even affects the way we perceive the world. It came as a reaction against the view which proposed that there is one and only one way of describing the world. It is important to note that relativistic view is very prevalent in the postmodern ethics.

Even when Levinas stresses the importance of the other in ethics, the prime responsibility is on the self. So too with the language game of Lyotad, each game is played according to the situation and the moral decisions remain relative, as in the case of the rules of the game. 2. 5 Postmodern Ethics: A Buddhist Response Levinas’ poetic philosophy of ‘being for the other’ is one of the chief metaphors for morality. But, many other concepts and images could be put in its place. From the Buddhist tradition we can take the concepts of mettaa (loving-kindness) and karunaa (compassion) to describe a similar experience.

Once we accept ‘being for the other’ as our key moral experience, a number of simple ethical principles follow quite naturally. However, we can derive our moral principles only from our primary moral experience or ‘impulse’. It is only because we are not always guided by this impulse that we have a need for moral principles. The most fundamental ethical principle in Buddhism is to avoid harming living beings, or to put it more positively, to act with deeds of loving kindness towards others. From this great principle all other principles follow.

To act with deeds of loving kindness towards others is to adopt a certain kind of attitude, an attitude of love (in the sense of a deep friendliness and empathetic attitude). The Buddhists terms this as ‘mettaa’, which has a meaning much broader and deeper than that conveyed by the modern understanding of the word ‘love’. Such a love in its perfected form is characterized by being inclusive of all living beings, but it has as its basis the love that we feel for ourselves and those closer to us. The basic emotional attitude of mettaa can be elaborated further as the four Brahma-vihaaras or Sublime abodes.

Mettaa is the first of the Brahma-vihaaras and the basis of the other three abodes, karunaa or compassion, muditaa or sympathetic joy and upekkhaa or equanimity. Thus when faced by the suffering of others ‘mettaa’ is expressed as karu. naa or compassion. When faced with the happiness of living beings ‘mettaa’ is expressed as muditaa or sympathetic joy. Finally, when faced by the suffering and happiness of others in the light of the conditions that caused that suffering or happiness, mettaa is expressed as upekkhaa or equanimity or tranquillity . 2. 5. 1 Buddhist Ethics as Emotion

It is characteristic of Buddhist ethics that it is expressed in terms of the emotions as much as it is in any conceptual formulation. Emotions have an appeal, where cold and reasoned calculation may not have. An action motivated by love is naturally appealing to the moral agent without any recourse to secondary reasons. It is also significant that form a Buddhist perspective and action, whose underlying motivation is love, is as beneficial to the moral agent as it is to the receiver of that love. Paradoxically, the deepest ‘self-interest’ is served by ‘being for the other’ and acting from a basis of love. . 5. 2 Buddhist Ethics on Basis of Motivations It is also characteristic of Buddhist ethics that it turns to our motivations for an assessment of the morality of an action. Wholesome actions follow from wholesome motivations. Without a positive emotional/motivational basis good cannot arise. This is not to say that we should not act intelligently and circumspectly as the situation may warrant-but it does point to the fundamental importance of our emotional dispositions in moral action. It follows from this that awareness of our emotional/mental states is a good guide to the morality of our actions. . 5. 3 Buddhist Ethics as Naturalistic One more characteristic of Buddhist ethics can be noted here: Buddhist ethics is naturalistic rather than theistic. Buddhism turns to our own psychology, to our own experience, rather than to an external source such as God or the Holy Bible for its ultimate source of moral understanding. Buddhist ethics could be described as empirical, in the sense that our own experience is the ultimate reference point for moral truth. Buddhist ethics seeks to appeal to our own experience in any attempt at persuasion.

Awareness and self-reflection are therefore crucial elements in Buddhist ethics. The ultimate reference point for all doctrinal formulations of Buddhism, including its ethical formulations, is an insight or experience of human existence which is open to all human beings to the extent to which they are able to reflect on their own existential situation. One may say that our conception of what it means to be a human being is derived ultimately from the reality of our existential situation, a reality which is true, in its principal elements, for all human beings.

