Chapter 50: Postmodernism
David F. Ruccio Introduction Common belief holds postmodernism not only to be incompatible with ethics but also to undermine any attempt to create a viable or vibrant ethical framework. This is because relativism, with which postmodernism is often conflated, and to which it is often reduced, calls into question universal foundational values. Therefore, modernist critics argue, since one or another set of such values is considered a necessary basis for an ethics, it is incumbent upon philosophers and social theorists (including economists) interested in elaborating an ethical framework to reject postmodernism. From a postmodern perspective, however, quite the opposite may be the case. Whereas modernism has endeavoured to push ethics into the margin, postmodernism creates spaces or moments that highlight or call for ethical decisions. Thus, while there may be no such thing as a ‘postmodern ethics’ – a single ethical stance or framework that can be derived from the writings of postmodern thinkers – the various ideas and approaches grouped under the rubric of postmodernism do establish the terms for a renewed, albeit changed and transformed, conversation about ethics within economics. Postmodernism and modernist ethics There is more than a grain of truth in the modernist proposition asserting that postmodernism makes existing ethical stances difficult if not impossible. Three main theories are generally associated with postmodernism: poststructuralism, especially the work of Michel Foucault; deconstruction, pioneered by Jacques Derrida; and postmodernism proper, associated with Jean-François Lyotard. These have each formulated criticisms of the key premises on which many modernist approaches to...
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