A Brief Overview of Premodernism, Modernism and Postmodernism
Premodernity, modernity and postmodernity are different ways of looking to our world. They can be regarded as different periods of time, however, they did not completely replaced each other but even today a premodern view still abides. It should also be noted that even within these “world views” there are different approaches that cannot be categorized in one philosophical unit.
Until 1650 AD it was the dominant way people understood their world and gain knowledge about it. The primary epistemology of the premodern period was based upon revealed knowledge from authoritative sources. Revelation, coming from God or the gods, provides them with knowledge and understanding of this world. Religion and the Church were the primary sources of authority. Even today it appears to be still very much alive in fundamentalist religions.
From 1650, progressively, a new world view developed: People, like Copernicus and Galileo observed this world from an empirical perspective. This was later further strengthened by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Newtonian mechanics – our world is governed by laws.
Rationalism, introduced by Rene Descartes (1596-1650), became a very important way of gaining knowledge. Meyer says he re-appropriated Augustine’s dictum: “I think therefore I am”. With our minds we can “take” a picture of this world. “His basis for knowledge was ‘universal mathematics’ the science of measure and order. … The thinking or mental subject became the focal point of his method and self-certainty was the norm for this approach. … An idea in the mind was now treated as the mind’s own ‘thought’ and not something originating from a ‘realm of ideas’ from God, or from somewhere else outside (cf. Meyer, 2003:49-54).” Objective knowing, in terms of the scientific paradigm was regarded as inherently good, not only for science but also for theology.
The Enlightenment was a philosophical, intellectual and cultural movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, assisting in establishing the foundation for modernism. It stressed reason, logic, criticism and freedom of thought over, blind faith, dogma and superstition.
Some regard postmodernism as a radical departure from modernism, whereas others view it not as a replacement or contradiction to modernism, but rather as a new beginning outside the framework of modernism. Postmodernism does not follow an illogical or irrational framework and in this sense it does not contradict “rational” modernism. Postmodernism “…stands inside reason, as well as outside the absolute control of reason (rationalism) an affirms endless commentary, discussion, rhetoric and negotiation, …(cf. Meyer, 2003:79)”
It questions modernism and its epistemology (how to get knowledge). Hoffman (Cf. postmodernphschology.com) states that “Instead of relying on one approach to knowing, they advocate for an epistemological pluralism which utilizes multiple ways of knowing. This can include the premodern ways (revelation) and modern ways (science & reason), along with many other ways of knowing such as intuition, relational, and spiritual.” Degenaar (1995:13-14) maintains it “…is critical of master narratives, espouses a plurality of descriptions, discourages closure, affirms complexity, generates alternative ways of understanding human experience and the world, and constantly reminds us of the limitations and provisionality of our insights. Language and not reason, is viewed as that which constitutes the relationship between human beings and the world. This language is not neutral or innocent since the use of words is value laden and involved in power-relationships.”
Postmodernism is an umbrella concept covering a wide range of approaches. I choose an affirmative approach and its emancipatory trend, rather than a skeptical approach to postmodernism.
The notion of deconstruction plays an important role in postmodernism. Deconstruction is not destructive. Instead of destroying it “re-inscribe” or “situate” signs differently. It takes the elements of a text apart, points out the behaviour of figurative language and puts the elements together again in a different way (cf. Degenaar, 1992:187).”