The truth that the Buddha understood is not a philosophy or a doctrine, but a direct insight into the nature of reality. The claim of Buddhism is that such a direct insight into the true nature of reality is possible for every human being. At the end, the only claim to truth that the Buddhist vision of reality can make is that derived through our own experience-by examining one’s own experience, the truths to which the doctrinal formulas of Buddhism point will become self-evident. This is why the Buddhist tradition has an unbroken tradition of dialogue and reflective discourses.

One does not take on the Buddhist doctrines on a blind faith, but through a process of confirming their truth for oneself. It must be remembered that the word ‘Buddha’ essentially means ‘the awakened one’; the Buddhist tradition holds that this awakening is possible for all human beings, to the extent that they make the necessary effort. Buddhist ethics is similarly open ended rather than rule bound and hence serves as a useful elaboration of this trend in ethical theory. It should be clear that an ethics based on Buddhist principles could never be n ethics of ‘coercion’, in which obedience to authority (whether that be God or the state) has become the raison d’etre of morality. Rather it speaks to the individual in his existential predicament and invites the individual to try out a new way of being – a way of being that ultimately transcends any narrow preoccupation with self-interest. The Buddhist tradition also shows us that we have nothing to fear from broad ethical principles which help and guide us in our attempts to move from an unsatisfactory state of greed, hatred and ignorance to one of compassionate wisdom and freedom.

However, the postmodern ethics is not devoid of values since there is a mutual openness to one another leading to a sense of community living, which gives birth to the ethics of community living. Buddhist ethics also proposes a same attitude from the principle of loving kindness towards the other. Hence postmodern ethics can be recognized as an ethics of socialization and social cohabitation, not submissive to the laws suggested by modernity. It also gives a way out of the individualistic and nihilistic spirit arising from ideological project of modernity.



The philosophers down through the centuries, both in the East and the West considered God as the source of all things The Ultimate Reality. For them (philosophers) God was transcendent and mysterious. Human words, they said, cannot express what God is, but only what He is not. The history of philosophy of God has given a number of arguments for his existence: ontological, teleological, cosmological and moral arguments stand out among them. My aim in this chapter is to analyze the transformation that has taken place in the understanding of God in postmodernity and to present it (the changes) as a new vision of God.

To have a better effect in such a task, I feel it is important that we look at the significance of God concepts in the history of philosophy. 3. 1 God in the Philosophical History Philosophy sprang out of man’s sense of wonder. The man travelling through different experiences started to question every aspect of his life. Philosophy indeed had a close relation to religion, even to the extent that the Greek philosophy originated in Greek religious context. The history of human thought was dominated by the problem of God. “Try as we may” says Leibniz, “we cannot do without God. While questioning the role of philosophy with respect to religion, one may find that philosophy from the very beginning was involved in doing intellectually, what religion had always been doing practically and emotionally. However, there have been two trends of thought in the history of philosophy namely, Fideistic and Rationalistic; the former refers to those theories that claim that super sensible realities are comprehended by faith alone; whereas, the latter is a philosophical position, which believed that reason is the only source of human knowledge. 3. Overwhelming Role of Reason in the Western ThoughtIn the Western philosophical tradition there is a great emphasis on reason. My interest here is to analyze the role of reason with regard to the understanding of God. Hence, an attempt is made to see the changes in the role of reason from Greek philosophy to Postmodernism. 3. 2. 1 Greek Philosophy and Reason Anthony Kenny in his edited book The Oxford History of the Western Philosophy, says regarding the mingling of philosophy and religion in the Greek tradition that, “elements of philosophy, science and religion mingled in a rich and heady brew. Greek philosophy, besides the conception of God and soul, also received a sense of the order of nature (a basic idea that there is a moral order in the nature. ) from religion. Hence, they always maintained the idea that there is a moral order in the nature. What is important here is to note that Greek philosophy originated and developed in the religious context. However, it did not limit the Greek philosophy in the use of reason. In the process of evolution of Greek philosophy we can find four trends; i) Order and unity in nature is closely linked to a moral order (moria) in nature. i) Gods were placed sub-ordinate to this moral order in the beginning. iii) This moral order eventually emerges as a personal God. And iv) there is the emergence of Reason as the supreme player. 3. 2. 2 Medieval Philosophy: A Combination of Faith and Reason In the medieval period, though primacy was given to religion, philosophical speculations were never ignored. However, when philosophy was combined with the faith demanded by Christianity, it doubted the primacy of reason and human beings lost confidence in themselves and in reason.

Nevertheless, the theological and religious circles kept the philosophical thinking alive. In Aquinas we find a great Aristotelian of medieval period. He made a clear distinction between faith and reason. The most impressing character in him was that faith provided him with a context for thinking. 3. 2. 3 Modernity and Rationality The most important feature of enlightenment and modernity is the radicalization of reason. Modernity initiated the separation of faith and reason. Enlightenment demanded that religion should be devoid of its mystical background and concepts. That is to say everything should be subjected to reason.

In the modern period, however we see the denial of the medieval world views, such as the world was created by a personal God, human beings have a privileged place in the scheme of things and our life on earth was not an end, but only a beginning of our existence. Hence we see a complete rejection of scholastic thinking in modernity. 3. 2. 4 The Loss of Belief in God in the Modern World We see a decline of belief in God during the modern period. The main reasons for such a trend are: i) The problem of evil: The problem is constituted by the apparent contradiction between the celebrated goodness and the power of God and the experience of evil. i) The human emancipation from various oppressions: it is trend wanting to settle all issues through reason and to get out of the authoritarian rule of the Church and Bible as Infallible. iii) Denial of the possibility of an experience of God: The materialistic ontology of modernity has its epistemology based only in the sensual experience. Sensory experience of the ‘a priori’ is not possible, therefore the experience of God also is denied. 3. 3 Philosophy of Religion in the Postmodern World Postmodernism by disposing and demolishing the metanarrrative, does away with many of the things regarded as essential by the religious people.

Postmodernism rejects all absolute values and truths and admit only the relative ones. The relativization of truths and values weakens the strength of pre-enlightenment religion, which dealt with objective truths, which also promoted the value of individual religious impulses. Hence, there is no universal religion or ethical laws; everything is shaped by the cultural context of particular time, place and community. Here each individual makes his own spirituality by selecting the bits of various spiritualities that speaks to him. The consumerist culture of postmodernism penetrates into religion also.

As rightly put by Reginald Bibby in the book Fragmented Gods, “religion has become a neatly packaged consumerist item- taking place along other commodities that can be bought or rejected according to ones consumption and whims. ” 3. 4 Derrida: Religion without Religion Derrida in his philosophy proposes the concept of ‘religion without religion’. He claims to be an atheist. However, his formulation “An another that will always lie beyond our current horizon” leads to an idea of God. Thus he emphasizes that there is religion and faith.

But faith according to him is not surrender to the transcendent God, but simply the acceptance of the call of the other. The object of his faith is human. He does not support anything beyond the human world. Nevertheless, his faith is certainly not in the humanity and its values as we encounter, rather in an ethical value, as the inaccessible limit of the possible human thought of experience. 3. 4. 1 Deconstruction Derrida proposed the French term deconstruction as a way to translate the German term destruktion, which is used by Heidegger. Heidegger, analyzing the history of metaphysics calls it as a tightening of the structure .

Heidegger’s aim is to loosen the hold that this structure has on the thinking. Derrida sees Heidegger capitalizing certain gestures of ‘the metaphysics of presence’ . However, “Derrida is suspicious about the places, where Heidegger seems to suggest that the destruktion of the history of metaphysics can bring thought back to some sort of ‘original’ relation to language as poetic ‘saying’ of the ‘Beings of beings’. For Derrida, there can be no original position from which thinking began or to which it could return. ” The task of deconstruction is to show that the very things (the things that are expressed) are precarious illusions.

It would show that, for example, a paper gets identity from not only what I wrote, but also from what I did not write. So we could even say that a paper is partially what it is not. However, to discover the real meaning of what is said in the text is not the role of deconstruction; rather to show that the grounds from which the theories proceed are always shifting and unstable. 3. 4. 2 Derrida and Religion For Derrida, religion is what we get when we interpret “the other” as God, who is no longer in the nondeconstructible limits of all our thought and experience, but as one within our thought and experience.

He says that God, for religion is a presence, something presented and to which we have access. As rightly put by the author in his article “Postmodernism and Religion”, “The conceptual formulation of the other gives rise to a categorical rather than transcendent God, a God who is of the Jews, of the Catholics or of the Muslims or of the Hindus-in short, a God who is a reflection rather than the unreachable limits of thought and experience. ” For Derrida, religion is in this sense an ultimate form of idolatry. 3. 5 Postmodern God: A God Beyond Description

Derrida suggests that “we should stop thinking about God as someone, over there, ways up there, transcendent, and, what is more…capable of more than any satellite orbiting in space of seeing into the most secret of the most interior spaces. ” He would suggest that due to the beyondness of the deity, it is necessary to avoid all speeches that is, every incautious thought. Further analyses will clarify that it is an acceptance of human incapability to understand the secret deity beyond being. Postmodernism offers the idea that world is the creation of a personal deity.

However, the deity is not the God of medieval or of the first stage of modern theism, that God who created the universe out of nothingness, which meant an absolute God essentially having all the powers of a God who is responsible for all that going on in the world. But this idea of God, which was undermined by the problem of evil and the infallibility of the inspired Scriptures, for various reasons is rejected. Instead the postmodern God created our world not by calling into existence things out of nothingness, but by bringing order out of chaotic realm of energetic event.

As David Ray Griffin describes: This God neither controls all things nor interprets the natural process here and there. God does not coerce but persuades. God does not create unilaterally, but inspires the creatures to create themselves by instilling new feelings of importance in them. This constant inspiration is a necessary part of the natural process not an intervention into it. In this world, the vast amount of evil does not count against the reality and goodness of a divine creator, because all the creatures have some degree of powers to act contrary to the purposes of the creator.

The idea of an all-pervasive providential spirit is not contradicted by the evidence of extensive “chance and necessity” throughout the evolutionary process. Recognizing the ‘wonder of wonder’ found in the pure unity of God, Derrida named him, “God without name,” for no one can either speak of Him or understand Him. He says, “Of such super eminent Being which is also a hyper essential nothingness, it is necessary to avoid speaking. ” The meaning of God is not complete, that is, the ultimate is secret. At the same time Derrida says, the history of God is a history of secrecy which has no secrets. . 6 Indescribability of God in Indian Philosophy Sa? kara, explaining Brahman, speaks that Brahman is the only reality. It is beyond speech and mind. It is indescribable because no description of this can be complete. So Sa? kara explains the negative formula neti-neti or not this, not this as the best description. For thus he carefully notes that the moment we try to bring this Brahman within the categories of intellect, or try to make this ultimate subject an object of our thought, we miss its essential nature. However, the original idea is from B? hadara? yaka Upani? d, which says: The form of that ‘being’ is as follows: Like a cloth dyed with turmeric, or like grey sheep’s wool, or like the (scarlet) insect called Indragopa, or like a tongue of fire or like a white lotus, or like a flash of lightning. He who knows it as such attains splendor like a flash of lightening now therefore the description of Brahman: ‘Not this, not this’. Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this’. Now Its name: ‘the truth of truth’. The vital force is truth, and it is the truth if that. Neti-Neti denies the greatness of Brahman, as it was described in the above sutras.

It says that the material and immaterial is not the whole of Brahman, but is beyond human description. So we can say that the clause “not so, not so” negatives not absolutely everything, but only everything but Brahman. In the postmodern world, God is missing but is not missed. The view of Derrida, an atheist, makes space for ‘a religion without religion’. However, the postmodern religion is not a denial of God but an affirmation of the incomprehensiveness of the Ultimate Being and a questioning of the acclaimed human rational autonomy. ?



We live in a world that is often characterized by rapid change. Looking at the world around, we feel that one of the main challenges for all people of good will is the globalization of the secular vision of society. Recent trends of modernity like scientific and technological development, over emphasis on human freedom, secularization, etc. , create doubt and restlessness in human mind today. The aim of this chapter is to analyze some of the above mentioned problems in the society and to suggest the postmodern vision on morality and theodicy as a suitable remedy for it.

It also brings to the reader some of the charges that are raised against postmodernism. 4. 1 The World Today This topic brings to the reader a general understanding of the world situation today, especially where the modernity has failed to find any answers to problems. 4. 1. 1 The World Today: Globalization “The world order is always in the making and it will remain in making. ” Globalization has become the most apt word to characterize today’s world situation. Though the phenomenon is old , since the 1990s it has captured the attention of the people.

The meaning of the term globalization has grown much form the innocent dictionary meaning of ‘referring to the whole globe’. There are various definitions suggested and it is almost impossible to agree upon a universally accepted definition of globalization. However, in common reference it is acquiesced as the rapid communication of information and goods, hence it defines the world a global village. Globalization has many consequences. Some of them are: i) The exploitative system focused in market. i) The growing disparity between the rich and the poor. iii) The multinational companies wanting to create a ready and captive market for their goods across the world through heavy advertisement involving popular figures. iv) The process of globalization leading to rootlessness, fragmentation and conflict. v) Threats to traditional cultural and religious values giving way to consumerism. 4. 1. 2 The World Today: Over Emphasis of Science and Technology Natural sciences always had a great influence on philosophy and on the world view.

Until the age of the Renaissance there was no clear distinction between philosophy and science. Speculations about physics and astronomy were among the favourite topics of the natural philosophers of antiquity and continued to flourish until the time of Copernicus. The desire to explore the starry heavens and to reveal its secrets is probably as old as humankind itself. However, notable advances in this discipline were made only fairly recently, especially after the invention of the telescope in the 17th century. These have brought into the human minds lots of doubts and confusions.

It also offered human some grand principles and well defined truths, as if the development in science can unfold the ultimate reality. 4. 2 Postmodernism: Need of the Time. Pope Benedict XVI in January, 2009 addressing the diplomats in Rome said, “Our future is at stake, as well as the fate of our planet”. At Fatima, he continued in the same tone, “Mankind has succeeded in unlashing a cycle of death and terror, but failed in bringing it to an end …. ” He was trying to flash light at the frightening signs through which the world is moving.

He sees the wrong understanding of the progress of the modern era as the reason for global catastrophe such as the World Wars, the degradation of environment, etc. Hence, postmodernism gains its relevance from the points of view of ethics and theodicy. 4. 2. 1 Postmodern Ethics: A True Vision of Morality The modern meta-narratives and the prescribed principles of actions have reduced the human beings to a programmed machine. The human beings were acting just as controlled by the rules. It is only in postmodernism that freedom is given to the individual to form their principles of action.

Here each one has the freedom with responsibility to think what is best for the situation and act. The denial of all meta-narratives and defined ethical principles in postmodernism offers the challenge to the individual to form their own moral rules in life. However the postmodern ethics seems to be more difficult than the older one, because Levinas ethics of personal responsibility demands the moral self, which is never satisfied, to take moral decisions. The juridical understanding of responsibility demands action in conformity with law.

However, in postmodern world, the concept of responsibility has a different understanding. In juridical understanding of responsibility the verb, “to respond” has nothing much to contribute; hence it becomes an action based on some moral laws. “Since I am not the author of the act, I have no responsibility for its consequences. ” Here the other (victim) has no importance at all. But today, the concept has changed, especially by the intervention of postmodern thinkers like Emmanuel Levinas and Hans Jonas. ‘I must be responsible for what I do (for every action of mine) to the other. This ethics is based more on the verb “to respond”, that is, I must respond to the other, rather than fulfiling some morally described actions. And it is only this new vision in ethics offered by postmodernity that can make impact in the life situation of people in the present world scenario. 4. 2. 2 Postmodern Vision of God: A True Vision of God Pope Benedict XVI, in the book Light of the World describes the absence of God and practical atheism as reasons for the problems in the world. The emphasis on relativism and individualism has caused damage to the idea of modern God.

Postmodernism understands God as the Ultimate reality, which is incomprehensible to Human mind. Ignatius of Loyola suggested, we ‘find God in all things and all things in God,’ as a religion of life. The need of the time is that we must give freedom to the people to form their idea of God, basing on the new vision of ethics in which importance is given to the other. The beliefs in God must come from deep rooted faith and not from some forms of rules, the need to avoid speaking about God according to my whims and fancies as expressed by Derrida gains importance here.

Because situations such as these (avoid speaking about God) requires deep rooted faith guided by constant search, a real longing, and a convinced and comprehensive openness to the reality of God. In the secularized world, the postmodern religion becomes very relevant. It gives importance to human life. Moreover, it does not forget to question the super autonomy of human rationality by expressing the incompr

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